American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


Sumptuous Soul: The Music of Donny Hathaway Everything is Everything Donny Hathaway, 1970

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies/Ethnic Studies

First Advisor

Angela Nelson

Second Advisor

Rebecca Mancuso

Third Advisor

Ellen Berry (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Radhika Gajjala (Committee Member)


The song "This Christmas" by Donny Hathaway is played only once a year during the holiday season. His presence is so strong during the holidays for African Americans because he is one of the distinctive cultural markers of the season. The question at hand is why is he relegated to the Christmas season but what about the rest of the year. In 2010, National Public Radio (NPR) created the series 50 Great Voices as a way to expose NPR listeners to artists who were not at the forefront of public consciousness. On June 26, 2010 Donny Hathaway debuted as the "Neglected Heart of Soul" but does "neglected" hold up. I believe "neglected" becomes situational depending on who is doing the remembering. The objective of my dissertation is to locate Donny Hathaway as a central figure in 1970s Soul music, to understand his growing influence over contemporary artists, and his musical legacy.

I used Stuart Hall's "representation" as my overarching theoretical framework. I wanted a theory that would be fluid enough to be relevant in the different phases of Donny Hathaway's musical career. By using representation I was able to identify and understand the musical influences of Donny Hathaway. The use of representation allowed me to understand the cultural production of young Black men and women as they challenged the "politics of respectability" of the times.

I have always have loved 1970s Soul music. I never knew my combined passions for music and the narratives of the marginalized. I became interested in the musical legacy of Donny Hathaway because he was one of the major forces in early 1970s Soul music. In my dissertation I have situated Donny Hathaway's music within an African American tradition, which is an amalgamation of Gospel, The Blues, Jazz, and Soul music. I wanted to give a voice to the importance of Donny Hathaway's music because he often gets overlooked because of who his contemporaries were, Roberta Flack, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye. My desire for this project is to introduce a new way of understanding the musical legacy of Donny Hathaway.