Lalah Hathaway is a freak of nature. I said those words aloud to myself as I witnessed her stellar performance for perhaps the fifth or sixth time as she opened the DC Jazz Festival last weekend at the Howard Theatre. I had to look up the meaning of that term to ensure I’m not insulting one of my favorite vocalists of all time. Yes it can be used in a derogatory way but I mean this statement in the most complimentary way possible: an unusual, unexpected natural phenomenon. That’s what she is. I feel comfortable saying she is by far one of the best vocalists of all time. Yet there are people who haven’t heard of her. Despite her natural soothingly melodic voice, a famous father, and making Grammy history for being the only singer to win three consecutive wins in the Traditional R&B Performance category, sadly many don’t even know she exists. What a shame.
I was only partially sad that I couldn’t take any pictures of her performance, once I found out why I couldn’t. At the request of Lalah, the Howard Theatre did not permit any video recording or photography. And it wasn’t because Lalah is some diva like unfortunately many artists of our time are. She spoke from the stage, “because I like to make a connection with you.” And boy did she! She expressed quite hilariously, that she finds herself wanting to make that connection with her audience only to find someone’s entire ipad in her face, and they’re looking and connecting with the ipad rather than connecting with her. It’s true. With my phone tucked away in my purse and my sole focus and attention tuned into her and her incredible band of equally talented artists, I was able to experience her like I’d never had.
Her show was more than 90 minutes of amazingness. From her female DJ to get the crowd going with some oldies but goodies from each decade, to her fantastic background singers who absolutely more than held their own in their solo introductions, to the dynamic musicians that played every single note to perfection…it was a night to remember. Of course she belted out some of my all-time, absolute favorites like “Forever, For Always, For Love”, her cover of Anita Baker’s “Angel” and her original song “Mirror” that I adore from her Lalah Hathaway Live album, which earned her a Grammy this year for best R&B album (woohoo, go Lalah!). However, some of my favorite highlights of the evening surprisingly were the songs she performed from her upcoming album set to be released later this year. In general, I’m not impressed with new music, which is why I’m a bit of an “old head” if you will, and listen mostly to my 90’s music on Pandora, my ipod, and yes I still listen to CDs (don’t judge me). But Lalah’s new music…I think I’m going to have to go ahead and buy a CD for the first time in years.
Not only is her vocal ability unmatched, her lyrics are honest and authentic and she’s actually telling a story. I honestly don’t know what happened to R&B music but it’s definitely not the R&B music I grew up on and love. Unfortunately, many of the artists who are singing real, authentic R&B music have had to go the independent route, as Lalah has, and their music is not getting the exposure it so desperately needs. Which brings me back to Lalah…she is worthy of being supported so if you have a chance to see her in concert and/or buy an album whether in the store or online, my recommendation…do it! You will not be disappointed!
I do have to put a footnote in here to express my disappointment with the venue of the Howard Theatre. After finding out the demand for her show, they tripled the prices to $75 and did not make clear on any of the communication for the show that if you bought a general admission ticket, you would be standing…for 2 hours! As a venue that serves food and drink and has the capability to seat people (as I have been for several concerts there) that is unacceptable. As a result, they had a venue full of angry people requesting to get their money back, which unfortunately put a bad taste in people’s mouths for Lalah, in addition to the venue. Ultimately they found seats and chairs from somewhere and the poor service staff had to physically hump tables and chairs to the floor while Lalah was starting her performance. Super tacky and unnecessary. To add insult to injury, because they packed the venue to capacity with standing room only ticketing, the bar and kitchen were all backlogged so it took anywhere from 40 to 50 minutes just to get a drink delivered to your table, if you had one. Needless to say, it will take a lot to get me to ever spend my money there again.
But I digress. Going back to Lalah, if you ever have a chance to see her in concert, you are going to get something really special, especially if you are a true music lover. Pure, unadulterated musicianship – not just from the band members but from Lalah herself. Her voice is truly an instrument. Did I mention she whistles as if she has a harmonica placed to her lips?! And at one point in the performance, she literally belted out an entire musical chord with her vocal chords and some type of breath simultaneously. I don’t know how it works but it does. And you deserve to witness it.
Even if you missed Lalah, if you are in town or if you are looking for something to do this weekend, the DC Jazz Festival continues through Sunday. There are many more talented artists that will be featured throughout the weekend and tickets are still on sale. If you love good music like I do, come on through!