The jazz influenced album contained mostly slow piano ballads with an extra addition of drums and horns. Mostly all of the song of album start off slow and later gets faster. The songs of album are a little similar to Hathaway previous album A Moment. The track "So They Say" from her previous album, had an influence on the album, which were showcased in the song "When Your Life Was Low". Lalah Hathaway and Joe Sample also covered the song "Fever", which was slightly altered by adding more of the instrument known as the piano. The Song Lives On also contains a cover of The Crusaders' hit "Street Life".
The album was bolstered by the single "When Your Life Was Low". After the release of the lead single, the album was released on April 20, 1999. The album debut at No. 196 on the Billboard 200, No. 53 on the Top R&B Albums chart, and No. 2 on the Top Contemporary Jazz Album chart. The second single was the covered song "Fever".
The album received a favorable review from Allmusic stating, "The daughter of the popular late R&B singer Donny, husky voiced Lalah Hathaway is the perfect foil for Joe Sample's compelling notion that The Song Lives On. Finding a happy medium between the graceful straight-ahead jazz trio vibe of his Invitation album and the plucky pop energy of Spellbound, Sample provides Hathaway on seven of the 11 tunes with a showcase for her sultry approach."
Jonathan Widran further went on to say, "On a cover of his Crusaders hit "Street Life," Hathaway turns the title into a mantra and Sample echoes her sentiments with sharp, percussive reiterations of the song's main melody. Then Hathaway stops and Michael Thompson steps in with some edgy electric guitar lines. Other song choices range from reverent takes on standards like "Fever" and "For All We Know" to vocal versions of older, well-known Sample instrumental hits; for example, with Norman Gimbel's cheery lyrics, Hathaway turns the once moody "All God's Children" into a life-affirming love song."
The Song Lives On went on to become one Lalah Hathaway and Joe Sample's most successful album to chart. In response to the album's success, Hathaway and Sample were honored with Billboard/BET On Jazz Award for "Mainstream Jazz Album".