An Ode To Donny Hathaway and “This Christmas”
If you know like I know you don’t want to step to this Christmas season doesn’t officially begin until the first time I play Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas”, his 1970 single (that he wrote with Nadine McKinnor) that tanked upon release but over time has become as vital to the Christmas season as Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You”. For me, this first spin can occur anywhere from mid-July to Thanksgiving Day.
From the opening horns and drums, you know its about to go down. Your head might nod because your neck knows its phat. Your foot might tap. Your hips might unconsciously sway a little bit. It’s impossible not to feel good about…something…when it comes on. The song is perfect. When I think of Christmas, I immediately think of “This Christmas,” The Temptations “Silent Night,” and the Whispers “Happy Holidays To You.”
Let’s kick some actual factuals, though. Donny Hathaway is my favorite singer of all time. You care. While my starting five might change depending on my mood, Donny Hathaway (and typically Phyllis Hyman) are always in that number, no matter what. Donny’s voice is as close to heavenly as you can get. While I don’t know if G’z get to go to heaven (cuz I don’t want to die), I’m pretty sure that everybody who does get in gets a free non-ad subscription to Spotify with a suggested “Accepted In Heaven” Playlist and this song is included along with a few songs by the Doobie Brothers, Fleetwood Mac, Boston, Marvin Gaye, Joni Mitchell, Stevie, and oddly enough “Party Rock” by LMFAO.
(I just made all that up by the way.)
And just to prove to you all that I’ve been real with mine for an uber long time, this post from 2009 shows me putting Donny Hathaway at number one my list of voices that need to be recognized (while it also shows me using Dontavious as my middle name even back then for folks thinking that’s a new thing).
1) Donny Hathaway
I swear, this is one of the few grown ass men who’s ever brought a tear to my eyes, with the other being my father after an asswhippin’. Donny had one of the most beautiful voices EVER. So clear, so beautiful. So fresh and so clean clean. In fact, Donny’s voice was so good, he didn’t feel like he deserved it anymore and jumped out of a window of a hotel in New York City in January of 1979.
Rude joke aside, you get my point. Donny is my dude.
I’m not adept enough with the synonyms to accurately describe his voice as anything other than Godly. In my estimation, the good Lord himself was cookin’ voices in his kitchen, came across perfection, pointed to St. Louis and Donny Hathaway was born who ended up taking his talents to Washington, DC’s Howard University and Chicago and New York to make my life better when I was fortunate enough to discover him.
In fact, I remember listening to “A Song For You” something like 200 times in a row because it drew that much emotion out of me. I wasn’t depressed or anything (its a sad ass song) but my goodness, Donny, you went and made that song yours. I’ve got all of his musics because how can you love Donny and not have all of his musics. I’ve ordered albums from Japan (Come Back Charleston Blue soundtrack) and special ordered collector’s only versions of albums. In my home hangs an article from 1970 speaking about the emergence of Donny.
I’m just saying that the love is real. It’s, like, real real. Which means you know its real. Real real.
Very few artists have impacted me the way he did. And I owe a debt of gratitude to one of my best friends who gave me a Donny master’s class our freshman year in college. I’d heard the name but never really paid attention until my boy Adrian (the one who penned this letter) really put me on game as Donny is one of his favorite artists as well. The rest, as they say, is history. My life changed for the better that day and was never the same because Donny Hathaway changes lives. His voice is so pure and soulful. While he only has three main solo releases (1970’s Everything Is Everything, 1971’s Donny Hathaway, and 1979’s Extension Of A Man), his live recordings and albums with Roberta Flack are must haves. Hip-hop heads will recognize the samples from Scarface’s “My Block” from Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway’s “Be Real Black For Me” and T.I.’s “What You Know” from Roberta Flack’s “Gone Away”, both written and arranged by Donny Hathaway.
To this day there is NEVER not a good time to listen to “Thank You Master (For My Soul)”, or “Giving Up” or “A Song For You”, or basically anything he’s ever touched. Trust me, I’m a blogger.
And “This Christmas” is emblematic of that perfect gift. He intended to create a beautiful Christmas song and #wallahmagic, done. I’d wager that there isn’t a Black household in America (maybe a few of you ingrates, probably folks like Lawrence Otis Graham, Ben Carson, and Armstrong Williams) where this song doesn’t show up at least ONE solid time during the holiday season. It’s that infectious. It plays in Macy’s and CVSs. When I visited my mother in Michigan, in as white an enclave as possible, I heard this song playing in the gas station when I went to pick up milk at 10pm and hoped the place didn’t get robbed later that evening because I knew if that happened, I’d have spent Thanksgiving in jail. I like to think that Donny kept the store safe and me out of jail that night.
It’s jovial. It’s warm. It’s the blues in your left thigh trying to become the funk in your right. It’s the real shit, shit to make you feel shit, bump it in the club shit, have you wildin’ out (shit). Thugs play this in their cars for their kids during Christmas right after Migos. Thugs play this in the car for their other thug homies during Christmas right after Migos. Real talk, I have a homeboy from home who got a little bit of thug in him. On one trip back home some years ago, we got in the car heading to do hoodrat things withour friends and lo and behold, the homey threw on “This Christmas”, confusing all of us in the car. He looked at us like, “oh you niggas too good for ‘This Christmas’? Panama, I know you ain’t, I know this is your boy and I’ve been in your house listening to this eating your food and drinking your father’s fine liquors.” My father does keep a stash.
It’s a universal Christmas song infused with soul to keep you afloat.
One last final note of how awesome “This Christmas” is (even though I know you already know). The other day, as I was rolling in my 5.0 (I do not own a 5.0), “This Christmas” came on the radio. My daughter says, “Daddy, can you turn this up? I know it’s Christmas when I hear this song!”
Heart melted. My daughter (and by extension all of my children) are being raised right when they recognize the necessity and importance of Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” as vital to the Christmas experience. Because it is.
RIP to my favorite artist of all time, and thank you for all of the beautiful Christmas memories and future shenanigans.
To Donny. To “This Christmas”.