It’s an understatement to say that a live recording rarely earns the R&B album Grammy, but on Sunday at the Staples Center the honor went to “Lalah Hathaway Live.”
In fact, the soul singer Lalah Hathaway’s concert recording is the first live document ever to win the award, where it joins studio classics of the genre including Erykah Badu’s “Baduism,” D’Angelo’s “Voodoo,” Jennifer Hudson’s self-titled debut and Robert Glasper Experiment’s “Black Radio.” The category was introduced in 1995.
The seventh album by Hathaway earned a second honor for “Angel,” an interpretation of the Anita Baker song taken from the album. This marks the third year in a row that Hathaway has won a trophy in the traditional R&B category, after victories in 2016 for her take on her father’s hit, “Little Ghetto Boy,” and a year earlier for “Jesus’ Children,” her collaboration with keyboardist Glasper and Malcolm Jamal-Warner.
“I’m excited that the Grammys that I have are covers of songs I’ve been singing all my life,” Hathaway said during an interview last week, before the ceremony. The singer has also won a Grammy for her interpretation, with Snarky Puppy, of soul singer Brenda Russell’s “Something.”
Hathaway added, “To make a live record and have it recognized is an honor for me, because it means that I’m in the right place at the right time.”
For Hathaway, the right place to record her live album was hallowed ground. “It was recorded at the Troubadour in Hollywood, which is where my father, who was Donny Hathaway, recorded his album,” she explained.
Donny, who is considered one of the great soul singers of the 1970s, recorded half of his monumental live album “Donny Hathaway Live” there. Despite his success, Lalah’s father suffered from depression and in 1979, at 33, was found dead below his 15th-floor hotel room in New York. The death was ruled a suicide.
The Times’ Tre’vell Anderson spoke to Lalah at the Troubadour after the 2015 performance that earned her this year’s R&B album Grammy, and she said that the feeling in the room was hard to describe. R&B icons Baker and Patti LaBelle were in attendance, and the gushing crowd offered added boosts of enthusiasm throughout.
“I’ve played a lot of places where [Donny] played or might’ve played,” she told The Times, “but this place is special because this is where he recorded his live record and that’s what I came to do. It was a surreal experience, even coming for the sound check. To know he was in these rooms and in these halls, it’s something else.”
Considered one of the great live albums of the soul era, “Donny Hathaway Live” was recorded during a 1971 residency and released the next year. Four decades later, his daughter has earned solo Grammys that eluded her father during his short life. (His only Grammy victory was in the pop vocal performance by a duo, group or chorus, where he shared it with Roberta Flack for their duet “Where Is the Love.”)
Those who don’t know Lalah’s solo work might also recognize her vocals on Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly.” Brought in by her longtime friend and collaborator Terrace Martin, Hathaway and her rich contralto can be heard on “Butterfly” tracks “Momma,” “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” and “The Blacker the Berry.”