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Lalah Hathaway: Soaring on Her Own


by Cesca Janece Waterfield


Lalah Hathaway is a gifted vocalist whose rich sultry voice is refreshingly unlike most of her contemporaries. Musical talent runs in her family, and her grandmother was a professional gospel singer. But talent doesn’t guarantee that the journey will be easy. Lalah’s father is the late Donny Hathaway, the tremendously gifted soul musician most widely known for his duet with Roberta Flack, “Where is the Love.” Donny suffered from depression for many years, which sent him to the hospital on several occasions. In 1979, he was found in New York City, an apparent suicide. Lalah was ten years old at the time. Her own musical talent was already evident, and as a young woman, she studied at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. Today Lalah lives in Los Angeles. She just released her fifth album, “Self Portrait” on Stax Records. “Self Portrait” is a collection of songs revealing a multi-faceted liberation in overcoming life’s challenges to arrive at peace with herself and the world. Visit Lalah online at www.LalahHathaway.com and www.MySpace.com/lalahspace. Lalah says, “I like to think of my Website as my home, and my MySpace as my timeshare.”


She performs Oct. 15 at Toad’s Place, 6:30 p.m. in a show presented by VUU and Radio One. Call 672-9299 for tickets.

Congratulations on your fifth album. “Self Portrait” is really strong.
I’m really excited about it. I think it’s probably my best record, my best work. It’s definitely my most personal work, the work that I’ve had the most to do with. I didn’t have ownership of the other records in the way that I do this one. My hands are on this record from start to finish including all the writing, all the production, choosing the musicians, choosing the sequencing of the record, making the artwork like it is, creating the album packaging, the font, everything.


What is your songwriting process?
It depends on the song. It depends on who I’m working with. Sometimes you get a track and you write to that. Sometimes you have a whole song in your head and you need people to help you do that. It’s kind of an organic process. I’m getting started on the next record and I’m thinking what the process will be. It changes almost every time. I’m interested in making a record that people can enjoy with their kids. I don’t know what the process of that will be. I’m just kind of ruminating on it right now and we’ll see.


You speak often about the importance of live music, especially to soul music. You’ve even said that live music is a “dying art.”
When I say support your local musician, I mean that really from my heart. This is not to say that music that is more synthesized or less acoustic has any less merit, because it doesn’t. There’s stuff on my record that’s live drums, there’s stuff that’s not live drums. What I’d like to see is more of a balance between music that people think they understand on the radio, and actual live music. I think musicians kind of feel disenfranchised from the music industry. It’s always fun for me to play live shows, and watch people react to these musicians, because that’s what makes music come alive.


How have you forged your own career and identity as the daughter of someone who is so loved?
It’s really the coolest thing in the world. It really is a blessing because I get so much love and so much light from it. People ask a lot, what is it like to be in your father’s shadow. It’s just never felt like a shadow to me ever. It always felt like a light. I feel extremely honored and extremely proud. I hear from so many people all around the world how he affected their lives. It’s really an honor to be able to take these stories in and try and carry on that tradition of excellence.



You’ve been very vocal about the importance of breast self-examination and you actively educate the public about breast cancer.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I am an Ambassador for the Circle of Promise. Your readers can find out more at www.CircleOfPromise.org. It’s an initiative pointed pretty much at African American women because cancer is killing us quickly. We are the last to be diagnosed, and the first to die. Early detection is about 92 percent curable. This is something that we can educate people about, and we can eradicate it. It doesn’t have to be killing us the way that it is.


You make a real effort to exercise as one way to lower your risk of breast cancer. What do you do?
I have the Wii Fit. I love that thing. You need more exercise than that, but that is what I do a lot. I really enjoy that thing. I’m kind of a video game junkie. I like to walk. When I go to the gym, I really enjoy spin class. I watch what I eat. I had my first mammogram this year, which was a very strange and wonderful and horrifying experience. It only took about ten or fifteen minutes. I don’t drink and I don’t smoke. I drink occasionally, but not enough to harm my voice. I was a smoker for many years, and I just quit about four years ago. I just try to keep it together.


You look great. What are you doing to take care of yourself?
I don’t know! I think part of it is that I don’t have any kids. Like many women, I don’t take as good care of myself as I should. I don’t give myself the kind of time that I should. And that’s something that I’m focusing on for my big 20-20. I’m focusing on getting myself together just my whole total package. On the inside, I’m such an introverted person. I’m going to try to work that from the inside out.


Your Richmond show is part of Virginia Union’s Homecoming. What do you do when you get back from a long stretch of time on the road?
I have two dogs, a Cocker Spaniel named Calvin that’s 16, and I have a Bichon named Boston that just turned three. I have a gang of friends that I hang out with. We watch movies and eat popcorn. I do spend a lot of time on my computer – video games. I’m kind of into gadgets, that kind of stuff. I try and check out a little comedy when I can.

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