Donny Hathaway: Celebrating the Spirit and the Soul
Executives may have been disappointed with Hathaway's sales, but they had to be appreciative of the part he played in the success of one of the company's more successful releases of 1971: Aretha' Franklin's Young, Gifted, and Black. Significantly influencing the album's mature sound was Donny Hathaway, whose understated organ shaped the rhythm section's sound on six of the album's cuts. No doubt, Hathaway's standout performance is on the airy track, "Daydreaming, which opens with the ethereal sounds of his electric piano. Hathaway's piano flourishes contrasts beautifully with the muscular sound of Bernard Purdie's killer drumming. Fully cognizant of Hathaway's critical role in her album's success, Aretha Franklin praised the soul legend in her autobiography, From These Roots. "Donny, Franklin explained, "was multimusical the way some folks are multilingual. He was a young master and a soul artist of tremendous talent.
Talented indeed, Hathaway continued to amaze his peers as he busied himself with numerous musical projects during the hectic year of 1972. Few projects would be more ambitious than the soundtrack, Comeback Charleston Blue, which he wrote, recorded, produced, and arranged under the supervision of Quincy Jones. Showcasing his jazz chops as a pianist and composer, Hathaway drew on the musical legacy of Duke Ellington and Count Basie. An underappreciated work seldom discussed by even Hathaway enthusiasts, Comeback Charleston Blue featured a richly textured sound, which incorporated expansive string orchestrations, disjointed jazz rhythms, and his incredibly lush vocals. A listen to "Tim's High" and "Liberation, reveals the extent to which Hathaway understood the power of moods and atmospheres. Clearly Hathaway also had a firm grasp of clasical music. Several songs on Comeback Charleston reveal Hathaway's deep admiration for the compositional style of the French composers commonly referred to as Les Six. An ambitious musician whose expansive mind refused to content itself with familiarity with only one musical tradition, Hathaway had begun to immerse himself in the work of Georges Auric, Louis Durey, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc, and German Tailleferre. Such exploration continued on his next studio project.
Staying busy in 1972, Hathaway also recorded his highly acclaimed, live album, Donny Live, which garnered the crooner his first and only gold record. A hallmark of the soul period was the release of several amazing live records: Aretha Franklin's Amazing Grace and Live at the Filmore, James Brown's Love and Peace, and Curtis Mayfield's Curtis Live. Few were more impressive than Hathaway's Live. Standouts on the live release include his soulful rendition of Johh Lennon's "Jealous Guy, an equally impressive cover of Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On, "The Ghetto, "Little Ghetto Boy, and "Voices Inside (Everything is Everything) . Listening to the audience's passionate response during the recording enables one to better appreciate soul musicians' unique relationship to their audience. No doubt, Hathaway's live recording possessed the emotional fervor of a down home, church revival. Enormously encouraging, the energetic crowds at New York's Bitter End and LA's Troubadour responded enthusiastically to Hathaway's every moan, groan, piano lick, and chord change. Certainly at his improvisational best in live settings, Hathaway drew from the talents of his superb band (which included such skilled musicians as Cornell Dupree, Willie Weeks, Earl DeRouen, Richard Tee, Phil Upchurch, Mike Howard, and Fred White) and the enthusiasm of his audience. Truly an amazing recording, Hathaway's live album moved five hundred thousand units in less than six months. It was his first and only gold certification as an artist.
Celebration was in order not only for his gold certification, but also for the success of his album with his colleague from Howard University, Roberta Flack. Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway climbed to number two on the Black Albums Chart and number three on the Pop Charts. "Where Is the Love received enormous play on soul, jazz, and pop stations across the country.