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ESSENCE Festival Artist Lalah Hathaway: My Life in 10 Songs

Legends like Prince, Miles Davis, Chaka Khan and of course her dad have shaped the life of Lalah Hathaway, who will perform at the 2016 ESSENCE Festival, June 30-July 3 in New Orleans.

Lalah Hathaway Getty Images
By · June 14, 2016

As we count down to the ESSENCE Festival, taking place June 30-July 3 in New Orleans, artists from our power-packed lineup will sum up their lives—from childhood to stardom—in 10 songs. Next up is Lalah Hathaway, the Grammy-winning daughter of the late, great Donny Hathaway.

1. Donny Hathaway, “This Christmas”
I love this song so much! No other song embodies the spirit of Christmas quite like this. It’s an absolute standard! 

2. Lalah Hathaway, “Somethin’”
This record speaks to my life in so many wonderful ways, it’s crazy! I recorded it for my debut album in 1990, then I re-recorded it over 20 years later with Snarky Puppy, and it won me my first Grammy. That was an incredible day. Sweetest full-circle moment ever.

3. Prince, “Mountains”
This was the first record I remember connecting to spiritually and as a musician. I used to listen to it so deeply on my Sony Walkman (which was the size of a Buick LeSabre). It was the first time I could really see and hear music. It ignited all of my senses. Prince called and invited me on the road with him—I can’t believe that happened…still! For all the highlights I’ve had, that will be right at the top. To share music with him in that way, playing live, was unbelievable!

4. Joni Mitchell, “Help Me”
I have always loved Joni Mitchell. When I was growing up it wasn’t such a stretch to love both Prince and Joni. To find out Prince was a Joni fan was amazing and made me connect with him even more. I could feel the fragility and strength in Joni. She’s one of the greatest lyricists to ever walk the planet. She all at once makes me want to be a better writer and also never write again.

5. Miles Davis, “So What”
This is the opening to one of my favorite albums of all time, Kind of Blue. I literally learned this record in my sleep. I listened to it at night in college on my state-of-the-art hi-fi auto-reverse double cassette deck. It’s like school in a song! It’s a great introduction to so much; it taught me about improvisation and how conversations between musicians work.

6. Earth, Wind & Fire, “After the Love Has Gone”
They are one of the greatest bands that have ever existed in the history of music. They crossed all the lines and did everything: slow jams, funk, rock and roll, R&B, pop. They did it all so well! They are the reason I reject the notion of boy bands—none of them are bands. If you don’t have instruments, things made of wood and string, you are not a band.

7. Shirley Horn, “Here’s to Life”
One of the greatest jazz singers that ever lived! I heard this at some point in the ’90s, I think. She really left a blueprint of how to construct a melody and interpret a lyric. The great Johnny Mandel arranged the lush strings on this album [Here’s to Life]. It’s hard to find these kinds of records anymore, the ones that make you feel like you’re on a yacht or in New York City in 1979 when it’s raining. It just sweeps you up and takes you exactly where you need to be.

8. Chaka Khan, “Night Moods”
This record for me as a little girl was so delightful because when Chaka was singing the low notes on her range, it was the middle of my range. It was so fun to sing real low along with her. Definitely one of my favorite Chaka tunes of all time, on one of my favorite Chaka albums [What Cha’ Gonna Do for Me] of all time!

9. Kendrick Lamar, “Momma
I felt so honored that Kendrick wanted to feature me on so many tracks on To Pimp a Butterfly. But the way he incorporated my song “On Your Own” on “Momma” was a real defining moment for me. Ironically, my father gave me this song in a dream, and Kendrick dedicated the song to his mom. It was a beautiful love moment.

10. Kaytranada, “Lite Spots”
I just heard this track for the first time, and it’s now in my DJ set. Yes, I DJ! I love it because it’s old and it’s new. It’s so intricately constructed, but it feels broken too. The vibe is amazing; it feels so African. It’s my favorite song of the moment without a doubt.

Don’t miss Lalah Hathaway and a star-studded lineup at the 2016 ESSENCE Festival. Buy your tickets now!