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Band Notes: Lalah Hathaway

The performer, the daughter of soul legend Donny Hathaway, dishes about returning to Washington, her eclectic sound, and what it’s like living with her father’s ghost.

Hathaway at the Howard Theatre Gala. Photograph by Ben Droz.

Grammy-nominated performing artist Lalah Hathaway possesses a rare versatility, fusing pop, funk, jazz, blues, and R&B in her classically trained sound. But it’s perhaps not surprising considering her pedigree—her father is the late soul legend Donny Hathaway, whom she affectionately describes as “the greatest singer of all time.” Lalah Hathaway studied at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, and recorded her sixth album, Where It All Begins, last year. This Saturday, the “first daughter of soul” plays the Howard Theatre; we caught up with her to discuss bucket lists, musical legacies, and her parents’ Washington roots.

How does it feel to be performing in Washington, specifically at the Howard Theatre?

I’ve been in Washington quite a bit this year. I’m always excited to be here. I have quite a bit of family in the area. I’m sort of an honorary Howard baby since both of my parents went there, so I’m excited about performing again at Howard Theatre. I was actually at its reopening, which was a big star-studded event. To do our own show there is great.

You’ve been called the first daughter of soul, but you’re also jazzy and funky, and you do a lot of fusion. Are labels problematic for you?

You know I actually made that [title] up, so it suits me fine.

You made it up?

Yeah, I started saying it and then people started saying it. It’s fine with me. I really don’t associate with labels in music. I’m truly a musician at heart. Labels don’t faze me one way or another.

So would you say you’re comfortable existing in any genre?

Absolutely. What I really strive for is to be the most well-rounded musician I can be. And that means I do and play all the music I’ve been informed by my whole life. I really enjoy sitting with other different types of artists, making different kinds of music.

Any plans to try your hand at other arts forms?

I’m really into photography. I make a lot of things. I’m one of those creative chicks who does all sorts of things: I crochet, I knit, I paint. I’m really interested in comedy, in acting, in learning how to be a better pianist. Interested in the arts.

Rolling Stone included your father on its list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. What’s it like being the daughter of a soul legend?

I actually say he’s the greatest singer of all time. I am a child of the parents that I believe I chose, and I did very well. It never dawned on me that there was anything special to it. I recognize that I do what I do in the same way that my father did. And I also recognize that for people that’s kind of phenomenal.

Your father passed when you were very young. What’s it like coming of age, not only in the business but in life, with the ghost of your father so present?

It’s interesting. For the past 20 or 30 years I’ve been trying to explain to people what it’s like, and I really can’t put my finger on it. What’s weird is when you’re associated with a legend, they never really die. Every day someone talks to me about my father. And that’s not hyperbole. Every single day someone asks a question or something will be on radio or television [about my father]. It’s kind of like he’s not gone; it’s a beautiful and rare situation. It’s sometimes a weird and twisted situation, but for the most part … I’m glad I have his voice with me at all times.

You’ve been in the business for more than 20 years now. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about the business?

My mom has given me my favorite [advice]: Make sure you have a good attorney.

You came out with a new album, Where It All Begins, last fall. How’s that been?

I’m still touring. As much as I can, I find myself working. My album is still out­—not quite platinum yet, but I’m still working toward that goal. I’m really proud of this album.

Do you have a bucket list?

I hate to call it a bucket list.

Okay, let’s call it before-80 list.

There are a lot of things I’d like to do just within the music industry alone. There are people I want to work with, records I want to realize, songs I want to sing. Places I’ve never been and played music. I want to go to Australia, South Africa—so many places around the world where people like soul music that I’d like to go. There are some cars I’d like to buy. A lot of people I’d like to help.

Tell me a bit more about that.

Well, we live in a crazy world, and I [pay attention to] kids. On one level there’s a lot I can’t do, but on a very real level there’s a lot I can do. What I can do is make sure kids have music. I really do advocate for music education. Music and love are pretty much the same thing, and they tend to save a lot of lives. I advocate for children to experience music, because it continues to be such an experience for me.

Lalah Hathaway performs at the Howard Theatre this Saturday, May 26. Tickets ($55 to $60) are available on the Howard Theatre’s website.

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