Singing from the Soul

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The cover of Donnie's earlier release, "The Colored Section." hide caption

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daily news

The cover of "The Daily News" hide caption

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The Atlanta-based soul singer Donnie talks about his latest release, "The Daily News," and the spiritual side of R&B music.


I'm Farai Chideya and this is NEWS & NOTES.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: R&B singer Donnie traces his artistic roots to southern soul. Like many R&B singers, Donnie got his earliest taste in music in the black churches of Kentucky and Atlanta. When that city's modern soul scene started taking off, Donnie was right on board with the debut album "The Colored Section."

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: Donnie's old school vocal styles earned comparisons to legends like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. For his new album, "The Daily News," Donnie reached down to his soul roots and pulled in artist who played with Stevie Wonder - Rufus and Earth, Wind and Fire. Donnie joins me now to talk about his new disc. Welcome.

Donnie: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: So, I mentioned before that you have some roots in the southern black church and that's where many of the greatest singers come from. When and how did you break with just singing in church and how did you move on to secular music?

DONNIE: I mean, well, I moved on to secular music, you know, when I left the church and left home - really was at the same time, you know. You know, my mother had to push me out, you know, one night and I just started singing in the clubs around Atlanta, you know, doing covered tunes, you know, and making my money that way to feed myself.

CHIDEYA: When you say had to push me out, what do you mean specifically?

DONNIE: I mean, you know, you grow to a certain point where, you know, I was getting rebellious. You know, getting too much mouth and just, you know, to be living in - under, you know, my dad and my mother's roof you have to, you know, respect them. You know, that time was running out. I was feeling myself or smelling myself as they say.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: So when you look back on those hard times, what does it bring to your music?

DONNIE: Basically, I guess, it just (unintelligible). Like in church they say - like gold, like metal, you know. It's just makes it more precious - more precious, and just makes you more refined, you know. You can, I guess, brink off emotion and song (unintelligible) because you've been through something.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: Now, when you talk about the nature of you voice, whether it's bringing out the experiences that you've had or the lyrics that you create, you have been compared vocally to singers like Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway. That is a huge set of influences to live up to. How does it make you feel and does that put pressure on you?

DONNIE: Well, it does put pressure on me. It makes me feel honored, you know. I do want to take it further, though. You know what I mean? You know, I don't want to be them always, or be compared to them always. I want to, you know, Donnie, I-E, to have a style of his own.

(Soundbite of song, "911")

CHIDEYA: So this is your second album. Give us a track that you have done on this album and why it speaks to you not just because you made it, but because you recognize something in it that maybe is universal.

DONNIE: 911. You know, of course I dedicate it to our fellow citizens who died in the 9/11 tragedy. You know, I was there. I just need to get some stuff off of my chest.

(Soundbite of song, "911")

DONNIE: And I just, you know, I wrote it because I want to get rid of all of those isms and schism in my life.

CHIDEYA: Well, that's the perfect time to ask about something that you did recently. You were in L.A. to perform at the L.A. Black Pride celebration. It's a big event for African-American, gays and lesbians. Folks come from all over the country to attend. And you spent some time with journalist Jasmine Cannick who we have on our show regularly, and you talked to her about being a gay black man, which you don't always discuss in public. Let me ask you about it, though, now. How has your sexuality change the path that you have been able to walk as an artist and in the music industry?

DONNIE: Well, I put it like this. It has freed me. You know, I'm not in - I'm not a fearing that somebody will come out with a story or, you know, I don't fear it in my music. I really don't even talk about it in my music as far as the sexuality part, you know. But - I don't know. It helps me to do what I need to do and just let go of that burden of being scared.

CHIDEYA: We had a hip-hop series and we talked about how gays and lesbians and hip-hop were - still for the most part - scarce and isolated, and how people were trying to change that. R&B music has traditionally been what some folks call baby-making music, very heterosexual, very much steeped in a tradition of courtship. How does your approach to it have to change? Or does it change?

DONNIE: It doesn't really change because I'm in a tradition of making music -message music, you know, which is soul music, which is basically, I say the bridge between the secular and sacred world.

(Sound of music)

DONNIE: You know. So, it doesn't talk about that heavy sex and, you know, courtship and all that type of stuff, it doesn't do that. So I'm really free to do what I do.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: Well, Donnie, thank you so much for joining us.

DONNIE: Thank you so much, Farai.

CHIDEYA: Soul singer Donnie. His new album is titled "The Daily News."

(Soundbite of music)

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