She's one of the most talented singers you don't know, though to avid soul fans she's part of a royal family. The daughter of legendary Chicago soul performer Donny Hathaway and his talented wife Eulauhlah, and the sister of modern soul favorite Lalah, Kenya Hathaway has quietly established a career as a quality singer and songwriter without ever having released an album of her own.
For a decade and a half, Kenya, who is now based in Los Angeles, has been a sought-after backing vocalist, particularly on the contemporary jazz albums of such artists as Walter Beasley, Gerald Albright, George Duke and Lee Ritenour and pop albums by Christina Aguilera and Celine Dion. She has also provided vocal assistance on several of her sister Lalah's discs. But she is seen most often as one of the three backing vocalists on American Idol (along with Sharlotte Gibson and longtime SoulTracks favorite Sy Smith), where week after week she helps provide harmonies behind young singers -- most of whom are her vocal inferiors.
With a voice that is softer and more youthful than her sister Lalah's, Kenya has provided a sweetness to the songs on which she's been featured. But despite her obvious talent (check out a selection of her songs on her MySpace page) and her years of experience just outside of the spotlight, Hathaway has yet to issue her own album, to the frustration of her underground fanbase. To this day she continues to make her mark providing valuable support on the albums of others, whether on record or in the American Idol competition. Here's hoping we'll hear more of her own music in the future.
By Chris Rizik