Even before a single note rolls off his lips, you know that Donnie is not your average singer. There’s something in his round, expressive eyes; something in his broad smile and chocolate-coated skin, something in his casual, unassuming demeanor that gives you a clue: this is what true art sounds like, this is how it feels. This is the personification of soul.
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Though many have tried, Donnie’s voice and music are not something you can easily describe. It’s not something you can drop a label on and shove in a box and it’s certainly not something that can be duplicated --- not even by the cleverest of label heads or the most enterprising of artists.
That being true, its no surprise that Donnie has a following of loyal ‘soldiers’ who have believed in him for many years. They are people who embrace true artistry and respect creative freedom and integrity. They exist in large numbers as Donnie can assuredly attest.
From his familiar stomping grounds in and around Atlanta’s soul music scene to his ascension to Giant Step Records and their newly-formed alliance with Motown/Universal Records, Donnie is on a remarkable journey that is taking him to higher levels of success with each and every step.
Born in Lexington, Kentucky, Donnie migrated to Atlanta at the age of eight. His parents -- both ministers - saw to it that their son attended church regularly. Another soul singer of dynamic proportions also frequented Donnie’s home church - the unforgettable Marvin Gaye who is also Donnie’s cousin.
What Donnie didn’t inherit genetically, he got in theory and daily lessons from his parents who, through their teachings, laid the groundwork for their son’s liberal views and staunch sense of discipline - both of which serve him well as an artist.
As time went by Donnie found himself absorbed in a musical movement that proved to be a viable training ground for him as well as close friend India.Arie. Both artists were signed to the soul music outfit Earthseed and later transitioned to larger entities: Arie to Motown and Donnie to Giant Step Records and Motown/Universal.
It was Arie who introduced Donnie to Giant Step Records President, Maurice Bernstein. Their meeting resulted in The Colored Section which started out as a series of demos produced by Los Angeles producer Steve “The Scotsman” Harvey. They shopped the demos to major label execs and the response was so positive that Donnie, Bernstein and Harvey decided to continue working on the project independently.
Giant Step Records released a 7-inch entitled "Do You Know?" which many thought was an old soul classic. Radio DJs, including, KCRW’s Garth Trinidad and New York DJ Bobbito Garcia, championed the release.
On the strength of “Do You Know?” Donnie was invited to perform at London’s famous Jazz Café. His two sold-out performances were followed by another three nights of shows. The world was learning what Atlanta already knew: Donnie was old soul reincarnated. Not surprisingly, his popularity continued to swell following his opening act for Boney James’ 2002 spring tour together with shows in Japan, Los Angeles and most recently a sold-out six-date tour in the North East of the US.
And now, the young man whose following was once strictly grassroots and underground, is appearing in national TV and print ads for Coca Cola along with Musiq, Angie Stone, Amel Larriex, Aaries, and Questlove. One of his songs, “Our New National Anthem,” is used as the music bed for BET’s 2003 on-air ad campaign while another, “Cloud 9,” is featured in the film Brown Sugar, starring Taye Diggs, Mos Def and Queen Latifah.
As a further testimony of Donnie’s success, the collection of songs that set the singer/songwriter on his path to fulfilling his dream will be re-released collaboratively by Giant Step Records and Motown/Universal Records in May 2003. “We have been following Donnie's progress for a while now,” says Motown President Kedar Massenberg. “As soon as the opportunity surfaced to sign him with Motown, we made an offer.”
The Colored Section, is a musical synopsis of Donnie’s views and philosophies. It asks questions, raises issues. It takes a stand. “I feel there is a need for my message; it’s urgent,” says Donnie methodically. “I think people are ready for it.” While Donnie says the album’s title speaks to the struggles and challenges of being black, it also signifies the dawning of a new day pregnant with possibilities. “The colored section is a place that we were restricted to, but now I'm trying to turn it around and make it the hip place to be….I’m making something beautiful out of something that wasn't so beautiful at one time.”
And for lovers of full-bodied, lush musical arrangements, soul-stirring vocals and truth-searing lyrics, The Colored Section is definitely the place to be. From “Do You Know” to the single, “Cloud 9,” The Colored Section brims with musical superiority. On “Do You Know” Donnie’s voice, like a well-tuned musical instrument, complements the song’s arrangement, blending flawlessly with the drums, guitars, and flute.
On “Beautiful Me” Donnie embraces his African American beauty, a theme that spills over into “Cloud 9,” a song that, on the surface, is an ode to natural hair but is, on a deeper level, a message of self-pride. He sings, “I’d be a chameleon and wear it bone straight / but it’s so much stronger when it’s in its natural state…I’m happy to be nappy/ I’m black and I’m proud / that I have been chosen to wear the conscious cloud.”
On “Our New National Anthem,” Donnie sounds like an emotionally-charged preacher calling out to his congregation for unity and “overstanding” while “You Got A Friend” is a lighthearted, feel-good midtempo that conjures up images of chirping birds, butterflies and blue skies.
Adding to the CD’s already potent recipe are guest performances by outstanding musicians like Billy Preston, Al McKay of Earth, Wind & Fire and Rufus’ Bobby Watson. The first single release from The Colored Section, "Cloud 9," has been received enthusiastically by many radio stations and was a Number 1 record on WHUR in Washington DC, KJLH in Los Angeles, WGPR in Detroit and KMJK in Kansas City and a Top 10 record at Hot 92 Jamz KHHT-FM in Los Angeles.
As Donnie reflects on his humble musical beginnings, he’s certain that his life prior to now has been a significant prelude to what is yet to come. “There is an energy coming from somewhere,” he muses. “I feel a draft coming in and the energy is so good. Something is about to really happen. This album is important to me on a spiritual level more than anything. All of the other stuff will come.”
And when it does, Donnie will embrace it as only he can.
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