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Donnie | Features

Donni SaveOurSoul artist of the Month Januari 2003




DonnieDuring its heyday in the early 20th century, Harlem, New York served as the cultural center of Black America. One of the striking features of Harlem in those days were the legions of soap box preachers. Crates that had once transported bars of soap, were used as streetside podiums by those who stood upon them and competed for the attention of residents whose very survival was often connected to their ability to dream about a better life. Those soapboxes have long been replaced by televangelists and mega-churches, yet there remains a nation of people who truly need a message of survival. And it is for those folk that Donnie offers The Daily News—a new collection of songs that speak to the joys, pains, and challenges of being an American in the early 21st century. “I just wanted to put music to our everyday culture” Donnie says, “because nobody’s news is like ours.”

That an artist would use his or her music as a metaphoric soapbox is not new—it’s a tradition that is as old as Billie Holiday lamenting the practice of lynching on her classic recording “Strange Fruit” and continues today in the music of folk like The Dixie Chicks and Steve Earle. What perhaps separates Donnie from many of his contemporaries is the passion—bordering on religious fervor—that he brings to his music. This is something that comes naturally to Donnie. As the son of two ministers, for which attendance in Church was a non-negotiable, Donnie learned quite a lot from the styles that emerged from the pulpit and the sounds that filled the churches that were his spiritual homes in Lexington, KY and later Atlanta, GA. What he didn’t learn from the church he learned during his stint at one of Atlanta’s performing arts schools: “that’s where I learned some music theory”, Donnie recalls, but he also found musical inspiration “just looking at the world… America is in bad shape. I witness human tragedy every single day. And that shit don’t make sense.”

DonnieDonnie first emerged out of the Atlanta Soul music scene, which also produced India.Arie. It was with the support of Arie, that Donnie independently released the critically acclaimed The Colored Section (2002) on Giant Step which led to his signing with the legendary Motown record label. Donnie’s affinity toward legendary Soul singers like Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway was clear, but few critics realized the other influences that were as vital to Donnie’s sound as classic Soul. “I come from Gospel,” Donnie notes, “I come from Rance Allen, James Moore, John P. Kee, Darryl Coley—all of these men in Gospel sing and draw emotions.” Like the classic Soul Men that also influenced him, Donnie understands how fluid musical genres can be. Like The Colored Section before it, The Daily News is evidence of Donnie’s appreciation of a wide range of styles including ragtime, jazz, the blues, show tunes, Soul, hip-hop, gospel and of course contemporary R&B.

Though many critics have described Donnie’s sound as “old school”, he makes it clear that he is “an artist of today and though my songwriting is classic, I want it to sound like today.” The “classically contemporary” sound that listeners hear on The Daily News has much to do with the legendary musicians that appear on the album including Al McKay (Earth, Wind, & Fire), Jimi Macon (Gap Band), Bobby Watson (Rufus, Michael Jackson), and Wayne Linsey (Stevie Wonder, Anthony Hamilton) - all of whom wanted to work with Donnie because of his unique abiiility to deliver old school Soul performances that speak to today’s audience.

DonnieThe relationship of Donnie’s music to the “here and now” is best reflected in the themes of the music itself. Tracks like “Over-the-Counter Culture” (which features Phonte of the hip-hop group Little Brother), “Classifieds” and the title track, “The Daily News”, are clear indictments of the shortcomings and dangers of contemporary America. While the urgency of such issues reflect the way in which news is presented to us —24 hours a day at a break-neck pace—The Daily News is also a reminder that many of these issues are timeless, as is the case on songs like “China Doll” which tackles the difficult subject of child molestation, the very personal “Suicide”, and “Impatient People”, which mocks the federal government’s response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

Through the socio-political nature of the subject matter found on The Daily News, Donnie says that he hopes his music “brings people some type of joy and it makes them think about what they are doing every single day, especially Americans.” His music is a celebration of life. Of moving forward and coping with the ever changing landscape of life in the 21st Century as a proud and conscious American.


DonnieSaveOurSoul interview with Donnie
13 December 2002

Donnie's debut CD "The Colored Section" has recently been released and has gotten rave reviews from almost every critic on the planet. He's been compared with Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway and Marvin Gaye and is seen as one of the most talented new artists of recent years. When we from SaveOurSoul spoke with Donnie, there was an ice storm coming up, but Donnie did not want an ice storm, so he was not expecting it. The ice storm came anyway.

The Colored Section

The title of Donnie's debut CD "The Colored Section" caused some reactions. He got reaction from people that know right of what the colored section is and are from African descent in America. Those people really responded in a very warm manner. Some people cried, which didn't surprise Donnie because he knows what they are feeling and to see that type of symbol in this day and time in a name of an album, those people enjoyed that. But there were numerous people that wondered what the colored section was. That was a question he had to answer a lot. The title comes from the Jim Crow era, that was the time after slavery (1870 - till 1967) when American negroes were let out of slavery and they had a set of laws all over the United States that were against negroes, which was against the constitution. The could not sit and eat in certain places, could not use certain bathrooms, they could not vote until the sixties. That was the colored section. But to Donnie the colored section is much more, he likes to repaint the colored section. He wants it to be a hip place to be instead of a place people do not want to go. The colored section is the United States of America.

Musical background

On the CD "The Colored Section" there is a wide variety of music, such as funk, gospel, ragtime and even samba. Donnie was just like everybody else introduced to music by his parents, who were listening at that time to Lou Rawls, The Emotions, Ramsey Lewis. In the eighties his parents went back to church, both of them became preachers, so he would hear more gospel. But Donnie has always listened to the radio and watched MTV. He is from the MTV-generation and he listens to all types of music. Donnie was influenced by contemporary gospel artist like the Clarck Sisters, Hawkins, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke and the Winans. Even though he is compared to Stevie Wonder a lot, Stevie was not Donnie's major influence. Although he was an influence just like Donny Hathaway and Marvin Gaye, to whom Donnie is related.


Donnie is not afraid to address isues like rasicm, age discrimination and poverty. It is because of who Donnie is. He questions things and does not take things for what they are. He wants to address the problems, and not run away and escape them in the dreamy dreamy love songs. Love songs have to be real. These topics are happening in the United States, which is the colored section. Donnie explains: "My last name is Johnson and I am a negro, and negroes are mainly from Africa. There are Johnson's, Anderson's, Gaye's that are white in the United States that are my cousin. But people refuse to look at that. These are all our stories. And every white person is not against me, and never has been. There were abolitionists that died for slavery, because they thought slavery was wrong. It is a very complex story in the United States of America. If there is an african-american person with the last name Bush, who says they are not kin to George Bush, our president. We are all from the same people. And there were many masters that slept with the slaves. And fathered many children. That is why we have a variety of shades in the negro culture. People that are passed for white that identify themselves as black. There are people that are my color and even darker, that we know are black. I have cousins that are very light, extremely light. We are all kin, we have the same great great great grandparents."

First black this first black that

DonnieDonnie grew up in Atlanta. In Atlanta's history Maynard Jackson was the first black mayor and Andrew Young was the first black from the south that became an U.S. congressman. This is what Donnie means when he sings "The first black this, the first black that, give me the truth and not the facts" in the title track of "The Colored Section" Because in America you always hear the First black that.. about all the people who have so called "Made it", that are negro, but Donnie feels that without negroes in America, there would definitly be no American story. He says: "We were in every fase of it, wether it would be good or bad, most of the industrial age was built off the American negro. We invented ooh so many things, that we use today and take for granted. But nobody will know that. And a lot of things were even patented by white inventors, because it was against the law for a negro to patent anything" As for "give me the truth and not the facts", Donnie explains "Just give me what it is. They twist the story a lot here. Even in my history books we did not have a lot of black history. But we had more than our parents. Our kids have more than we have. The first model for the statue of liberty was a negro woman. But a lot of people will never know that. We don't look at the truth we just look at the facts. We look at what we have known to be true."

Love songs

In the love songs on "The Colored Section" you won't find words like boy, girl, man, woman. The reason is that Donnie wants to make his love songs accessible for everybody, giving it an universal appeal. Whether you are male or female, he wants everybody being able to sing his songs without feeling that the person has to change the lyric. Donnie starts singing "Nothing you can say can tear me away from my guy.. but I have to go sing girl" The song is My Guy, My Girl is from the Temptations. "People have to change it up and do all of that." Songs that have words like "You and I", "It's about us" tend to hit more. You never hear many female's singing She and male's singing He because they would not play it on the radio.


Donnie hopes to achieve with his CD: "a better understanding, acceptance of the truth and the evolution of the way we think and the way we relate to eachother. Because we would rather have war than talk and be fair and reasonable. We relate on animalistic level, and I feel that we, including myself, should rise higher. I cannot identify with the animalistic behaviours such as killing, raping and bombing."

Copyright © 2002, SaveOurSoul
The Daily News
Donnie - The Daily News Track Listing:
01. Impatient People
02. 911
03. Over-The-Counter Culture featuring Phonte of Little Brother
04. Classifieds
05. Suicide
06. If I Were You
07. Robot
08. Atlanta Child Murders
09. For Christ Sake
10. Mason Dixon Line
11. China Doll
12. Daily News
13. If I Were You
14. Blue Eyed Soul
The Colored Section
Donnie - The Colored Section Track Listing:
01. Welcome To The Colored Section
02. Beautiful Me
03. Cloud 9
04. People Person
05. Big Black Buck
06. Wildlife
07. Do You Know?
08. Turn Around
09. You Got a Friend
10. Heaven Sent
11. Rocketship
12. Masterplan
13. Our New National Anthem
14. The Colored Section
Video for "If I Were You"

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