WASHINGTON, D.C.—The historic ambiance of the legendary Howard Theater, a DC national landmark, provided the necessary quaintness for the uniquely soulful songstress, Lalah Hathaway on Sept. 28.
On a surprisingly warm night the young singer proudly upheld her father’s legacy as another truly gifted American soul artist. Even more, Lalah is a musician who comfortably displayed her array of vocalese and classical training from Boston’s renowned Berklee College of Music. Throughout the evening, she easily demonstrated her signature contralto stylings while lifting through octaves to reach nearly operatic modal scales. This fact was effortlessly displayed during her rendition of the Anita Baker classic, “Angel.”
After briefly toying with the audience about their knowledge of Baker’s musical catalogue, she eased into “You’re The Best Thing Yet,” another one of Detroit Anita’s classics.
During a interview on cable TV One’s News One Now featuring host Roland Martin, Lalah revealed that the DC/Maryland/Virginia (DMV) region is perhaps her favorite performance market, followed closely by New York City demographics. She also noted that she’ll release her first live album on Oct. 30.
“Lalah Hathaway Live” was recorded at the Troubadour Lounge, the same venue where her father, the late Donny Hathaway, recorded his epic, “Donny Hathaway Live” circa 1972.
During the performance, Lalah opened her set appropriately with a tune recorded by her dad, “Little Ghetto Boy.”
She noted to news anchor Martin that the tune’s lyrics aptly coincide with today’s times, sadly enough due to current oppressive occurrences that mirror images of inner-city America some 40 years ago.
On TV One, Lalah revealed that “Little Ghetto Boy” was a tune she grew up with, and always wanted to cover. Thankfully, she’s the one who had the nerve and talent to honor her father by providing us with a solid, respectful rendition of this modern-day classic. She purposely sings the tune in the same key as her late father did on his live classic, she revealed to Martin.
Speaking of her father’s original live recording at the Bitter End in NYC and at The Troubadour in LA, the original lineup of Willie Weeks, bass; Earl DeRouen, congas; guitarists Phil Upchurch, Mike Howard and Cornell Dupree and drummer Freddy White (Maurice White’s younger brother), would have been proud of the young musicians currently accompanying Lalah on tour. These young-blood cats paid special attention to detail in re-creating “Little Ghetto Boy,” and closely mimicked the original live arrangement.
Inspirationally, the 105-year-old Howard venue displays life-size black and white images of music legends such as James Brown, BB King and in Lalah‘s benefit, the great Lena Horne and Ella Fitzgerald. On this night, she would mimic the great Ella by displaying her gift for scat-singing, an art that Ella still has no comparisons. But Lalah captured the essence of this very challenging style of improvisational jazz vocalese.
Already considered as one of today’s diverse lady soul vocalists, it was refreshing when Lalah delved into a version of the George Gershwin-composed “Summertime” from the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. Accompanied by her super-talented four-piece combo, “Summertime” kicked-off with a funky bass riff that delivered a totally surprising feel, never expected to prelude this all-time classic. Lalah then proceeded to offer a fusionistic version that kept the crowd clapping to the funky beats of this classic composition.
Backed with two high-caliber male backup singers, Chicago-born Lalah and her boys thrilled the audience throughout the evening with exhilaratingly-complex three-part vocal harmonies. She fully captivated the RnB-based audience when she and the band slipped into a cover of the Earth, Wind and Fire stellar, “Love’s Holiday.” Audience-participation lyrical melodies then sweetly filled the venue … “Would you mind …” as the band showed their respect for their musical forefathers/composers Maurice White and Skip Scarborough by offering an impeccably-performed version of the EWF 1978 classic.
Working off that same foundational groove, the band calmly segued into another identifiable soul classic, “Yearnin For Your Love,” by “Uncle” Charlie Wilson and The Gap Band from 1980.
After warming-up the crowd with those two classics, Lala, a double-Grammy winner, delved into her debut solo hit, “Baby Baby Don’t Cry” from 1990.
But it was the first few chords of “Forever, For Always, For Love.” that brought down the proverbial house. The tune is from her 2004 release and aptly covers the 1982 Luther Vandross original— breathing new life to this classic for a whole new generation of soul music appreciators—thanks to Lalah‘s elegant and soulful vocal arrangement. Earlier on her set-list, she also sang a warm rendition of her father’s emotional classic, “You Were Meant For Me.” This tune likewise received an expectedly welcomed response from her fan base. And like her father, Lalah too has the ability to effectively hum melodically—a very difficult vocal skill, indeed. She also dazzled the audience with her whistling talents.
Following her 90-minute performance, including an additional encore tune, Lalah bid her audience adieu.
It’s also hoped that someday soon Lalah will release an album that accompanies her father’s vocals, much like the successful duets that Natalie Cole did with dad Nat King Cole in the early 1990s. The time is just about right for ‘Hathaway Meets Hathaway.’
In a brief conversation with Lalah‘s mother after the show, Eulaulah Hathaway informed me that she and Donny met at Howard University, a campus located just minutes from the Howard Theater, and that both were music majors.
“Yes, Lalah and her sister Kenya get it (musical genes) from both sides,“ she chuckled. She also noted that first-born Lalah is actually named Eulaulah Donyll Hathaway, and that Lalah is third in a generation of family Eulaulahs. Lalah‘s grandmother is the original Eulaulah, said Hathaway.
Younger sister Kenya also studied music at Berklee, sang regularly on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and serves as a vocal coach for TV’s “American Idol,” according to Mrs. Hathaway. “We’re proud of both girls,” she added.
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