The Chicago native with shoulder length dreads and a smoky, smooth alto also abides by a professional ethic that prevents her pursuit of a more commercial (and potentially more lucrative), but less genuine sound and image.
“I’d love for a million people to buy my records like Lady Gaga, I’m just not going to dress up like her to do it,” Hathaway said in an interview.
“I do want to be able to reach as many people as possible,” she added, but said it’s important to do so in a way that is authentically Lalah. “I have to strike a medium between being myself and getting as many people to get it as possible.”
Music is in her genes. As the daughter of the much imitated, never duplicated Donny Hathaway and Eulaulah Hathaway, also an accomplished musician, Lalah began writing music while in the tenth grade. While studying music at Berklee College of Music, she recorded her self-titled debut album in 1990, which included the hits Baby Don’t Cry, Heaven Only Knows and I’m Coming Back.
Hathaway earned her first number one single in 2004, for her cover of Luther Vandross’ Forever, For Always, For Love. And even when covering other artists’ music, she does so in a style that is uniquely her own. As one of several female singers to perform a tribute to Anita Baker on the Soul Train Music Awards in November, Hathaway’s performance stood out because of her unique approach to phrasing the lyrics and intoning the melody.
She brings her sultry soul to the sixth annual Jazz in the Gardens music festival on Saturday, March 19.
“It’s a good look for me. I’m really looking forward to seeing Lauryn Hill and Charlie Wilson.”
Her velvety smooth vocals recently led to her first Grammy award – well sort of. The songwriters for God is Good, Kirk Whalum and Jerry Peters, actually won the Best Gospel Song honor. Hathaway sang on the recording.
“It feels incredible to be a part of a project that won,” she said of the win.
Hathaway’s connection to her father is constant, but shows up in different ways.
“It depends on the night and the venue and the song and the mood. I wish I had kind of a pat answer. I’ve had to answer that question for the last 20 years. He’s always there. He’s always there.”
Although Donny Hathaway committed suicide in 1979, his music lingers, with young singers like Usher, Alicia Keys and Frank McComb citing him as an influence.
“Like my father, I want to leave a legacy of music that makes people really feel something, whether it be happiness, sadness, grief or heartache. I also want them to appreciate my humor which I know can be difficult to interpret in a song,” Lalah said.
Her last album, Self Portrait, was released in 2008. Of it, she said, “This album is like a movie of my life over the last couple of years. The portrait I see of myself is of a very confident, smart woman who is extremely funny, independently wealthy and well-traveled – all things that I am to a small degree,” she laughs. “Every day, I realize that I’m walking toward the woman I’m going to be. She’s there. I can see her.”
Renee Michelle Harris may be reached at RMHarris15@Bellsouth.net.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Jazz in the Gardens
WHEN: SunLife Stadium, 2269 NW 199th St., Miami Gardens
WHERE: Saturday, March 19 and Sunday, March 20
COST: From $45 for single day; $75 for two-day pass
CONTACT: For more information and the complete artist line-up, please visit www.jazzinthegardens.com.