Published on May 12th, 2018 | by Darren Paltrowitz0
EXCLUSIVE: A Post-Concert Interview With Lalah Hathaway At The 2018 St. Lucia Jazz Festival
Lalah Hathaway is in rare company as a vocalist for a variety of reasons. First, Hathaway has been singing professionally for almost 30 years, having inked her first record deal in the early 1990s. Second, she is a five-time Grammy Award winner, most recent in 2016 for Best Traditional R&B Performance. Third, she is an in-demand collaborator no matter the genre, having worked with Mary J. Blige, Pharrell Williams, Meshell Ndegeocello, Snarky Puppy, and Robert Glasper. It also doesn’t hurt that the Berklee College Of Music alumnus is the daughter of soul music legend Donny Hathaway.
While in town for this year’s St. Lucia Jazz Festival, I had the pleasure of speaking with Ms. Hathaway after her first of two sold-out performances at the Royalton Hotel. Highlights of my chat with the popular singer are below. More on Lalah Hathaway can be found online at www.lalahhathaway.com, while more on the annual St. Lucia Jazz Festival is available on the official St. Lucia website.
Further thanks and credit go to JetBlue Airways for helping arrange this interview opportunity.
Lalah Hathaway: No, this is my third time.
In terms of playing a festival set, how does that compare to one of your shows in a club or a theater?
Lalah Hathaway: It really depends on how much time I have. The setlist right now is really what it’s been for the last six weeks. It depends on the time of the set and it depends on when we go out there and I sing the first song, I get a pretty good read on the audience. Maybe there’s something I cut out or replace with something else; I call an audible in the show. It’s pretty much just as we go.
So you know how the show is going to start and how it’s going to end?
Lalah Hathaway: We know how it’s going to start, we don’t know how it’s going to end, which drives everybody nuts. I call audibles…
How long has it been that way? I can’t imagine when you were in your early 20s on Virgin Records that you could call your own shots that way.
Lalah Hathaway: Well, on-stage you always could. They couldn’t rush the stage and tell you what to play. I think the only difference is when I was signed to Virgin I only had that one or two records, so I didn’t have as much material. But now, I’m on my eighth album, it’s been almost 30 years, which is crazy. I have a lot of music to play.
I have to imagine that’s one of the big challenges for you on tour, to know what you’re going to play every night.
Lalah Hathaway: Absolutely. There are some things you feel you can’t leave out. Other things I’d like to leave out and try something totally different. You have a new album and want to feature that. It totally depends on space. Sometimes we build a medley into the show, just to be able to get as much in as you can.
Lalah Hathaway: You know, I got really lucky. It was at a time when I was kind of floating around. I wasn’t really being managed, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. My friend Sput, whose name is Robert Searight, I know him as a keyboard player, called me. He said, “Hey, I’m playing drums with a band called Snarky Puppy. We don’t have any money, but we’ll fly you in and put you up in a hotel. There’s a really nice Howard Johnson’s here in Roanoke and come through.” I said okay and I showed up.
And it keeps going on that end?
Lalah Hathaway: And it keeps going, it’s amazing.
In general, is there something you wish more people knew about you? From my read on it, you’ve won five Grammy Awards, they know your legacy and family history, there’s 30 years of music…
Lalah Hathaway: Probably that I’m funny and I like to laugh. What else should people know about me? I would love for more people to know about the music. As you said, I have five Grammys. It was so crazy, the night I won the last Grammy I was sitting in the audience and they said, “Here’s five-time Grammy winner Celine Dion.” I thought, “How do I have as many Grammys as Celine Dion? How can that happen? I have 11 dollars in my savings account.” The other thing, how do I have more Grammys than most musicians will ever see up close? That’s a weird aside, but that’s another part of my life that’s the cherry-on-the-sundae part of my life. I wish people knew that I’m hilarious. (laughs)
Where do you keep those five Grammys?
Lalah Hathaway: I think one was stolen, which I don’t want to say out loud because I think I could cry, but they’re in my house. The first one I won, my mother said I should I get a cabinet for. I said, “But it’s only one.” She said, “But you’ll win more.” I’ve got to figure out where to put them.
Or win one a sixth one…
Lalah Hathaway: Or win another one.
So in closing, any last words for the kids?
Lalah Hathaway: Find your path, stay on your path, and always say no to fascism. It’s coming for them, they need to be aware. You’re a great generation, there’s a lot of creativity, a lot of music, a lot of honesty, so I feel they’re in good shape if they’re paying attention.