Dorothy Donegan

Dorothy Donegan was a highly accomplished and innovative jazz pianist who was known for her technical virtuosity and her ability to blend together a wide range of musical styles. Her unique style of playing, which combined elements of classical, bebop, stride, and boogie-woogie, earned her a devoted following among jazz enthusiasts and critics alike.

Donegan was born on April 6, 1922, in Chicago, Illinois. She began playing piano at the age of eight and quickly showed a talent for music. Her father was a pianist and bandleader, and her mother was a singer, so she grew up surrounded by music.

Honorees jazz pianist Dorothy Donegan (left) and actor James Earl Jones (right) pose for a photo at the seventeenth annual African American Living Legends Series program at A C Bilbrew Library.

As a teenager, Donegan began performing in local clubs and theaters, and she soon became a sought-after performer on the Chicago jazz scene. She also began to develop a reputation for her unique style of playing, which incorporated elements of classical music, bebop, and boogie-woogie.

In the late 1940s, Donegan moved to New York City, where she quickly established herself as a rising star on the jazz scene. She began performing regularly at the famous Three Deuces club, where she played alongside some of the biggest names in jazz, including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Art Tatum.

The judges for the 1993 Piano Competition, from left: Marian McPartland, Herbie Hancock, Muhal Richard Abrams, Marcus Roberts, Dave Brubeck, and Dorothy Donegan

Throughout her career, Donegan toured extensively and performed at some of the most prestigious venues in the world, including Carnegie Hall and the Montreux Jazz Festival. She also recorded numerous albums, including “Donnybrook with Donegan” (1956), “Live at the Embers” (1961), and “Dorothy Donegan: Pandemonium” (1992).

Donegan was known for her energetic and entertaining live performances, which often included humorous anecdotes and physical comedy. She was also an accomplished composer and arranger, and many of her compositions, such as “It Happened in Monterey” and “Donegan’s Blues,” became jazz standards.

Despite facing discrimination and racism throughout her life, Donegan remained committed to her music and continued to perform until shortly before her death on May 19, 1998. She was posthumously inducted into the International Jazz Hall of Fame in 1999, and her legacy as one of the most innovative and influential jazz pianists of the 20th century lives on.

Dorothy Donegan, pictured here with the Camp Robert Smalls swing band, is featured on this episode of Piano Jazz.

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