Don Was

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Don Was
Don Was - AMA Nashville 2010 - Ron Baker.JPG
Don Was – Americana Music Association showcase – Nashville, TN (2010)
Background information
Birth name Donald Fagenson
Born (1952-09-13) September 13, 1952 (age 63)
Origin Detroit, Michigan, US
Genres Rock, new wave
Occupation(s) Musician, record producer
Instruments Bass guitar, vocals, piano
Years active 1979–present
Associated acts Was (Not Was)
Orquestra Was

Don Was (born Donald Fagenson; September 13, 1952) is an American musician and record producer. Primarily a bass player, Was led the 1980s funk rock band Was (Not Was). In later years he produced songs and albums for a large number of popular recording artists. In 2012, he became president of jazz music label Blue Note Records.

Life and career[edit]

Born in Detroit, Michigan,[1] Was graduated from Oak Park High School in the Detroit suburb of Oak Park, then attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor but dropped out after the first year. A journeyman musician, he grew up listening to the Detroit blues sound and the jazz music of John Coltrane and Miles Davis.

Using the stage name "Don Was", he formed the group Was (Not Was) with school friend David Weiss (David Was). The group found commercial success in the 1980s – releasing four albums and logging several hit records. A jazz/R&B album of Hank Williams covers, "Forever's A Long, Long Time" was released in 1997, under the name Orquestra Was.[2] In 2008, Was (Not Was) reunited for an acclaimed new album and tour.

Was has received three Grammy Awards including the 1994 Grammy Award for Producer of the Year.[3][4] He produced several albums for Bonnie Raitt including her Nick of Time album that won the 1989 Grammy Award for Album of the Year.[3] Don also collaborated with co-producer Ziggy Marley, on Family Time, winner of 2009's Best Musical Album For Children.[3]

He served as music director and/or consultant for several motion pictures such as Thelma and Louise, The Rainmaker, Hope Floats, Phenomenon, Tin Cup, Honeymoon in Vegas, 8 Seconds, Switch, The Freshman, Days of Thunder, Michael, Prêt-à-Porter, Boys on the Side, Toy Story and The Paper.

In 1997, he directed and produced a documentary, I Just Wasn't Made for These Times, about former Beach Boy Brian Wilson. The film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and won the San Francisco Film Festival's Golden Gate Award. He also received the British Academy Award (BAFTA) for Best Original Score in recognition of his compositions for the film Backbeat.

Was, who is a fan of the Rolling Stones and saw them in concert when he was age 12 in 1964, produced their albums Voodoo Lounge, Stripped, Bridges to Babylon, Forty Licks, Live Licks and A Bigger Bang. He also worked on the Rolling Stones's reissues Exile on Main Street, released in May 2010 and Some Girls released in October 2011. Was scoured old master recordings of the albums for lost gems, remastering some songs while producing entirely new vocals and tracks on others.[5]

Since 2008, Was has hosted the proceedings (and led the house band) at the Detroit All-Star Revue, an annual showcase of local acts from the Detroit music scene.[6]

From 2009 to 2012, Don hosted a weekly radio show on Sirius XM satellite radio's Outlaw Country channel called The Motor City Hayride.[7] During the 2011 season of American Idol, Was appeared in several episodes producing contestants Haley Reinhart, Scotty McCreery, Paul McDonald, Lauren Alaina and Casey Abrams.

In January 2012, he was appointed president of the jazz record label, Blue Note Records in succession to Bruce Lundvall.[8]

He won the 2014 Emmy Award for Outstanding Music Direction for his work on the CBS TV special "The Beatles: The Night That Changed America."

On November 18th, 2015, at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington DC, he led the house band that performed at a concert celebrating Willie Nelson, recipient of the 2015 Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.[9]

Personal life[edit]

Don Was is the father of Eve 6 drummer Tony Fagenson and also Henry and Solomon Fagenson. He is married to former Virgin Records A&R executive and video director Gemma Corfield. He is the brother of public official Dr. Nancy Fagenson Potok, former Principal Associate Director and chief financial officer of the US Census Bureau and currently Deputy Undersecretary for Economic Affairs at the US Department of Commerce.

Selected discography[edit]


  1. ^ "Don Was – Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 2014-03-29. 
  2. ^ "Don Was Biography". Musician Guide. Retrieved 2014-03-29. 
  3. ^ a b c "Grammy Award Past Winners Search – Don Was". Retrieved 2014-03-29. 
  4. ^ Harrington, Richard (August 26, 1995). "Brian Wilson's Sensational Safari". The Washington Post. p. D.01. Retrieved 2010-01-25. 
  5. ^ Don Was Revisits 'Exile On Main Street' National Public Radio United States May 16, 2010
  6. ^ DeVito, Lee (July 8, 2015). "Get Your Mojo Working". Detroit Metro Times (Euclid Media) 35 (39): 58. Retrieved September 3, 2015. 
  7. ^ "Don Was Joins Sirius XM for Show". Retrieved 2014-03-29. 
  8. ^ Chinen, Nate (May 2, 2012). "Exuberance Is Just One of His Skills". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-05-04. 
  9. ^ Thanki, Juli (Nov 18, 2015). "Willie Nelson saluted by Alison Krauss, Jamey Johnson, more". The Tennessean. Retrieved 2015-11-19.