*Just as Morris Day taught us that gigolos get lonely, too, the incomparable Lalah Hathaway recently taught me that amazing singers get nervous, too. That’s just one of the things I learned about the daughter of the legendary Donny Hathaway during an interview I conducted with her regarding her sure-to-make-your-ears-tingle “what’s next.”
To make sense of that intro, during our interview, I couldn’t avoid first asking the “Something” singer, born Eulaulah Donyll Hathaway, how it felt recently to perform her father’s enduring song, “Someday We’ll All be Free,” in front of First Lady, Michelle Obama, Cicely Tyson and other entertainment luminaries during Beverly Bond’s “Black Girls Rock” in Newark, New Jersey:
“It was an honor, but it was a bit nerve-racking for me,” she revealed. “TV always makes me like a little extra 13% nervous, because it’s there forever for everybody to see again.”
“It was great to look out into that crowd and see the First Lady and Cicely Tyson and see Jada [Pinkett-Smith] and Erykah [Badu] and Debra [Lee] and so many of the women who I look up to and am so inspired by, so you always want to show up and do your 200% job in that case. It’s a different beast though, particularly to be standing in front of all your peers … it’s a different level of excitement and anxiety for me.”
“… I’m happy with the job I did, particularly from the standpoint that my mother was there and she was pleased and proud of me and I think that my dad would’ve been proud of me. It was such a nice moment to be able to sing that song in that moment in that place.”
And to segue from that cathartic experience to – the reason we were speaking in the first place – preparing to record her first live CD, in the very venue where her father recorded “Donny Hathaway Live (’72),” at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, has to be career nirvana.
And being one of the most respected live performers in the game, the news of the new project likely made many in her legion of fans nearly blow a gasket:
“People come up to me after shows and say, wow, I like your records, but you sound better live,” she said. “And I’m like, ‘you’re supposed to,’ and I always tell them that ‘the live performance is influenced by you; you are part of that conversation…’”
She revealed how she arrived the idea to record live and the role her father played in inspiring her to do so:
“I’ve been wanting to make a live record for most of my life. And I grew up with so many live records – because, you know, in the 70s and 80s people made live records and it was about the touring musicians and the bands and the people interacting with the musicians – but chiefly among those records was Donny Hathaway live.”
“I grew up listening to that record and wondering what the people looked like in the crowd and what they were wearing and I had all these visions of how the stage was set up as a kid. And I imagined the ladies around the [Fender] Rhodes, because you could hear them so well, just imagining creating these scenarios for how that went over, how the people sounded so excited, how they clapped their hands and how they talked to him during the performance … and so it has been like a dream of mine to really become that kind of performer that people feel like they’re a part of the performance and also to recreate that feeling of the interaction with the audience.”
But dreaming of recording live and actually fulfilling that dream are worlds apart. There was more to making it a reality than just saying, “I’m Lalah Hathaway, *bleep!* and I want to do this.”
She elaborated on what it took – and according to her is STILL taking – to actually turn the dream to reality and why at The Troubadour:
“There are a lot of moving parts and I knew that making a live record it would have to be. At the onset of it, I thought, maybe Chicago, because that’s where we’re from or the DMV area, because I have so much support from DMV, Atlanta … I just couldn’t figure out where and then it just became clear to me on some level that I had to go back to that place where he recorded his record and I think that the Troubadour is such a great spot and it really is me in a lot of ways.”
“There’s kind of a rock element to it and there’s a soul element, a jazz element, there’s real wood there that was in the place in the 70s when my dad was there. You know, I think that kind of room is so intimate, as well, to be able to put my eyes on everyone in the room is important for me, particularly for a live recording, just to really communicate the music, the lyrics and everything.”
“So, there are still a lot of moving parts. We are still in the process of putting it together to make sure that it’s as seamless as possible, but the great thing about it is that it’s real. I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time editing this record, It’s gonna be what you see. It’s going to be what you get. We’re not gonna be auto-tuning anything, we’re not going to be going back to fix something to make it more pretty than it already is, it’s just going to be the reality of what it is.”
The show is sure to be one for the books, especially when you consider that “birds” like Lalah usually flock together, in that she has a host of talented musician friends, from Rashaan Patterson to Rachelle Ferrell, who normally support each other and may or may not crash the party during the recording:
“I don’t know, that remains to be seen,” she said of the possibility. “The fun thing is I’m not sure yet. We’re still kind of putting it together. Anyone is liable to show up or maybe no one will show up or maybe people will show up and they just wanna play or just wanna listen and don’t want to work. And that’s the beauty of a live show, I don’t know what will happen.”
It’s interesting to note that even though she can legally and affectionately refer to one of the greatest musicians of all-time as “daddy,” she at times finds herself in fan mode and refers to him as Donny Hathaway. That’s profound respect, but she put it best:
“I definitely am super aware that I have two heads at times when i’m talking about him; I’m his daughter, but i’m also a musician, so there’s a lot of levels there.”
“I am a product of my parents and I come from musicians who came from musicians and the fact that I’m even associated with Donny Hathaway, to me, is incredible as a musician, and as a fan. The fact that I’m his child, there’s a certain commingling of our paths that cannot be denied, and so in a way he was here so I could get here and I’m here so he can stay here…we’re in a circle, which is a beautiful thing.”
“I am completely aware that I stand next to or I stand just behind him, because that’s where I come from. I’m very proud to be associated with like the greatest singer that ever lived … and I never have a problem with comparisons or people asking me , you know people ask a lot of times, ‘ Did you feel pressure to …?’ No, never, there can be no pressure, because he did what he did so beautifully and it’s still here 35 years later and it will be here forever, and what I’m trying to do is create something of mine that can be with that and live with it forever.”
See and hear Lalah harmonize with herself in this Snarky Puppy video:
Though the self-harmonizing singer has built her own legacy at this point, numerous projects and collaborations in, it’s hard to separate the dynamic vocalist from the legend who is her late father. And at one point, it was rumored that she didn’t really appreciate having to carry his legacy on her shoulders, up to and including singing his songs. But, straight from the classically trained vocalist’s mouth, it’s NOT TRUE and even further, she feels it’s now time to have that full circle moment with his legacy:
“It’s interesting. I never felt like I did,” she clarified. “I feel like people have always approached me with kid gloves, which is a blessing in a way, because I have encountered some really ignorant, crass people in terms of asking me about my legacy and my history and I think that is probably what you detect, my absolute respect and honor and the fact that I protect my legacy.”
“I’m very serious about where I come from and I’m very serious about how I represent that. Having said that, I’ve always kind of included some of his material. I’ve always been eager and willing to talk about him, at least musically because that’s where I come from. I think now is such a beautiful time for me because it’s just time right now and I’m ready to do what i’m gonna do right now.”
“So, being the person that does so many tributes, I mean I’ve been on so many tributes records, it’s only fitting that at some point a Donny Hathaway tribute happens. It’s only fitting that I cover that music because it’s perfect for me. So, I’m really just a person that works in my own time. I don’t really move in the way that others expect me to move all the time, I kind of do what i need to do when I need to do it.
Now that the record is officially straight, and Lalah is following directly in Donny’s footsteps by choosing to record live at the Troubadour, it’s only fitting to ask about the specifics of the show, in terms of what to expect musically:
“It’ll be everything that I can do, because I recognize for everyone, depending on where you meet me on the road, you see me through that lens. So, some people know me with Joe Sample, some people know me with Robert Glasper, some people know me with Kirk Whalum, some people know me now with Kendrick Lamar, you know what I mean, just from all over in the last 25 years I have a lot of different voices.”
“For me, it’s all the same voice, though. But what I try to do is include as much of the material as humanly possible in the time, because invariably, somebody says, ‘you didn’t sing my song.’ So, we try to do as much as we can to make sure that all the bases are covered for the last 25 years and that’s a lot of records and not a lot of time.”
I can use many complimentary words and phrases to describe Lalah Hathaway and the contribution she’s made to black music, buoyed by the spirit of her father, but I’m gonna go with what I associate with her live performances: lights out! And to channel Donny’s spirit while doing her thing at the Troubador, after the lights go out, the historic building just may come down.
The Troubador live recording event will take place on Tuesday, April 21, at 6pm and 10pm. A limited number of tickets are available to the general public and can be purchased here.
Good luck with that.