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Dona, Dona

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"Dana Dana
(Yiddish original)"
Songwriter(s)Sholom Secunda, Aaron Zeitlin
"Dona Dona
(English version)"
GenreFolk music
Songwriter(s)Sholom Secunda, Aaron Zeitlin. English lyrics by Arthur Kevess and Teddi Schwartz

"Dona Dona", popularly known as "Donna, Donna", is a song about a calf being led to slaughter, written by Sholom Secunda and Aaron Zeitlin. Originally a Yiddish language song "Dana Dana" (in Yiddish דאַנאַ דאַנאַ), also known as "Dos Kelbl" (in Yiddish דאָס קעלבל, meaning The Calf), it was a song used in a Yiddish play produced by Zeitlin.


Printed lyrics of Dona, Dona in Yiddish, Chinese and English.

"Dana Dana" was written for the Aaron Zeitlin stage production Esterke[1] (1940–41) with music composed by Sholom Secunda. The lyrics, score, parts, and associated material are available online in the Yiddish Theater Digital Archives.[2] The lyric sheet is in typewritten Yiddish[3] and handwritten Yiddish lyrics also appear in the piano score.[4] The text underlay in the score and parts is otherwise romanized in a phonetic transcription that appears oriented toward stage German.[5][6] The YIVO standardized transliteration system[7] was not then in widespread use, and many Yiddish transliterations looked like German, to which the Yiddish language is closely related.

The orchestra plays the "Dana Dana" melody at several points in Esterke. The original is 2/4, in G minor for a duo of a man and a woman, choral with the orchestral accompaniment. Secunda wrote "Dana-" for the orchestral score and "Dana Dana" for the vocal scores. The Yiddish text was written with Roman alphabet. He wrote for the choral score "andantino" (somewhat slowly) and "sempre staccato" (play staccato always). The melody of the introduction was also used at the end of the song. He wrote "piu mosso" (more rapidly) for the refrain and some passages that emphasize the winds. First, a woman (Secunda wrote "she") sings four bars and then the man (Secunda wrote "he") sings the next four. They sing together from the refrain. Although singing the third part of "Dana Dana" (= "Dana Dana Dana Dana …"), the man sometimes sings lower than the melody using disjunct motions. The melody is refrained. Then "he" sings the melody, and "she" sometimes sings "Dana", other times sings "Ah" with a high voice or technical passage. Secunda wrote "molto rit." (suddenly much more slowly) for the ending of the first verse. There are some differences between the original and the melody that are well known. Secunda wrote "ha ha ha" for the choral score with the broken chords.

There are various views as to the meaning of the words 'Dana, dana' in the original Yiddish version of the song, repeated sixteen times in each chorus. The words 'dana, dana' are a common refrain in Polish folk song, heard often in formulas such as 'Oj, dana dana, moja dana'. Some believe it to be a nonsense word, but it may have earlier ritual origins in Polish song or be imitative of musical instruments.[8] Zeitlin, who spent most of his life in the Polish-speaking world before emigrating to the U.S. in 1939, likely took the 'dana' refrain from this source. A comment appearing in the Hebrew newspaper Haaretz gives the meaning of Dana as the sound that was commonly made by the guide of a horse-drawn cart to encourage the horse to continue to step forward as it drags its heavy load.[9] According to the comment in Haaretz, the translation of the word Dana (from Yiddish to Hebrew) was provided by Kol Israel in 1962, when the song was performed by Nechama Hendel. In the John Camden Hotten Slang Dictionary, the word Dana related to a nightman's or dustman's cart in old German or Austrian slang. Incidentally, in Turkish, Azerbaijani and other Turkic languages, "dana" means a "weaned calf".[10]


Yiddish original Translation by Shalom Secunda Translation by Kodesh & Schwartz Literal English translation
אױפֿן פֿורל ליגט דאָס קעלבל,
ליגט געבונדן מיט אַ שטריק.
הױך אין הימל פֿליט דאָס שװעלבל,
פֿרייט זיך, דרייט זיך הין און צוריק.
On a wagon bound and helpless
Lies a calf, who is doomed to die.
High above him flies a swallow
Soaring gaily through the sky.
On a wagon bound for market
There's a calf with a mournful eye.
High above him there's a swallow
Winging swiftly through the sky.
Upon the wagon lies the calf,
Lies bound with a rope.
High up in the skies there flies a swallow,
Rejoicing, flying to and fro.
Chorus: Chorus: Chorus:
לאַכט דער ווינט אין קאָרן,
לאַכט און לאַכט און לאַכט,
לאַכט ער אָפּ אַ טאָג אַ גאַנצן
מיט אַ האַלבע נאַכט.
דאָנאַ, דאָנאַ, דאָנאַ…
The wind laughs in the cornfield
Laughs with all his might
Laughs and laughs the whole day through
And half way through the night
Dona, dona, dona...
How the winds are laughing
They laugh with all their might
Laugh and laugh the whole day through
And half the summer's night.
Dona, dona, dona...
The wind laughs in the corn,
Laughs and laughs and laughs,
Laughs up a whole day
And half a night.
Dona, dona, dona …
שרייַט דאָס קעלבל, זאָגט דער פּױער:
װער זשע הײסט דיר זײַן אַ קאַלב?
װאָלסט געקענט דאָך זײַן אַ פֿױגל,
װאָלסט געקענט דאָך זײַן אַ שװאַלב.
Now the calf is softly crying
"Tell me wind, why do you laugh?"
Why can’t I fly like the swallow
Why did I have to be a calf,
“Stop complaining,” said the farmer,
“Who told you a calf to be?
Why don't you have wings to fly away
Like the swallow so proud and free?”
The calf shouts; the farmer says,
“Who told you to be a calf?
You could have been a bird,
You could have been a swallow.”
Chorus Chorus Chorus
בידנע קעלבער טוט מען בינדן
און מען שלעפּט זײ און מען שעכט,
װער ס'האָט פֿליגל, פֿליט אַרױפֿצו,
איז בײַ קײנעם ניט קיין קנעכט.
Calves are born and soon are slaughtered
With no hope of being saved.
Only those with wing like swallow
Will not ever be enslaved.
Calves are easily bound and slaughtered
Never knowing the reason why.
But whoever treasures freedom,
Like the swallow has learned to fly.
People tie up wretched calves,
Move them around, and slaughter them;
Whoever has wings flies up,
Not enslaved by anyone.
Chorus Chorus Chorus


"Donna, Donna"
Single by Ola & the Janglers
from the album Patterns
B-side"Come and Stay With Me"
ReleasedMarch 1966
Songwriter(s)Sholom Secunda (credited)
Producer(s)Gunnar Bergström
Ola & the Janglers singles chronology
"Love Was On Your Mind"
"Donna, Donna"
"La La La"

English covers[edit]

Joan Baez first popularized the English version of the song when she recorded it in 1960, retitled as "Donna Donna". This version is still popular today with over 10 millions streams on Spotify.

Ola & the Janglers version Later, Swedish band Ola & the Janglers covered it in 1966, originally having heard the version by Kodesh & Schwartz.[11] Unlike many artists that had previously covered "Donna, Donna", the Janglers were not known as folk artists, and had previously only released rock songs.[12] Owing to this, they slightly changed the arrangement of the song, to better fit the group.[12] They added a harpsichord part played by group keyboardist Johannes Olsson along with bass guitar by Åke Eldsäter.[12] Though drummer Leif Johansson was left out, a harmony part by Ola Håkansson, Claes af Geijerstam and Eldsäter was added during the chorus.[12] The group recorded it and the B-side "Come and Stay with Me" during a session in 1966, with their regular producer Gunnar Bergström present.[11]

Initially intended to mark the introduction of guitarist af Geijerstam, who had recently replaced Christer Idering,[13] "Donna, Donna" was chosen as the A-side of the single.[12] However, during the time the single sleeves with "Donna, Donna" as the A-side were being printed, Pye Records released Donovan's version of the song as a single in Sweden.[12] Fearing that the two singles would compete, their record label Gazell decided to switch the running order, with "Come and Stay with Me" becoming the A-side once the 7-inch single was being pressed.[12][14] This meant that the sleeve and single had contrasting A-sides, which led to confusion by some of their fans and several radio stations, who were unaware of what side to plug.[12]

"Come and Stay with Me" managed to reach number 13 on Kvällstoppen and number three on Tio i Topp in April 1966.[15][16] "Donna, Donna" was still specifically asked about in record stores,[12] which led to it gaining a chart position on Kvällstoppen as well.[15] It entered on April 12, 1966 at a position of number 19, and was last seen on April 19 at the same position, coincidentally the same date "Come and Stay with Me" entered the chart.[15] This led to the Janglers having three singles simultaneously during this date; "Love Was on Your Mind", "Donna, Donna" and "Come and Stay with Me".[15]

Both sides of the single were among the first attempts at a Swedish rock band releasing a song in a folk rock vein.[12] It was originally included on their second studio album Patterns, released in June of that year.[17] It has since become a staple on most of their compilation albums, including Best Sounds (1969)[18] and Ola & the Janglers, 1964–71!.[19]


Chart (1966) Peak


Sweden (Kvällstoppen)[15] 19

Other English covers[edit]

  • Secunda translated "Dana Dana" into English language (changing the vocalization of 'dana' to 'dona'), but this version did not gain much attention.
  • The lyrics were translated once again in the mid-1950s, this time by Arthur Kevess and Teddi Schwartz. This version became especially popular after being recorded in 1960 by Joan Baez for her debut album Joan Baez.[20] On the album, the song is retitled "Donna, Donna", doubling the "n" while retaining the long "o" pronunciation.[21] A staple for Baez, "Donna, Donna" was used throughout the civil rights protest movement of the 1960s.[22]
  • Very soon after the Claude François version, the Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan recorded another very popular cover of Baez' version in 1965. The track appeared on his album What's Bin Did and What's Bin Hid. The title is also "Donna, Donna", thus reinforcing further the popular "Donna" rather than the original transliteration "Dona".
  • Also in 1965 Dana Gillespie released it for a single on Pye Records, produced by Jimmy Page.[23]
  • English duo Chad & Jeremy (Chad Stuart and Jeremy Clyde) covered it on their January 1965 US album Sing for You on World Artists Records. It was a B-side to their single "If I Loved You" which reached number 23 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was also included on their 1966 US album More Chad & Jeremy on Capitol Records.

French covers[edit]

"Donna Donna"
Single by Claude François
from the album Donna Donna / Les choses de la maison
B-side"Du Pain et du beurre / Je sais / Les cloches sonnaient"
GenreFolk music
Songwriter(s)French lyrics by Vline Buggy, Claude François

Claude François cover

In 1964, the song was recorded in French language by French singer Claude François as "Donna, Donna" reaching the top of the French Singles Charts for two consecutive weeks in December 1964. François co-wrote the French lyrics with Vline Buggy. The song also known by its longer title "Donna, Donna (Le Petit Garçon)" is a completely revamped version lyricwise, as it no longer describes a helpless calf being led to its slaughter, as in the original Yiddish version, but is rather about the troubles of an aspiring young boy growing up dreaming about his own future. In the last verse, in an autobiographical twist, Claude François alludes to himself by singing the verse as "ce petit garçon que j'étais" (this small boy that I was...).

Other French covers

  • In 1998, the French boyband C4 released a French dance version as "Donna, Donna" (YouTube video) on Polygram having a minor hit on French Singles Charts reaching number 25 and staying 12 weeks on the chart.[24]

Other versions[edit]

  • The song was recorded in Yiddish by Aviva Semadar for the German radio show Folklore Around the World on WDR, on November 4, 2002.[25]
  • "Dana Dana" has been translated from Yiddish into Hebrew as "Lama Dona" and interpreted by Rika Zaraï. Zaraï went on also to launch a French oriental dance version in her album Hava.
  • The song has also been recorded in many other languages as well, including German, Swedish, Japanese, Russian, Italian, Catalan and Vietnamese. In Vietnamese, the title was "Tiếc thương" (Mourning) by the musician Tuấn Dũng (of Mây Trắng group) in the 1960s, and the lyrics were shifted to expresses the mourning of a man whose lover died at a young age, making the song's impact on Vietnamese music. In Trần Tiến's version (1990s), the lyrics were translated metaphorically from French and performed by a girl-band named Tam Ca Áo Trắng (Trio of Schoolgirls). There is also a less popular Vietnamese version called "Tiếc thương" (Mourning) that expresses the mourning of a man whose lover died at the young age. A version in Japanese is included in episode 16 of the 1997 TV anime series Revolutionary Girl Utena.


  1. ^ "Esterke". Jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2015-07-13.
  2. ^ "Esterke". 2ndave.nyu.edu. 2005-05-13. Archived from the original on 2012-07-01. Retrieved 2015-07-13.
  3. ^ "Photographic version of sheet music incorporating melody and lyrics - Part I". 2ndave.nyu.edu. Archived from the original (JPG) on 2012-03-05. Retrieved 2015-07-13.
  4. ^ "Photographic version of sheet music incorporating melody and lyrics - Part II". 2ndave.nyu.edu. Archived from the original (JPG) on 2011-07-20. Retrieved 2015-07-13.
  5. ^ "Photographic version of sheet music incorporating melody and lyrics - Part III". 2ndave.nyu.edu. Archived from the original (JPG) on 2012-03-05. Retrieved 2015-07-13.
  6. ^ "Photographic version of sheet music incorporating melody and lyrics - Part IV". 2ndave.nyu.edu. Archived from the original (JPG) on 2012-03-05. Retrieved 2015-07-13.
  7. ^ "Yiddish Transliteration and Spelling | YIVO transliteration chart for Yiddish alphabet | Yiddish Spelling Guidelines". Yiddishwit.com. Retrieved 2015-07-13.
  8. ^ "Kujawiak".
  9. ^ ""תגובות למוסף "הארץ‎". Haaretz. 2009-04-17. Retrieved 2021-12-10.
  10. ^ "Türk Dil Kurumu | Sözlük". sozluk.gov.tr (in Turkish). Archived from the original on 2020-07-28. Retrieved 2021-03-27.
  11. ^ a b Olofsson, Hans (1995). Stora Popboken - Svensk Rock & Pop 1954 - 1969. Premium Publishing. p. 59. ISBN 9-197-1894-48.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Olofsson, Hans (1995). Stora Popboken - Svensk Rock & Pop 1954 - 1969. Premium Publishing. p. 60. ISBN 9-197-1894-48.
  13. ^ "Ola & the Janglers - History". www.svenskpophistoria.se. Archived from the original on 2013-12-24. Retrieved 2021-11-25.
  14. ^ "Ola & the Janglers - Donna, Donna / Come And Stay With Me". www.svenskpophistoria.se. Archived from the original on 2018-12-19. Retrieved 2021-11-25.
  15. ^ a b c d e Hallberg, Eric (1993). Eric Hallberg presenterar Kvällstoppen i P 3: Sveriges radios topplista över veckans 20 mest sålda skivor 10. 7. 1962 - 19. 8. 1975. Drift Musik. ISBN 9163021404.
  16. ^ Hallberg, Eric; Henningsson, Ulf (1998). Eric Hallberg, Ulf Henningsson presenterar Tio i topp med de utslagna på försök: 1961 - 74. Premium Publishing. ISBN 919727125X.
  17. ^ "Ola & the Janglers - Patterns". www.svenskpophistoria.se. Archived from the original on 2021-11-25. Retrieved 2021-11-25.
  18. ^ Ola & The Janglers – Best Sounds (1969, Vinyl), retrieved 2021-11-25
  19. ^ "Ola & the Janglers - Ola & The Janglers 1964-71". www.svenskpophistoria.se. Archived from the original on 2021-11-25. Retrieved 2021-11-25.
  20. ^ Fields, Deborah Rubin. "Dona Dona: Song's Enduring Popularity". jewishindependent.ca/. Jewish Independent. Retrieved May 11, 2021.
  21. ^ Rogovoy, Seth (September 18, 2018). "The Secret Jewish History Of Joan Baez". forward.com. Forward. Retrieved May 11, 2021.
  22. ^ "Joan Baez Songs: 10 Essential Tracks You Need to Know". rocksoffmag.com. Rocks Off. 28 September 2019. Retrieved May 11, 2021.
  23. ^ "45cat - Dana Gillespie - Donna Donna / It's No Use Saying If - Pye - UK - 7N 15872". Retrieved 6 April 2023.
  24. ^ "lescharts.com - C4 - Donna Donna". lescharts.com. Retrieved 6 April 2023.
  25. ^ "Donna donna (Dus kelbl) - Aviva Semadar דאָנא דאָנא (דאָס קעלבל) - אביבה סמדר". Youtube (in Yiddish). November 4, 2002. Retrieved 2024-02-17.

External links[edit]