Long lost Donny Hathaway song unearthed, and it is brilliant

The late, great Donny Hathaway holds a place in the world of soul music that is tough to capture in words. To say he is revered is a bit of an understatement. Even though his recording career was quite brief – only three solo studio albums -- he is considered by many to be the musical father of many of the great vocalists of the three decades that followed his emergence. His ability to capture and express the deepest emotions of love, faith, hope and even despair was truly unique, and his releases have been consistently cherished by music fans (whether on vinyl, tape, CD, streaming or, now, back to vinyl) since his tragic death in 1979.

The late, great Donny Hathaway holds a place in the world of soul music that is tough to capture in words. To say he is revered is a bit of an understatement. Even though his recording career was quite brief – only three solo studio albums -- he is considered by many to be the musical father of many of the great vocalists of the three decades that followed his emergence. His ability to capture and express the deepest emotions of love, faith, hope and even despair was truly unique, and his releases have been consistently cherished by music fans (whether on vinyl, tape, CD, streaming or, now, back to vinyl) since his tragic death in 1979.

Late in 2020, there was a flurry on social media about a long lost Hathaway performance that was unearthed. “You Had to Know” was a song that Hathaway had originally written for the Bay Area band Cold Blood, a horn-laden R&B act similar to Tower of Power, who included it on their album First Taste of Sin (hear that version here). Hathaway produced that album for Cold Blood, and "You Had To Know" became a signature song for the group.

“You Had to Know” had a second life in 2014, when a smoother but equally stunning version was released by Kirk Whalum on his Donny Hathaway tribute album, Everything is Everything, with guest vocals by Donny’s daughter Lalah Hathaway.

But the buzzed about version that hit social media was the first recording that most of us had heard of Donny Hathaway singing this lost gem. It was likely the demo recording he gave to Cold Blood to prepare them for their session. But it is also chilling in its brilliance. Opening with piano, a fluttering organ and a restrained rhythm section, the song opens up to Hathaway’s familiar vocals, soaring into falsetto as the horn section enters. It is simply gorgeous, and a performance that has been shockingly hidden for nearly a half century. The song has since been posted on YouTube.

This just may make your day. Check it out.

Donny Hathaway – “You Had To Know”

 

 

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