Dorothy Donegan

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Dorothy Donegan
Dorothy Donegan Billboard.jpg
Donegan in a 1944 advertisement
Background information
Born (1922-04-06)April 6, 1922
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Died May 19, 1998(1998-05-19) (aged 76)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Genres Jazz, blues, bop, swing jazz, classical music
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Piano, vibraphone
Years active 1936–98
Labels MGM, Capitol
Associated acts Lionel Hampton
Brook Benton

Dorothy Donegan (April 6, 1922 – May 19, 1998)[1] was an American classically trained jazz pianist primarily known for performing in the stride piano and boogie-woogie style. She also played bebop, swing jazz, and classical music.[2]

Life and career[edit]

Donegan was born and grew up in Chicago, Illinois, and began studying piano at the age of eight. She took her first lessons from Alfred N. Simms, a West Indian pianist who also taught Cleo Brown.[3] She graduated from Chicago's DuSable High School, where she studied with Walter Dyett, a teacher who also worked with, among others, Dinah Washington, Johnny Griffin, Gene Ammons, and Von Freeman.[1] She also studied at the Chicago Musical College and, later, the University of Southern California.[4] In 1942 she made her recording debut. She appeared in Sensations of 1945 with Cab Calloway, Gene Rodgers and W. C. Fields and was known for her work in Chicago nightclubs.[2] She was a protégée of Art Tatum, who once called her "the only woman who can make me practice."[5] (She said that Tatum "was supposed to be blind...I know he could see women."[3]) In 1943, Donegan became the first African American to perform at Chicago's Orchestra Hall.[5] She later said of this pathbreaking performance:

In the first half I played Rachmaninoff and Grieg and in the second I drug it through the swamp – played jazz. Claudia Cassidy reviewed the concert on the first page of the Chicago Tribune. She said I had a terrific technique and I looked like a Toulouse-Lautrec lithograph.[3]

Donegan performing with American sailors at Camp Robert Smalls within Naval Training Station, Great Lakes, 1943.

In May 1983, Donegan, along with Billy Taylor, Milt Hinton, Art Blakey, Maxine Sullivan, Jaki Byard, and Eddie Locke, performed at a memorial service for Earl Hines, held at St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Church in New York City.[6] Her first six albums proved to be obscure when compared with her successes in performance. It was not until the 1980s that her work gained notice in the recorded jazz world.[2] In particular, a recorded appearance at the 1987 Montreux Jazz Festival and her live albums from 1991 were met with acclaim. Even so, she remained best known for her live performances. She drew crowds with her eclectic mixture of styles and her flamboyant personality. Ben Ratliff argued in The New York Times that "her flamboyance helped her find work in a field that was largely hostile to women. To a certain extent, it was also her downfall; her concerts were often criticized for having an excess of personality."[1]

Donegan was outspoken about her view that sexism, along with her insistence on being paid the same rates as male musicians, had limited her career.[1] In 1992, Donegan received an "American Jazz Master" fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and in 1994, an honorary doctorate from Roosevelt University.[4] Donegan died of cancer in 1998 in Los Angeles, California.[4]


Discography as a leader[edit]

  • 1946: September Song (Jubilee)
  • 1954: Dorothy Donegan Piano (MGM)
  • 1955: Dorothy Donegan (Jubilee)
  • 1957: Dorothy Donegan at the Embers (Roulette)
  • 1957: Dorothy Donegan Live! (Capitol)
  • 1959: Donnybrook with Dorothy (Capitol)
  • 1960: It Happened One Night (Roulette)
  • 1963: Swingin' Jazz in Hi Fi (Regina)
  • 1975: The Many Faces of Dorothy Donegan (Mahogany)
  • 1979: Makin' Whoopie (Black & Blue)
  • 1980: Sophisticated Lady (Ornament)
  • 1980: Live in Copenhagen 1980 (Storyville)
  • 1980: Live! (CNR)
  • 1986: Live at the Widder Bar (Timeless)
  • 1990: Live at the 1990 Floating Jazz Festival (Chiaroscuro)
  • 1991: The Incredible Dorothy Donegan Trio (Chiaroscuro)
  • 1992: Dorothy Donegan Trio with Clark Terry (Chiaroscuro)
  • 1995: I Just Want (Audiophile)
  • 2015: Live at the King Of France Tavern (LiSem)


  • 2008: Dorothy Donegan: Pandemonium
  • 1995 Jazz At Newport 95' Featured Performer Concert Special for PBS


  1. ^ a b c d Ratliff, Ben (May 22, 1998). "Dorothy Donegan, 76, Flamboyant Jazz Pianist". The New York Times. Retrieved September 14, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c "Biography by Scott Yanow". Retrieved September 1, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c Balliett, Whitney (February 15, 2006). American Musicians II: Seventy-One Portraits in Jazz. University Press of Mississippi. pp. 232–238. ISBN 978-1-57806-834-0. Retrieved September 14, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c "Dorothy Donegan, Famed Jazz Pianist, Dies". Jet. June 8, 1998. pp. 38–39. ISSN 0021-5996. Retrieved September 14, 2011. 
  5. ^ a b Waldron, Clarence (December 1983). "Dorothy Donegan: Bouncy as ever at age 61". Ebony. pp. 87–90. ISSN 0012-9011. Retrieved September 14, 2011. 
  6. ^ "Earl Hines Memorial Service". The New York Times. May 5, 1983. p. D21. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]