Thursday, Jan 30 2003 | 11:08

Housed inside Donnie’s thin, 5 ft 8 in frame dwells a deep rich powerhouse voice. His eyes, so dark and strong, speak of a raw intelligence and determination to lift up every stone and turn round every corner to find the truth that is so dear to him. Donnie, 27, is set to ride the wave that his fellow soul peers, India.Arie, Maxwell, Jill Scott, Macy Gray and The Roots have paved for him. If you’re tuned in tightly to the world of soul music you may have already heard the industry rumbles about Donnie in magazines like Black Book, One World, The Fader and Vibe.

Some of you may also have been lucky enough to see him at the NAACP Image Awards in Los Angeles where he was picked as the only artist to perform in front of a star-studded audience including Stevie Wonder. For others who were in New York last May, you may have caught his debut performance at SOB’s where he performed to a packed crowd. Either way, now’s your chance to get acquainted before the crowd, because Donnie will soon be a name on discerning lips everywhere.

Hailing from Atlanta, Donnie comes from the same Earthseed camp as India Arie that was centered around the Yin Yang Café club. Donnie described the scene recently for Creative Loafing Atlanta as a hotbed of experimentation “a special place at a special time¦everybody came there. You had black, white, Asian, and Latino. Everybody may not always have been comfortable, but everybody respected each other. I felt a kinship because everyone at Yin Yang sang about things that mattered. God didn’t give that gift for nothing.” In her debut album, Acoustic Soul, India.Arie gives credit to her fellow singer and friend claiming one day the world will know what she has known for so long. This should come as no surprise to anyone whose seen Donnie’s awe inspiring live performances nor would it surprise anyone who knows the long line of music makers from which Donnie descends – a strong heritage that includes his relatives Marvin Gaye and Les McCann.

Born in Lexington, Kentucky, Donnie moved to Atlanta at the age of 8, and his parents, who are both ministers, raised him in a Hebrew Pentecostal church which he attended regularly until his early 20’s. Donnie credits the strict and yet liberal environment he grew up in for the direction he pursues today. It was Bishop Embry in Atlanta who first told Donnie to get into the choir. By the age of 14 he was already directing music and talks about the hub of musical ability that was developing around him. Contemporary gospel legends such as Twinkie Clark, Edwin and Walter Hawkins and Mahalia Jackson were taking music from the church to a new level. “They explored R&B, ragtime and jazz and put a meaningful message behind it,” he explains.

Aged 18, Donnie started to expand his knowledge and love for music. “Growing up in the church, a lot of people could write music like superstars,” he confides, “but I asked myself, am I going to sing for the church or sing to the world?” Choosing the latter, Donnie is now finding new ways to communicate with people of all racial and cultural backgrounds and this has deeply influenced the lyrical direction of his songs. His music bears the same love as his idols and influences, Donnie Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Sarah Vaughan and Bessie Smith.

“The Colored Section” project started as a series of demos in 2000 following Donnie’s meeting with Maurice Bernstein, the President of Giant Step Records. Maurice first heard about Donnie from India.Arie who enthusiastically recommended her friend following a showcase she performed in Atlanta in 1997. Starting with a number of songs produced by Steve Harvey in Los Angeles they began to meet with major record labels. The response was so positive, Giant Step Records, Donnie and Steve Harvey decided to continue working independently on the album.

Next, Giant Step Records released a 7″, “Do You Know?” which many thought was an old soul classic. Radio DJs including KCRW’s Garth Trinidad on Chocolate City and New York DJ Bobbito Garcia AKA Cucumber Slice both championed the track. On the strength of this release, Donnie was invited to perform for two sold-out nights at London’s famous Jazz Café and then later, following his successful debut, for an additional three nights. In December 2001, the label released an EP, “Excerpts from The Colored Section” which included three of his demo tracks.
With this release his popularity grew internationally resulting in a 40 date tour opening for Boney James’s spring tour in 2002. He is also now scheduled for a seven-date tour in Japan this Fall including six nights in Tokyo and one night in Sapporo.

Donnie’s debut full length album “The Colored Section” speaks of the African-American plight from the 19th Century to the present day and has a warmth and depth that we rarely hear in these times. His life’s work is distilled down to an enjoyable and engrossing listening experience that takes just over an hour (the full lyric sheet is available upon request). Included are classics such as “Cloud 9”, featured in the new Mos Def movie “Brown Sugar”, the previously released 7″ single gems “Do You Know?” and “Our National Anthem”. The latter of which was recently selected by Black Entertainment Television (BET) to be the music for a year long advertising campaign promoting BET. In September 2002, Giant Step Records have released an additional single “Masterplan” which breaks Donnie from traditional soul for a moment of exploration with London club producer IG Culture and much more. Listening to Donnie, you can quickly see how this artist is not just another neo-soul singer. After his SOB’s debut show in New York, one fan wrote, “Donnie’s voice, writing and music is a blessing to the world and himself. Especially to us who miss the greats of yesterday. He is truly a vessel, G-D bless him!”
Now it’s your turn to sing praise.

artist website: DONNIESOUL.COM

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