Five-time GRAMMY winner Lalah Hathaway at the 59th GRAMMY Awards on Feb. 12, 2017
Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
Lalah Hathaway: Following her father's footsteps
(The Making Of GRAMMY-Winning Recordings series presents firsthand accounts of the creative process behind some of music's biggest recordings. In this installment, Lalah Hathaway details the making of Lalah Hathaway Live, which won Best R&B Album at the 59th GRAMMY Awards, and "Angel," which won Best Traditional R&B Performance. Hathaway has won the latter award for three consecutive years.)
This record was a dream I had that I really wanted to fulfill. For a long time I've wanted to record a live album because my arena is kind of the live stage — the main reason for me to make records is to take that music live to as many people as I can. I came up in the '70s and '80s when live records were king, but when I started thinking about doing my own, people were discouraging about it. I heard that it was a dumb idea because people don't buy live records and folks won't play live cuts on the radio — all kinds of things. I finally decided to follow my instincts after I worked with Snarky Puppy and won a GRAMMY with a live recording. ["Something" won Best R&B Performance for 2013 at the 56th GRAMMY Awards.]
The thought of recording at the Troubadour in Los Angeles was deep in my mind because my father [soul singer/songwriter Donny Hathaway] recorded his live album there back in 1971 and I was fascinated by that album as a child — I loved my father's performance and the room had this incredible mystery for me. We played two sets, about two hours each, and covered a lot of material. Early on, I wasn't sure what the record would be, but a friend of mine suggested it should be a live "best of" record. I realized it would be great to fill it with these songs that people have supported me playing through the last 25 years.
It meant a lot to me to start with "Little Ghetto Boy" — that's a song I grew up listening to and I meant it as an homage to both of my parents. "Angel" is a special song for me because I've been singing it just about my whole life — as a kid I sang it holding a brush or a broom for a mic. It's a joy to represent for soul and rhythm and blues music, so to win GRAMMYs for songs by Donny and Anita [Baker] makes me so proud.
On stage that night I did feel like it was all coming together. I tried to let go of thinking about the fact that I was making a record and just focused on the show because once the band and I get a show going, we're in. A lot of us have been playing 10-15-20 years together, and when we hit that stage we were ready to own the room. It was an incredible night. Afterwards, it was hard to decide what to include on the album, but once we picked the songs we tried to do as little editing as possible to really give people the sensation of being at a real live show like the old live records used to.
The record's a labor of love, and to have won GRAMMYs for it is astounding and super surreal. I haven't quite processed all of it yet. But it's been a trip.
(Chuck Crisafulli is an L.A.-based journalist and author whose most recent works include Elvis: My Best Man, Running With The Champ, and Getting To Yes And.)