Born on October 1, 1945, in Chicago, IL; died on January 13, 1979, in New York, NY; son of Drusella Huntley; married; wife's name, Eulaulah; children: Eulaulah Donyll (Lalah Hathaway), Kenya Canelibra. Education: Attended Howard University, 1964-67.

In 1979, soul icon Donny Hathaway tragically fell fifteen stories to his death. Like many other talented members of his generation who were achieving widespread success in the rock and pop worlds--Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding among them--Hathaway's promising career came to an untimely end. The question of how his stirring vocals, sometimes compared to traditional sermonizing, might have evolved as he matured will remain forever unknown. The Grammy Award winner had even considered entering the ministry himself as an adult.

Hathaway was born in Chicago on October 1, 1945, but spent much of his childhood in St. Louis, where he lived in the Carr Square public housing project with his grandmother, Martha Pitts, who also went by the name Martha Crumwell. Pitts was a professional gospel singer, and Hathaway spent a disproportionate amount of time in church, watching her rehearse and perform. One day when he was just three years old, Hathaway was sitting in a pew alongside his mother, who recalled that her son was more than a bit fidgety that day. She asked him what the problem was, and he replied, "I want to go up there and sing with grandma," Drusella Huntley told Ebony. She told him, "'Go ahead.' The first song he ever sang was 'How Much I Owe, Love Divine,'" Huntley remembered. "He couldn't even pronounce the words properly, but he could follow the tune and melody."

Hathaway soon began singing professionally as "Donny Pitts, The Nation's Youngest Gospel Singer." He also played the ukulele on stage, studied the piano, and as a child was fascinated by glitzy keyboard virtuoso Liberace. At St. Louis's Vashon High School, he quickly made a name for himself as a piano prodigy. Backed by the support of his teachers, Hathaway earned a fine-arts scholarship to Howard University and entered in 1964. His professors at Howard recognized Hathaway's talent and provided ample encouragement. During his time at Howard, he met both his future wife, Eulaulah, and recording artist Roberta Flack. Hathaway would leave Howard without his degree after three years of study; he had begun to receive lucrative job offers, in part because of his membership in a group called the Rick Powell Trio.

While at Howard, Hathaway achieved early success in the recording industry by working as a producer and arranger for several acts, including Aretha Franklin and the Staple Singers. He also produced artists for Chess and Stax Records, and served as the band director for the Impressions, a group fronted by another Howard classmate, Leroy Hunter. In 1969, Hathaway teamed with a singer named June Conquest and recorded the single "I Thank You" for Curtis Mayfield's label and sang backup with the Mayfield Singers. Signed by Atlantic Records in 1969, Hathaway's first single, "The Ghetto, Part I," was released in late October and peaked on the R&B charts at number 23 the following January. The heartbreaking, mournful tale of inner-city misery quickly established Hathaway as a talented singer/songwriter with a deep debt to his gospel roots. His obituary in Rolling Stone would later note that the song "marked him as a major new force in soul music."

More singles followed, along with his first album, Everything Is Everything, released in 1970. Hathaway soon collaborated with Roberta Flack, who was embarking upon her own successful recording career. One of their first singles together was "You've Got a Friend," written by Carole King and released in 1971; Their third single, "Where Is the Love?" soared to number five on the charts in 1972 and earned the pair a Grammy Award. The album on which "Where Is the Love?" was included, Donny Hathaway Live: Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, was also a huge commercial success.

Hathaway's familiar voice made its television debut when he was selected to sing the sassy theme song for Norman Lear's television sitcom Maude. Producer Quincy Jones also hired him to score the soundtrack for the 1972 film Come Back Charleston Blue. By this time, Hathaway was married and had two daughters, Eulaulah and Kenya. However, his fame was also accompanied by pain and disappointment. He reportedly suffered from bouts of depression, and was hospitalized on more than one occasion. In addition, his partnership with Roberta Flack disintegrated. Following the release of his album, Extension of a Man in 1973, Hathaway faded into relative obscurity. He played small club dates and formed an independent production company.

In 1978, Hathaway's fortunes improved. The rift with Flack was mended and the pair returned to the studio to record another song, "The Closer I Get to You." It was their biggest hit to date, charting at number two, and earned them another Grammy nomination. Hathaway, however, would not live to attend the awards ceremony. On January 13, 1979, Hathaway and his manager, David Franklin, had dinner at Flack's apartment in New York City. Following dinner, the singer returned to his hotel room at the posh Essex House. Later that night, Franklin was notified that Hathaway's body had been discovered below his fifteenth-floor window. The hotel room door was locked from the inside, and there was no sign of foul play. The window's safety glass had been removed and laid on the bed. It appeared that Hathaway had jumped to his death.

Although the New York City coroner had ruled the death a suicide, friends found the ruling difficult to accept--in part because Hathaway was enjoying renewed professional success at the time. "It appeared to be neither suicide nor homicide," the Reverend Jesse Jackson told Ebony magazine a few months later. Roberta Flack and David Franklin, Hathaway's dinner companions the evening before his death, reported nothing unusual in his demeanor. Yet Hathaway, who lived on the seventeenth-floor at the LaSalle Towers in Chicago, seemed overly fond of heights and often opened his window to orate or sing into the wind. In addition, he seemed fascinated with the topic of suicide and mentioned it frequently. During one performance, he was photographed with a book about suicide atop his piano.

Hathaway's funeral in St. Louis was attended by several notable figures, including Roberta Flack, Stevie Wonder, and the Reverend Jackson, who officiated. He was buried in that city's Lake Charles Cemetery. Three other records were released posthumously: Donny Hathaway in Performance in 1980, The Donny Hathaway Collection in 1990, and Free Soul in 2000. That same year his daughter Eulaulah released a solo effort under the name Lalah Hathaway.

by Carol Brennan

Donny Hathaway's Career

Professional child gospel singer under name "Donny Pitts," 1950s; signed with Atlantic Records, c. 1969; released first single, "The Ghetto, Part I," 1970; released first LP, Everything Is Everything, 1970; teamed with Roberta Flack and released duet, "Where Is the Love?," 1972; most successful chart appearance was from another duet with Flack, "The Closer I Get to You," 1978, which reached number two.

Donny Hathaway's Awards

Grammy Award, Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for "Where Is the Love?" (with Roberta Flack), 1973.

Famous Works

Further Reading



Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 12 years ago

What happen to his other daughter. This is so sad.

over 13 years ago

I was over joyed when i heard his music for the first time and heart broken when i heard this man was long gone by the time i heard his music. But hope was restored when i discovered Lalah. He definately left his mark on the world. RIP Donny!!

over 13 years ago

The story of Donny Hathaway has truly touched me and I feel through his music, I have a strong connection with him. He was truly a blessing to the music industry and we are very priviledged to have been an audience to this great music.

almost 14 years ago

Donny Hathaway and Otis Redding were two huge loses. Donny was a genius. He could do everything: write, arrange, sing, play. But, above all, for me, it was that incredible voice. Two examples: on "Donny Hathaway Live," he does a DEFINITIVE version of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy," and a version of Marvin Gaye's immortal "What's Going On" that rival's Gaye's version.

about 14 years ago

It is my oppinion Donny Hathaway was not just before his time,or just a genius. No! No! No! not even being called a genuis is good enough to describe the man and his contribution to music. In fact Donny Hathaway was the greatest musician/vocalist to every come out of St.Louis, and second greatest musician to Scott Joplin. Both men changed the landscape of modern day music. Before Donny people only talked about having or not having enough soul, until God used Donny to show the world exactly what it meant to have soul. Signed A Proud St.Louis HomeGirl

over 14 years ago

Few words can describe Donny Hathaway. He was a man of extraordinary talent and his legacy lives on thru his daughter Lalah Hathaway! One Word Amazing!

over 14 years ago

There are not many words that can describe Donny. His voice touches your soul. Every word that he sang was beautiful. "This Christmas" is a masterpiece, brings tears to my eyes that this man left us way too soon. What a gift to the human race! I will listen to his songs until I can't listen anymore. God Bless him and his family!

over 14 years ago

Wow i was only two 1 years old when he passed , but i sing his music as if we grow up together . Gone to soon , but never forgotten ,I will keep your music alive .

about 15 years ago

This man was truly PHENOMENAL! His voice and songs truly ministers and heals the soul. A Song To You and Giving up was my all time favorites. It makes me cry just tomthink about it. Iam very proud to have experience your music.

about 15 years ago

Donny Hathaway is nowhere near as well known as Stevie Wonder but in terms of his ability to sing and heal people with his voice he is every bit his equal and there is no greater compliment than that. A true genius whose relatively few recordings tower over most things recorded before or since, he may not have the recognition he deserves but future generations will keep discovering what a monumental talent this man was and his legacy will never die. What a voice. What a loss.

about 15 years ago

I am 12 years old and I was watching Unsung on TV One after my dad was telling me about him. It was all about Donny Hathaway. The next day I git an assignment and was told that we could do anything we wanted from the 60s. I immediately chose Donny Hathaway. I have to say that he is a truly talented artist. It is a shame that he died from sucide.

over 15 years ago

Donny still makes my soul smile. And his daughter sounds awsome!!!!!!!!

over 15 years ago

We are lucky that we could enjoy his music for the time he was here. He is a TRUE LEGEND, and the meaning of the phrase "Soul Man!!"

over 15 years ago

Donny Hathaway was and is what Soul music is all about.A deep thought and or feeling expressed in music. His work will stand the test of time as well as living us to wonder"what else did he have in store". He was a true musical gift from God who will be forever missed.

over 15 years ago


over 15 years ago

I watched the TVone story about Donnie Hathaway and was blown away.This man was truly before his time musically.I bet alot of people do'nt know he is the "the Father of the song This Christmas".His story about his mental illness needs to be told around the world to enlighten people about paranoid schizophrenic.Donnie, rest in peace the world truly loves you, but GOD loves you more.

over 15 years ago


over 15 years ago

im very fascinated with donnay hathoway and his talent. he has the voice that could bring tears to my eyes during any time of the day. I can really feel waht he is saying in many of his song even if i cannot relate. By feel i mean i really can feel the soul that is set forth in his voice. he has a very powerful voice and he is definetly one of the greatest of all times. Though i am young, i have a passion for this type of music.

over 15 years ago

I didn't realize how soulful a voice Donny Hathaway had until my nephew sang his song "A Sond for You" at my Mothers funeral. When I found out what song and the artist I had to listen to it again. Aside from my nephew doing a beautiful job singing that song and bringing on more emotion I went and purchased the CD for more memories and a soothing voice. Thank you Donny....and God rest his soul and my Mom

over 15 years ago

I love Donny Hathaway's music and always will continue to support his legacy. Donny Hathaway music is very honest and transparent; the entertainment industry truly lost a great musician.

over 15 years ago

In my opinion, the greatest male singer ever. His voice had everything: Strength, sorrow, hope, soul....I can go on. What stands out the most about him is that his singing (whether live or in a studio) was pure and effortless in deliver. A great contributor to the world of music. We are fortunate to have had him.

over 15 years ago

I'm so amazed by Mr Hathway, I recently purchaed one of his collections of CD's. He has so much talent, and I wish that he would have lived to give this world so much more of his music as well as style. He will never be forgotten.

about 16 years ago

I just love Donny Hathway....growing up with his music I just loved that strong voice. I listen to Sirius and I hear him often and I didn't realize how great he was. I have some of his music on albums but I've got to get his music on CD. Thank God for Donny Hathway.