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.


"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.


"Donna Donna"
Single by Joan Baez
from the album Joan Baez
A-side"House of the Rising Sun"
B-side"Donna, Donna"
GenreFolk music
Length3:15 or 3:09
Songwriter(s)English lyrics by Arthur Kevess and Teddi Schwartz
"Donna Donna"
Single by Claude François
from the album Donna Donna / Les choses de la maison
A-side"Donna, Donna"
B-side"Du Pain et du beurre / Je sais / Les cloches sonnaient"
GenreFolk music
Songwriter(s)French lyrics by Vline Buggy, Claude François
"Donna Donna"
Single by Donovan
from the album What's Bin Did and What's Bin Hid
A-side"Donna, Donna"
B-side"Car Car / (alternatively) Josie"
GenreFolk music
Songwriter(s)Sholom Secunda, Aaron Zeitlin. English lyrics by Arthur Kevess and Teddi Schwartz
"Donna Donna"
Single by C4
A-side"Donna, Donna"
GenreDance music / disco
Songwriter(s)French lyrics by Vline Buggy, Claude François
Secunda's English version

Secunda translated "Dana Dana" into English language (changing the vocalization of 'dana' to 'dona'), but this version didn't gain much attention.

Joan Baez version

The lyrics were translated once again in the mid-1950s, this time by Arthur Kevess and Teddi Schwartz, and the song became well known with their text.

It became especially popular after being recorded by Joan Baez in 1960 in her album Joan Baez. In her version, the song is retitled "Donna, Donna" (doubling the n"). This became very popular and later versions also used the double "n". The song became a staple of Baez and used in the human rights protest movement in the 1960s.

Claude François version

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...).

Donovan version

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".

Hebrew version

"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 was recorded in many other languages as well including German, French, Swedish, Japanese, Hebrew, Russian, Italian, and Vietnamese. In Vietnamese language, the lyrics was translated metaphorically from French version by Trần Tiến, a well-known musician in Vietnam. This version was performed by a girlband name 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.




The song has been recorded in original Yiddish lyrics amongst others by:

The German folk ensemble Zupfgeigenhansel interpreted it as part of their 1978 album Jiddische Lieder ('ch Hob Gehert Sogn) (as "Dos Kelbi" (YouTube video) with lyrics from Jtschak Katsenelson).[8]


The most famous recordings in the English language include those by Joan Baez and Donovan. But there are also versions by:

  • American folk singers The Chad Mitchell Trio covered it on their 1961 US album Mighty Day on Campus
  • 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.
  • Israeli folk duo Esther & Abi Ofarim recorded their version in 1966 in English for the album Noch Einen Tanz[9]
  • Actress and performer Patty Duke covered "Dona, Dona" on her unreleased 1968 album Patty Duke Sings Folk Songs - Time To Move On for United Artists Records. She also performed it at the time on The Ed Sullivan Show.
  • Swedish band Ola & the Janglers covered it in English in as Side B of their single in 1966 (YouTube video)
  • Mocedades, a Spanish-Basque singing group covered it in English in 1969
  • Mary Hopkin covered it live during Expo '70 concert in Osaka, Japan
  • In 1974, Filipino folk singer Wee Gee covered it in English naming her album Donna, Donna as well
  • The song was covered in French by Claude François (YouTube video). His version topped the French Singles Chart for 1964. Because of the popularity of his version, in 1965 he released his album Donna Donna / Les choses de la maison making "Donna, Donna" the title track.
  • Dorothée and Hélène interpreted it in French as a duo on the inaugural edition of Rock'n'roll Show broadcast on prime time on TF1 in the autumn of 1993. (YouTube video)
  • 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.[10]
  • Les Stentors a French 4-member super vocal group covered it in their self-titled 2010 debut album Les Stentors

In popular culture[edit]

The song was used in soundtrack of the 2005 Indonesian film Gie by Riri Riza about the story of activist Soe Hok Gie. (YouTube video)

The song was also used in the soundtrack for the 1997 Japanese anime series Revolutionary Girl Utena - specifically in episode 16, "Cowbell of Happiness" in which the character of Nanami turns into a cow by wearing an enchanted cowbell which she mistakes for haute couture jewelry.

It was also sung in episode 16 of the Japanese anime series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex by the Tachikoma.

The song was also used as a background music in one episode of the 2015 Korean drama Reply 1988 - specifically in episode 12, "Loving Someone Means" in which the character of Sung Duk Seon teaches Choi Taek some swearing word in front of their three other best friends, Kim Jung Hwan, Sung Sun Woo and Ryu Dong Ryong.


  1. ^ "Esterke". Retrieved 2015-07-13.
  2. ^ "Esterke". 2005-05-13. Retrieved 2015-07-13.
  3. ^ "Photographic version of sheet music incorporating melody and lyrics - Part I" (JPG). Retrieved 2015-07-13.
  4. ^ "Photographic version of sheet music incorporating melody and lyrics - Part II" (JPG). Retrieved 2015-07-13.
  5. ^ "Photographic version of sheet music incorporating melody and lyrics - Part III" (JPG). Retrieved 2015-07-13.
  6. ^ "Photographic version of sheet music incorporating melody and lyrics - Part IV" (JPG). Retrieved 2015-07-13.
  7. ^ "Yiddish Transliteration and Spelling | YIVO transliteration chart for Yiddish alphabet | Yiddish Spelling Guidelines". Retrieved 2015-07-13.
  8. ^ Zupfgeigenhansel – Jiddische Lieder ('ch Hob Gehert Sogn) (1979) album releases & credits at
  9. ^
  10. ^ C4 - "Donna, Donna" song page

External links[edit]