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Lalah Hathaway:: New beginnings for Grammy-nominated singer

by BeBe Sweetbriar
Sunday Jan 29, 2012
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R&B Grammy nominated songstress Lalah Hathaway was born into a music lineage of royal proportions as the daughter of the legendary Grammy winner Donny Hathaway ("Where Is The Love" duet with Roberta Flack, "A Song For You," "This Christmas," and the classic ballad "Someday We’ll All Be Free").

But Lalah’s legacy of great music has definitely picked up where her father’s may have left off. Her voice is all so soothing, her lyrics say too often what we want to say but don’t know how, and her music, well, never becomes dated. Last fall the Berklee College of Music alum released fifth solo studio album in her twenty-one year recording career, "Where It All Begins." In 2008 she released her fifth album "Self Portrait," which proved to be her most successful album to date. She received a Best Female R&B Vocal Performance Grammy Award nomination for the single from the CD, "That Was Then."

Lalah shared with me while between gigs in the Washington, D.C. area her thoughts on being apart of a music legacy, the lack of music for our children in schools, why her music creates a mood within us, and why her recording mill will begin churning much faster.


Good... stuff

BeBe: I’ve been listening to your latest full album offering "Where It All Begins" released late in 2011 like it is crazy!

Lalah: Oh, thank you!

BeBe: It is some good sh...., oops,almost said something else, ....stuff!

Lalah: (Laughing) Thank you.

BeBe: You know I’ve always wanted to ask you, and other recording artists who come from a legendary lineage, is it a weight for you to carry the name Hathaway since your father, Donny Hathaway, left such a musical legacy behind?

Lalah: (In a matter of fact tone) No, not at all! I don’t even have to carry it. I just have to be me and show up for what I’m supposed to show up for. It has never entered my mind that it’s a weight I have to carry. I’m very proud of my parents and who they are, and who I am, and I represent them. This (the legacy) just happens to be a small part of who I am.

BeBe: I’m going to paraphrase a quote you made that I read "....in a way I feel that my father came here in part so I can be here," and continuing ".....I am here in part so he can stay here." You were born for what you do?

Lalah: Absolutely! I agree. I did say that. I really feel like it’s a circle, you know what I mean. It’s a circle and I’m very proud to be associated with both of my parents.


Education a key

BeBe: One thing I have always admired about you is that even with such lineage behind you, with such natural ability in your genes, you did what so many young artists today DON’T do and that is getting formal training through school.

Lalah: In addition to being the daughter of two musicians, I am the daughter of two music educators. The music education was very important in my life, and very important to me to advocate for kids to have music education. Thirty years of studies have proved that music education improves cognitive learning skills. It improves their math and reading skills. It makes them happier, better rounded kids. So, my parents knew that. It really just makes sense to educate yourself about whatever field you get in, right? That was really important.

BeBe: It is interesting your comment about how music education not only makes kids happier, and it’s fun, but it also adds to their ability to learn other skills, yet music is one of the first programs to go in school when money becomes an issue.

Lalah: It’s really a problem because society doesn’t understand that it really needs art. Art is really important. It’s not just art for art’s sake. It makes our kids smarter and more well rounded. I do work with NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences), and I do advocate for music in schools. Anything I can do to get music into kids’ lives is really important.

BeBe: The music that you have done over the last 20 years stays true to who you are. You tell stories. I mean some people write novels, you write music. With that said, how important do you think music is for kids who may have problems expressing themselves verbally otherwise? They have a problem that they don’t know how to express how they feel verbally. Can music help with that?

Lalah: Kids need a creative outlet. I think we all need a creative outlet. (We need) things that make your brain work in a different capacity,and help you express yourself. When you look across the country at our kids, in terms of their cognitive and other learning skills, art is not a foregone conclusion. When I was growing up, everybody had a piano. In everybody’s house I could go listen or try and make music. And that’s a small thing that I really took for granted because a lot of small kids haven’t even touched a piano any more. They don’t really have any investment in terms of music and art.


Soothing sounds

BeBe: On this collection of music of "Where It All Begins"... well, first off, I recently interviewed an actor/singer by the name of Wilson Cruz who in a tweet named your album the R&B Autumn Album of 2011. I like the fact that he used the word autumn because the resonance of your voice is amazing and it always makes me feel like the fall of the leaves in autumn. I put Lalah on when I just need something to soothe me. I go get me a glass of wine, sit back and enjoy the stories.

Lalah: I appreciate that! I’m glad to hear that you have a mood for the music because that’s what I created it for.

BeBe: Your voice actually lends the listener a tool to do just that... listen! Plus you have something to say, so it is really great. It all comes together, and that’s not something that you learn.

Lalah: I don’t think so either.

BeBe: I think it is something that is inherent to who are and what you are about. I did notice that on this particular album, you have worked with some particular producers (J.R. Hutson, Andre Harris, Vidal Davis, Phil Ramone)who have worked with other artists with similar content and context to how they do their music. These are people who have worked with Jill Scott, Musiq, Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey. All these artist have a similar vibe in their music. Did you go in with the intent on getting these guys on board with this project?

Lalah: I did. Particularly with J.R. Hutson who wrote that song for Musiq Soulchild "So Beautiful." I was really stuck on that song, and I knew I wanted to work with him based on that song. And Dre and Vidal (Andre Harris and Vidal Davis), I met at Usher’s wedding. I sang at Usher’s wedding. I met them there and we talked about working together. I really try to pick people I know are great musicians, whether they have big hits are not. I really like what they do, and I’m moved to try and create something with them.


Confounded expectations

BeBe: When I first read the title of the album, "Where It All Begins," I had expected something a little different. I kind of popped up and thought that this may be a collection of remakes of covers of your Dad’s songs.

Lalah: I think a few people thought that. But no (chuckles a bit).

BeBe: Have you ever considered with today’s technology of doing a duet with your Dad’s voice, as did Natalie Cole with her Dad, Nat King Cole?

Lalah: No, never have, You know mostly because it has already been done. Secondly, because it is an unnatural thing. It’s a monologue when it should be a dialogue, but the dialogue will never happen. It’s forcing something unreal so that somebody can marvel at it.

BeBe: In the 21 or so years that you have been recording music, one thing that I’ve noticed is that you take your time, girl. You are like 4-5 years in between albums.

Lalah: It may seem that way, but the clip and the pace in which I record will become quicker. I have been under-recorded actually.


Biding her time

BeBe: Has this been a conscious thing that you have done in your recording pace?

Lalah: No, it has been a lot of different things. The (music) industry takes these turns and twists,and artists, we take these turns and twists. I think the pattern will become such that I will have more content for you more often. It’s just a different climate now so we’re able to do that.

BeBe: I know that it has also taken some time for you to get your industry recognition where you were finally nominated for a Grammy for "Self Portrait" a couple of years back. Not that you have put much into it, but I think many of your listeners and fans think that nomination was so past due.

Lalah: Thank you. I did too (we both laugh). Absolutely!

BeBe: Since it had been a long time coming, receiving the news of the nomination had to have been joyful for you.

Lalah: I screamed literally out loud. I was really, really surprised. I had said I would not ever go to the Grammys unless I was nominated, so that was the first time I actually went. And then I was nominated again the following year and went. What they say is true about being nominated being the exciting part., until.....they say who won. But leading up to that is great. They tell you real early that you have been nominated, so you have time to talk about it and take it all in. It is really surreal until they call your category and you lose (we laugh).

BeBe: Now with all the people you have worked with, you cover such a wide range of genres with R&B and jazz (collaborated with legendary Joe Sample), and with this collection you work with the wonderful Rachelle Ferrell, are there any artists out there you would like to record with that you have yet to?

Lalah: Oh, sure! D’Angelo, The Roots, Sting, Timbaland, and the Neptunes, DJ Quik.....

BeBe: You got a list going, girl!

Lalah: I sure do!

But I would bet my first born that Lalah Hathway’s name appears on far more artist’s list that wish to work with her. She is just that good! Lyrically,vocally, musically it is the complete package. Lalah speaks of how proud she is to be a product of the Hathaways, well Honey, you can bet they are beaming with joy from up above back atchya.

Lalah Hathway’s "Where It All Begins" on Concord Records available on Amazon.com and iTunes, and all music retail outlets.

To find out where you can next see Lalah performing live visit her website.


Based out of San Francisco, BEBE SWEETBRIAR is the Omni Present Drag Chanteuse. As an entertainer and hostess, BeBe can be scene every week hosting and performing at countless events and parties in the San Francisco. One of the few drag personalities to sing live while performing, BeBe has literally graced every notable stage in San Francisco, bridging many gay sub-community gaps. She has also been the opening act for Destiny’s Child Kelly Rowland, "Ugly Betty’s" Alec Mapa and Dance Diva Kristine W. Adding recording artist to her list of performance accomplishments in 2008 with the release of her first single "Save Me", Ms. Sweetbriar will soon release her fifth dance single in 2012 called "Show It Off"..
As an actress, BeBe was introduced to film with a lead role in the independent film "Under One Sun" with her character dealing with religious, racial and gender issues. Additionally, she appeared in the campy musical "Devious, Inc" (Australian Film Festival, San Francisco Short Film Fest) also adding additional vocals to the musical soundtrack. Both of these performances led to her selection for a lead role in Aisha Media’s next short film series, "Con-tin.u.um" to be released in 2012.

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