*Lalah Hathaway’s “Where it all Begins” is a musical love letter.
It pays homage to an immeasurably talented father and nods sweetly to an equally talented, loving and resilient mother. It is a deeply passionate conversation between the “first daughter of soul” and her devoted admirers who still believe that a soundtrack for real love requires real music.
With enchanting melodies and deep, rich tones, Hathaway’s brand new, highly anticipated album takes us back to a time where authentic music was the only music that mattered. From the evocatively delicious reboot of “I’m Coming Back” featuring Rachelle Ferrell to the R&B dance track “If You Want To”, this album delivers. It’s fresh, hip and downright sexy.
In between giving a powerhouse performance on Sirius Radio’s Heart & Soul with Cayman Kelly and patiently waiting to take the stage at a sold-out concert at the Birchmere dinner theater (in Northern Virginia), I had a chance to chat with Lalah about her new album, her “private” life and how, with a little help from twitter, she’s finally taking her undeniable place among the musical stars.
Currently on an aggressive tour that has her “spent like spare change”, I asked Lalah how important it was for her fans to experience her live show and musicianship.
“It’s 100% important” says Lalah. “I try to translate what I do onto records but it can never really translate until I do a live record. I think the energy live … I can’t explain what it is but there is a magic live. A little piece of something that somebody gives you can affect the way you say something. It’s a conversation that can’t be had other than in that moment.”
It’s that obvious appreciation for performing that has kept her fans eagerly awaiting her releases and faithfully attending her shows. “This album feels like a celebration” I tell her.
“It is that,” she responds. “You change and you grow. You wear jeans and t-shirts for a bunch of days and then you decide to put some shoes on. That’s all; I just put some shoes on.”
Lalah is considered to be among a small, elite class of artists with phenomenal talent, a loyal fan base and respectable record sales, but despite a 2010 Grammy nomination and a legendary last name, has somehow managed to stay inches below the mainstream success radar. She speaks candidly about the exposure that’s eluded her for so long.
“I really do want the chance at that really big commercial success,” Lalah confesses. “It doesn’t run my life and has less to do with money and more about exposure. I feel like if a million people could see what I did, maybe half of them would like it or a third”.
Often referred to as one of the most underrated singers by fans, peers and industry heavyweights, Lalah acknowledges their nods of approval, but doesn’t necessarily take ownership of the underrated label.
“I feel that people want me to win,” she states matter-of-factly. “I feel highly rated among people that rate me, but in the same way, I feel like an underdog. It’s interesting to be one of the fastest runners and you can’t get in the race.”
The notion that an artist as profoundly talented as Lalah has to campaign to become a larger part of the entertainment landscape is unbelievable. It’s like trying to sell a million dollars to a poor person – one would think it wouldn’t be that difficult. Yet, even with 21 solid years as an artist, Lalah isn’t complacent when it comes to her promotional grind. No stranger to technology, this self-proclaimed “gadget girl” cites social networking as an invaluable tool to promote her work, connect with fans and keep her finger on the pulse of what’s real in the industry.
“I have more momentum and support than I ever have,” she says while multi-tasking on her iPad. “It’s probably always been there but now I have the tool – social networking tools.” She added “I can see and hear people. I have a different kind of support now.”
With “Where it all Begins” reaching #7 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums chart and back-to-back sold out concerts, the Twitter tweets, Facebook posts and lalahhathaway.com updates are clearly hitting their mark. And self-promotion is not the only goal of this creative quadruple-threat.
“I’m just trying to figure out what all of my other skillsets are. I have a radio show on The Foxxhole on Thursdays,” she mentions casually. Lalah is a radio show host – who knew? I asked how that came about. “I said to my management that I bet I could do that and was given the opportunity to do it,” she explains, “and at first, it was going to be a tool to let people know about the record, but I’m really trying to get good at it. I have the platform to try to help people like myself.”
Lalah mentions that she plays artists like The Foreign Exchange, Rahsaan Patterson, and Arro on her show. “To have these kinds of people on the radio – there’s a huge void in the market right now. Not to begrudge anyone but there’s a whole market for people that want to know what Rachelle Ferrell is doing,” she says. “I want to know what Ledesi is doing. Where’s Caryn Wheeler or Mica Paris? [There’s] a whole market of people looking for that kind of real.” What she describes is the difference between the current definition of love music and a love of real music.
Speaking of love, how does a singer, songwriter, radio show host and Twitter queen keep her private life, well, private? “My private life is my music life. My friends and mom are on the road with me. My life is very much about my career. I’m really trying to do something right now and it’s important.” She considers that for a moment and then adds “I have a piece of me that I keep.”
That small piece aside, Lalah states that she will be making an effort to share more with her fans by shortening the time between album releases.
In the meantime, she has a music hall full of fans waiting for her. Her makeup artist arrives and the backstage pre-show activity picks up as music plays on her iPad.
I return to my seat and immediately notice the energy in the room. It’s what Lalah couldn’t describe earlier in our interview and what I still can’t describe now. But when Lalah takes the stage, she’s greeted with thunderous applause and a standing ovation before singing the first note. I’m reminded of a quote Lalah states whenever she’s asked about the legacy of where it all began for her.
“My hope is to continue to make timeless art for people … in a way I feel like my dad came here in part so that I could get here and I am here so that he can stay here. I was born for this.”
As Lalah sings, I watch the people in the room — some in tears, and some with hands held high in old-school church fashion and others acknowledging the presence of greatness – swaying to real soul, real music and a real woman.
For more on Lalah Hathaway, visit her website: www.LalahHathaway.com.
Angela has written for the entertainment industry for 10 years and is passionate in her support of the Arts. As a published author, public speaker and freelance writer, she has interviewed celebrities for several online publications with articles covering film, television, politics and music. She is a member of the Organization of Black Screenwriters (OBS) and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Angela can be reached at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @angelanichelle9. “Stand Strong. Love. Dream Big”