Saturday, September 21, 2013

Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway--Where Is The Love (1972)

     We see examples in music of duos who do much better together than separately. Although Roberta Flack maintained a strong career on the charts through the 70's and part of the 80's, Donny Hathaway's success always seemed to be linked to his female duet partner.
     Hathaway received an scholarship to Howard University and went there three years before quitting to pursue his professional avenues. He first worked behind the scenes as a songwriter, producer and session pianist for a number of stars such as Aretha Franklin, The Staple Singers, and Jerry Butler. He also sang in "The Mayfield Singers" who would back The Impressions. Soon, he became the house producer for Mayfield's Custom record label.
     Atco Records was interested in Hathaway as a solo performer and signed him to their label in 1969, but the first few efforts didn't go far. However, his first album in 1970, "Everything is Everything" has become somewhat of a soul classic.
     I've read in some materials on the internet that it was during their time at Howard University that Flack and Hathaway were friends and this led to them working on music together. It sounds good, but that's not true since Flack was offered a scholarship at the age of 15 (one of the youngest to ever enter the university) in 1952 and graduated at the age of 19 when Hathaway was 11.
     The real story is that Flack included one of Donny's compositions on her "First Take" album in 1969 ("Our Ages or Our Hearts"). The next album not only included "Gone Away" written by Hathaway and Curtis Mayfield, but he was the arranger on the disc as well. It was Jerry Wexler who suggested an album of duets.
     The result was the album, "Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway" in 1971 which gave them a minor hit with the James Taylor song, "You've Got A Friend". In fact, both the duo's and Taylor's version came out on the same day, and while JT's version went to number one, it certainly gave both much needed exposure.
     This was especially true of Flack who just a short time later hit number one with, "The First Time Every I Saw Your Face",  a song from the Clint Eastwood movie, "Play Misty For Me". In the summer of 1972, Atlantic chose to take the song, "Where Is The Love" off of the duet album which became a top five hit, and won the pair a Grammy as well. The next solo outing for Roberta was, "Killing Me Softly With His Song" which became another number one hit and propelled her into superstardom.
     Hathaway however continued having problem making it big as a solo artist. His problems with mental illness also became a problem, not only in his personal life, but in his relationship with Flack. He had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and as long has he was taking his medication he was fine. His wife later admitted that he was not always diligent in this respect and it eventually effected all of his relationships.
     Although Donny had a few top 20 hits on the R&B charts, he was never able to translate this into overall success. He did some television work, including recording the theme song to "Maude" and produced some as well, but much of the mid-70's was spent working in small clubs and having several bouts in the hospital for his emotional issues. Later in the decade he reconciled with Flack and the two went back into the studio to record what would be another huge hit, "The Closer I Get To You" in 1978. The pair were making plans to release another duet album when Hathaway was found dead in January of 1979 after falling from his 15th story apartment. There were no signs of struggle and the sliding door was neatly moved, which led investigators to rule it a suicide. He was 33. 



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