Lalah Hathaway burst onto the soul and jazz scene in 1990 with an auspicious self-titled debut album. The disc displayed a young artist who clearly had the pipes, but was also a developing song stylist, able to interpret both modern R&B and jazz. Her last name gave a lot away. She is the daughter of legendary soul performer Donny Hathaway and his talented wife Eulauhlah. However, while her name may have brought initial attention to some people, it was immediately clear that she was a true -- and distinctive -- vocal talent. With a style somewhat reminiscent of Patti Austin, but with a deeper, smokier edge, Lalah climbed to the top of the R&B charts with her debut hit "Heaven Knows" and delivered a solid, varied album.
Unfortunately, it would be four years before she released her sophomore effort, A Moment, a slightly lesser album that showed her vocal skills continuing to mature but not always with material worthy of her talent. It came and went without as much notice as her debut. She went quiet again as a solo artist, though her warm, elegant voice graced a number of smooth jazz albums by artists such as Grover Washington, Wayman Tisdale and Gerald Albright.
Then in 1999, her finest recorded performance was released. Her album of duets with pianist extraordinaire Joe Sample, The Song Lives On, was a true masterpiece, providing new looks at old Sample material as well as a number of standards. Her vocal interpretations of "When Your World Turns Blue," "When Your Life Was Low" and her father's classic standard, "For All We Know" are chilling, and The Song Lives On became the best album of that year and an essential disc for lovers of torchy ballads. It also showed that, while Hathaway was certainly notable as a modern R&B stylist, her capabilities as a jazz singer had developed in an astonishing fashion over the decade of the 90s, to a point virtually unmatched among current artists.
Over the last few years Lalah has continued to provide vocal assistance on other artists' albums, most recently performing "Someday We'll All Be Free" with Take 6 on their Beautiful World disc. She returned in 2005 with Outrun the Sky, her first solo album in a decade.
In early 2007, Lalah signed with Stax Records. Her Stax debut, Self Portrait, perhaps her most personal record, was issued in 2008 to critical acclaim. She teamed in 2010 with Eric Roberson for "Dealing," which was the "Song of the Year" in the SoulTracks Readers' Choice Awards. In 2011, she completed her long anticipated album, Where It All Begins.
By Chris Rizik