This was the hardest decision. I know I’ve already made that statement about Stevie Wonder, who I love, but this was even harder with Donny Hathaway. Why? Because I love Donny Hathaway. I really love Donny Hathaway. I really really (insert expletive that would act as an adjective) love Donny Hathaway. I love Donny Hathaway so much that at one point I thought about making this whole blog post dedicated to Donny Hathaway and instead of picking five pieces just picking my five favorite songs of his. Nonetheless, I wanted this post to be diverse so I decided to only put in one song. Picking the best Donny Hathaway song is like asking someone to pick their favorite child; it is just not an answerable question. I chose this song because of its (unfortunate) message and the fact that it still resonates today despite being written in 1977. The song speaks about being a black man in America, and the power that love has to triumph hate. It talks about the importance of holding yourself strong in the face of adversity. Just take the lyric:
Keep your self respect, your manly pride
Get yourself in gear
Keep your stride
Never mind your fears
Brighter days will soon be here
Donny Hathaway simply put is one of the greatest soul singers of all time. Though he tragically left us far too early in 1979, his voice carries on and lives with us forever. Though this post is only about one song, I have to say that the truth is that almost every single of songs is this good. If I had to recommend, I would say listen to his entire discography if you can (its worth it), but the songs “For All We Know”, “Song For You”, and “Where is The Love (feat. Roberta Flack)” are particularly good. On a separate note, his daughter Lalah Hathaway is a pretty amazing singer too.
While the other songs have been chosen for their objective beauty and ability to touch anyones heart regardless of musical ability, I selfishly chose this one because it titilates my ears as a musician. I find this piece to be a testament to the power of the human voice, and the depth of color that can be created when many people sing together. The harmonies in this piece are unbelievably gorgeous, albeit, a little bit complex, but not in such a way that others who are not musicians couldn’t enjoy it. The whole point of this is that no matter how many times I listen to this work, it still gives me chills, and I hope that it has the same effect on you.
This was a hard decision. I knew that with any piece on my favorite songs and songwriters of all time I would have to put in a Stevie Wonder song (because, um, duh? He’s only one of the greatest songwriters of all time), but picking one was extremely difficult. Ultimately I chose this song because of its beauty and simplicity in context with the rest of his music. This song is almost a lament, a song about the awareness of death, the evil of hate, the power of love, and a hope for a better future. It sounds cheesy, but I promise you, when Stevie sings it, nothing is cliche.
This is going to be a relatively eclectic list. While Mahler is not someone who I would always list among my favorite composers of all (he’s absolutely phenomenal, don’t get me wrong, just not someone who I always think to listen to) but this piece, and this movement in particular, always gets to me. Mahler’s incredible orchestration combined with the Rückert’s heart wrenching poetry creates an absolutely unforgettable aural experience. The music is all at once complex, simple, deep and surface level, and ultimately whats makes it so powerful to me is the fact that one can completely understand the meaning and power of the text without speaking german, because Mahler’s text painting is so rich. Plus, this version with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing certainly adds to the beauty of the work.
Nina Simone is simply one of the greatest artists of our time. Trained at Juilliard in classical piano, only starting to sing later in life, she embodies a true renaissance musician to me: someone who loves all genres of music and is interested in being a part of all aspects of it. This song is particularly heart wrenching, and in this version, Nina has decided to just make the recording herself and a piano, pairing down the music to her greatest strengths in order to bring a stronger light to the lyrics, which are all about the search for that perfect someone. Though the original song was done by Bill Holiday (pretty hard to top) I think any singer can meaningfully interpret the lyrics, especially the lyric:
I look around
And when I’ve found
Someone who sighs like you
I’ll know this love
I’m dreaming of
Won’t be the old love
I always knew
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