Sometimes, when people discuss the great soul singers, they forget about Donny Hathaway, whose career was tragically cut short. During his career, Donny Hathaway only released three studio albums, one soundtrack album and two albums with Roberta Flack. Donny Hathaway’s debut album was 1970s Everything Is Everything, which was rereleased by WEA Japan on 26th March 1970. Everything Is Everything is regarded by critics as his greatest album, his musical Magnus Opus, which I’ll tell you about

Donny Edward Hathaway was born in October 1945, in Chicago. He was the son of Drusella Huntley, but was brought up by his grandmother Martha Pitts, a professional gospel singer. While many children are referred to as a musical prodigy, this was true of Donny. At the age of three, Donny joined his grandmother in her church choir. After graduating from Vashon High School, he headed to Howard University in Washington’ DC to study music on a fine arts scholarship. During his time at Howard, Donny formed a jazz trio. He was joined by drummer Ric Powell, and they played around the Washington area. In 1967 Donny received various offers to work within the music industry.

After leaving university, Donny’s first job within the music industry was as session musician, songwriter and producer. His first job was with Twilight Records in Chicago. Later he worked as an arranger, and was responsible for the arrangements on two of The Unifics singles Court of Love and The Beginning of My End. Donny went on to work with The Impressions, Aretha Franklin, Jerry Butler, The Staple Singers, Leroy Hutson and Curtis Mayfield.

Woking with Curtis lead to Donny becoming house producer at Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom Records. It was there, that Curtis started recording as one of the Mayfield Singers. In 1969, he recorded his first track under his own name. This was a duet with June Conquest entitled I Thank You Baby, with another duet by the pair Just Another Reason as the B-side. Later in 1969, Donny signed to the Atco Records label. This came about after being spotted by King Curtis, a musician and producer at a music industry trade convention. This lead to Donny releasing his first successful single The Ghetto Part 1, which he cowrote with friend Leroy Hutson. Like Donny, Leroy Hutson would later go on to find success as a singer, songwriter and producer.

Now signed to Atco, Donny Hathaway began work on his eponymous debut album Everything Is Everything. Of the nine tracks, Donny wrote Thank You Master (For My Soul) and cowrote four other tracks. Donny penned Sugar Lee with Richard Powell, and with Leroy Hutson, cowrote Tryin’ Times and The Ghetto. WIth Phil Upchurch, Donny and Leroy penned Je Vous Aime (I Love You). Phil Upchurch also cowrote Voices Inside (Everything Is Everything) with Richard Evans and Ric Powell. Along with covers of Nina Simone’s To be Young, Gifted and Black and Ray Charles’ I Believe To My Soul, these nine tracks became Donny’s debut album Everything Is Everything.

Recording of Everything Is Everything took place with an experienced band of musicians. The rhythm section included guitarist King Curtis, drummer Ric Powell, bassists Louis Satterfield and Phil Upchurch, who also played guitar. Donny played electric piano and organ. Joining this tight band were a horn section. Producers included Donny, Ric Powell and King Curtis. Once recording of what became Everything Is Everything was completed, it was ready for release in 1970.

On its release of Everything Is Everything, it was critically acclaimed. It reached number seventy-three on the Billboard 200 album charts and number thirty0three in the US R&B Charts. The Ghetto Part 1 was released as a single, reaching number eighty-seven in the US Billboard 100 and number twenty-three in the US R&B Charts. Although Everything Is Everything wasn’t a huge commercial success, it was critically acclaimed as seen as Donny Hathaway’s best album. You’ll realize why when I tell you about it.

Everything Is Everything begins with Voices Inside (Everything Is Everything). It has an understated sound, just a bass being plucked and drums playing. Soon, you think a slice of funk is unfolding. This increases when Donny shouts “let’s get down now,” and then a piano plays. Backing singers join in, Donny scats. By now the arrangement has grown, and is a glorious mixture of horns, harmonies, handclaps and piano. Donny’s style is loose, ad-libbing, whooping and hollering. As the track closes the end of the track, you realize you’ve been privileged to hear four-minutes of masterful music, where soul and funk unite.

Just drums and testifying backing singers combine, before a guitar accompanies Donny. His voice on Je Vous Aime (I Love You) is full of emotion and sincerity. It’s soulful with a capital S. He delivers some heartfelt lyrics, about how times have been tough, yet he still loves her. Soulful and gospel tinged harmonies compliment Donny’s voice perfectly. Apart from the harmonies, it’s just drums, and guitars which feature in the arrangement. When you listen to this track, it’s hard to believe that this is Donny’s debut album, such is the maturity and confidence he displays during such a beautiful track.

I Believe To My Soul has a dramatic opening, it’s a mixture of drums, keyboards and horns. To misquote James Brown it’s loud and it’s proud. When Donny joins in the tempo increases, the arrangement gets fuller and the drama increases. He sings about mistrust and betrayal, his voice loud, strong and soaring powerfully. Behind him, horns blaze. They almost upstage Donny with their performance, punctuating the track with a virtuoso performance. Along with Donny, they play their part in setting the scene for Donny’s tale of distrust and betrayal.

After such an energetic workout as I Believe To My Soul, Misty sees Donny return to his gospel roots. From the start, Misty has a gospel influence. This is apparent is both Donny’s vocal and the arrangement. Donny takes the tempo way down, as he sings. Behind him, a piano plays and are joined by stabs of horns. Not only is the tempo slow, but Donny and his band leave space within the arrangement. This adds to the drama while Donny’s vocal is heartfelt and laden with emotion. Here Donny’s at his soulful best, his passionate performance amongst Everything Is Everything’s highlights.

When Sugar Lee begins to reveal its secrets, a bass is accompanied by whoops, hollers and handclaps. The arrangement is looser, less structured, albeit with a funk and jazz influence. Drums and piano join the bass as you realize this track is very different from previous tracks. Sometimes, the sound veers towards chaotic, but thankfully, that never quite happens. It’s best described as experimental sound, with its roots in jazz and funk. After the quality of previous tracks, Sugar Lee disappoints.

When Tryin’ Times begins, it’s just Donny testifying accompanied by a piano and bass. With real feeling and emotions, he sings about the poverty and society’s problems. The lyrics are powerful, potent and still relevant today. Like most of the tracks on Everything Is Everything the song benefits from a good arrangement, one that’s understated. Forty years after Leroy and Donny penned Tryin’ Times its lyrics are just as relevant.

Thank You Master (For My Soul) is the only track Donny wrote himself. It’s a track with its roots in the church, and features spiritual lyrics. In the lyrics Donny gives thanks, for everything he has, especially his soul. When he does, he gives another heartfelt performance. The arrangement gradually unfolds, subtly revealing its secrets. Slowly, a piano plays, before drums, keyboard and horns enter. What starts of as an understated arrangement, eventually turns into almost a jazz workout, with his band showcasing their musical abilities. It’s almost a song of two parts, and during the second part of the song, Donny is joyous, thankful for what he has. His voice becomes passionate, and sincere, as he gives thanks. You can’t fail to be moved by Donny’s moving and heartfelt performance on this track.

The Ghetto Part 1 is a track most people will recognize. Again, it’s a track with a much looser arrangement. Much of the track is an instrumental with Donny ad-libbing. He whoops as a bass plays, then proudly announces “this is the ghetto.” From there the track meanders along for over seven minutes. Keyboards, percussion, handclaps and the rhythm section are joined by harmonies that interject Occasionally, Donny sings. Mostly, the track meanders along, slowly and beautifully. Whoops, hollers and screams can be heard. The improvisational style of track works well. Here, Donny has borrowed this style from jazz, and this looser style works brilliantly, ending up with one of Donny’s best known tracks.

To Be Young Gifted and Black closes Everything Is Everything. Here, Donny takes a risk, by covering a song made famous by Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin. Many people regard Aretha’s version as the definitive version. However, Donny’s version is good, very good, and runs Nina Simone’s version close. He sings this song about poverty and inequality brilliantly. His rendition is passionate, he sings it as if he’s angered by these things, he sees them rightly, as a blight on society. The arrangement allows Donny’s vocal to shine. Again there’s a gospel influence present and space is left within the arrangement as Donny gives a vocal masterclass. Towards the end of the track, soaring harmonies add the finishing touch to what’s quite simply, the highlight of Everything Is Everything. With its lush, gospel arrangement, this is one of the best songs Donny Hathaway ever recorded.

For anyone yet to discover the music of Donny Hathaway, then the perfect place to start is his debut album Everything Is Everything, which was rereleased by WEA Japan on 26th March 2013. Of the three albums Donny Hathaway recorded, Everything Is Everything is his best album. It was critically acclaimed upon its release. Considering Everything Is Everything was a debut album, it’s an accomplished and mature album. Just nine songs long, Everything Is Everything is a fusion of soul, funk, jazz and gospel, where Donny Hathaway breathes new life, meaning and energy into new and old songs. Whether it’s songs about love, hurt and heartache or songs filled with social comment or spiritual, Donny’s delivery is equally potent and powerful

Of the new songs on Everything Is Everything, The Ghetto Part 1, Tryin’ Times and Thank You Master (For My Soul) are the highlights, while Donny’s cover of To Be Young Gifted and Black is almost as good as Aretha’s. Only Sugar Lee which seems to lack direction, disappoints. Apart from that, Everything Is Everything is one of the best soul albums you could ever hope to hear. The nine tracks on Everything Is Everything feature some of the best tracks Donny Hathaway ever recorded. Here, Donny’s voice is at its best. He’s backed by some hugely talented musicians and the production is almost perfect. That’s why Everything Is Everything is the best album Donny ever released in his tragically, short career.

Although Donny Hathaway only recorded three studio albums, they’re three great albums. If you’ve never heard Everything Is Everything, which was rereleased by WEA Japan on 26th March 2013, is an album that belongs in every record collection. Indeed, I’d thoroughly recommend Everything Is Everything to anyone. Not only is Everything Is Everything an album that once you’ve heard it, you’ll fall in love with it. Donny Hathaway had one of the best voices in soul music, it’s tragic that his life and career were so short. However, we should be thankful that during his lifetime, he recorded such wonderful music, including the majestic Everything Is Everything. Standout Tracks: Voices Inside (Everything Is Everything), Tryin’ Times, Thank You Master (For My Soul) and To Be Young Gifted and Black.


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