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10 Things Every Music Fan Needs To Know About Donny Hathaway

Black History Month is a perfect time to shine a spotlight on soul music's greatest unsung hero, Donny Hathaway. The singer/composer/arranger didn't get the recognition he deserved in his lifetime, but he's your favorite R&B artist's favorite R&B artist. And here's why he should be yours, too.

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1. He's Worshipped By Just About Every R&B Singer You Can Name

John Legend, Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, D'Angelo, Usher, Mary J. Blige, Aretha Franklin, Luther Vandross . . . they've all sung Donny's songs and his praises. "When Donny sings any song, he owns it," said disciple and fan Stevie Wonder, who was no doubt moved by Donny's smoldering version of his hit, "Superwoman."

John Legend, Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, D'Angelo, Usher, Mary J. Blige, Aretha Franklin, Luther Vandross . . . they've all sung Donny's songs and his praises. "When Donny sings any song, he owns it," said disciple and fan Stevie Wonder, who was no doubt moved by Donny's smoldering version of his hit, "Superwoman."

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2. He Was Amy Winehouse's Favorite Artist

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Amy called Donny Hathaway her favorite artist of all time, name-checked him in her hit "Rehab," and covered his songs live and in the studio. And her version of Hathaway's ballad "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know" just might be the best singing Amy ever did.

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3. Justin Timberlake's, too

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Justin Timberlake called Donny Hathaway "the best singer of all time." He further proclaimed his love for Donny when he and bride Jessica Biel shared their first dance to Hathaway's definitive version of "A Song For You" (which Beyoncé has claimed as her favorite song, too).

4. "Someday We'll All Be Free" Has Become A Universal Anthem

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The lyricist who co-wrote "Someday We'll All Be Free" actually meant it as a message of support to Hathaway, who was battling mental illness. The song has taken on bigger meaning over the years and is now embraced as a modern hymn and civil rights anthem. Alicia Keys performed it at the 9/11 Tribute To Heroes benefit concert and still refers to it as her favorite song.

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5. . . . And He Wrote One Of The Most Beloved Christmas Songs Of All Time

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"This Christmas" ranks in the top 30 of the most played Christmas songs ever recorded. It's been covered by Chris Brown, Christina Aguilera, Mary J Blige, Cee-Lo, Pentatonix, and Lady Antebellum, but Donny's original version is still the definitive take on the song.

6. Donny Could Work In Any Genre. Just Ask Willie Nelson.

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Donny's talent and training allowed him to move effortlessly through pop, jazz, blues, classical, and soul music. He even arranged the strings on Shotgun Willie, considered by many to be the best record of Willie Nelson's incredible career.

7. . . . Or Quincy Jones

The man who produced Michael Jackson's Thriller called Donny "the finest composer I know" and hired him to write and arrange the soundtrack to Come Back Charleston Blue, where Hathaway mixed big-band swing, old-time blues and uptown funk. The soundtrack also included "Little Ghetto Boy," later covered by John Legend and The Roots.
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The man who produced Michael Jackson's Thriller called Donny "the finest composer I know" and hired him to write and arrange the soundtrack to Come Back Charleston Blue, where Hathaway mixed big-band swing, old-time blues and uptown funk. The soundtrack also included "Little Ghetto Boy," later covered by John Legend and The Roots.

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8. But, For Some Reason, He Could Only Have Hits With Roberta Flack

Though he was revered by other musicians and had a fiercely loyal fan base, he never had mainstream success as a solo artist. Teaming up with his friend (and fellow Howard University student), Roberta Flack, he finally struck gold. Hathaway's only #1 records were as Flack's duet partner and he won his sole Grammy award for their song "Where Is The Love."

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9. Donny's Music Is Also A Goldmine For Hip-Hop Samples

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T.I., Dr. Dre, Biggie, Wu-Tang Clan, Snoop and hundreds of other MCs have flowed over beats and hooks sampled from Donny Hathaway tracks. Check the way T.I. built his hit "What You Know" on the explosive last minute of "Gone Away," a track Donny wrote and arranged for Roberta Flack.

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10. Even His Daughters Are Insanely Gifted Artists

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Kenya Hathaway is an in-demand session singer, backing up everyone from Stevie Wonder to Celine Dion. Lalah Hathaway has established herself at the forefront of modern jazz and R&B, and just picked up a Grammy for her mind-bending, virtuoso singing on the Snarky Puppy single, "Something."

Listen to Donny's latest anthology, 'Never My Love':

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