Lalah Hathaway started off 2015 by bringing home her second Grammy Award. Now she is bookending the year with another career milestone. On the eve of appearing on the upcoming 2015 Soul Train Awards (on Nov. 29), the singer notched a career-high debut with her seventh and first live album, Lalah Hathaway Live.
Debuting at No. 2 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums tally, the Hathaway Entertainment/eOne Music set also turned in strong showings on several other charts during the week ending Nov. 21. Those included R&B Albums (No. 2), Independent Albums (No. 3), Top Album Sales (No. 17), and the Billboard 200 (No. 33). And this week, Live lead single “Angel” — a cover of Anita Baker’s 1983 hit — sits at No. 16 on Adult R&B Songs.
For Hathaway, it’s “a dream realized” for a special project she’d long envisioned but felt discouraged at times in bringing to fruition.
“In the music industry there exists these paradigms,” explains the singer. “People don’t like or buy live records. Or radio doesn’t play live records. There’s a whole lot of science, focus grouping and demographics. Many people along the way didn’t understand my vision … that’s cool. But I knew that I had to move forward.”
And with the help of fans, she did. A crowdfunding campaign with PledgeMusic pushed the start button and also gave Hathaway different ways to further connect with her fans. Among the pledge perks: Hathaway serenading birthday celebrants via phone; onstage and backstage VIP offerings; a conversation on Skype between a fan, Hathaway and her mother and the opportunity to have Hathaway, a piano player, guitarist and a background singer do a mini-performance at a pledgee’s house.
“We’re still figuring out when we can fulfill it,” says Hathaway, who is in the midst of a promo tour.
The Live album represents a full-circle moment for Hathaway as well. The set, which includes four bonus tracks, was recorded at the Troubadour—the iconic Los Angeles music venue where her revered father, Donny Hathaway, recorded his seminal 1972 album Donny Hathaway: Live.
“The fans are responsible for this record,” says Hathaway. “They are the ones who came out in full force, sending me $10, $15 and more. And to go to the Troubadour to record … that was really epic for me.”
Among the special guests inside the Troubadour during Hathaway’s two-show recording stint: Anita Baker and Patti LaBelle. Featuring a guest turn by Robert Glasper on the track “Lean on Me,” the album also includes covers of the late Hathaway’s classics “Little Ghetto Boy” and “You Were Meant for Me,” Luther Vandross’ “Forever, For Always, For Love” and Hathaway’s own fan faves, including “Baby Don’t Cry” and “When Your Life Was Low.”
The project’s next potential single is the track “Mirror.” In the works is a vinyl double-album version of the project.
Fans can catch Hathaway on television this Sunday (Nov. 29, 8 p.m. ET) when the 2015 Soul Train Awards air on Centric and BET. The singer joins show host Erykah Badu and singers Chrisette Michele, K-Ci and Eddie Levert for the first-ever “Soul Train Soul Cypher.”
“I was honored that Erykah invited me to perform,” says Hathaway. “It was so cool and we got into a good rhythm with it. I think it will be the first of many.”
In addition to her own release, Hathaway is featured on several other artists’ latest albums, including a duet with Kim Burrell on Kirk Franklin’s No. 1 gospel chart debut Losing My Religion, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, Terri Lyne Carrington’s The Mosaic Project: Love and Soul, a guest feature on Nina Revisited … A Tribute to Nina Simone and Malcolm-Jamal Warner’s Selfless.
She and Warner both took home a Grammy statuette in February for best traditional R&B performance for their work on Glasper’s “Jesus Children” track. She won her first Grammy in 2014 for best R&B performance for “Something,” a reinterpretation of her 1991 song “It’s Somethin’” by fusion band Snarky Puppy.
“It’s kind of like I’m the special project girl,” says Hathaway with a laugh. Her collaborator wish list includes Pharrell Williams, Stevie Wonder, Peter Gabriel and the Foo Fighters. Also on tap is another PledgeMusic campaign: a Daughters of Soul documentary, soundtrack and worldwide tour with the offspring of Bill Withers, Chaka Khan and others.
“But I stay working,” continues Hathaway. “I’m so fortunate to be doing a lot of different things 25 years into my career.”