Dorothy Donegan Biography

6 April 1922, Chicago, Illinois, USA, d. 16 June 1998, Los Angeles, California, USA. Encouraged by her mother to learn music, Donegan studied classical piano, attending Chicago’s Du Sable High School and the Chicago Conservatory of Music, but thereafter turned to jazz. A meeting with Art Tatum in the early 40s led to her becoming his protégée. The following year she made her first record session and became a popular figure at Chicago clubs, playing a mixture of jazz, boogie woogie and cocktail music with a strong visual appeal. She also made an appearance in the film Sensations Of 1945, a back stage musical featuring Cab Calloway and W.C. Fields, and was presented in concert at the Orchestra Hall.

Having started her jazz career as a single, she formed a trio in 1945 and continued to work in that format. Later in her career she was inclined to work as a soloist again, after being unable to appoint suitable drummers. In subsequent interviews she indicated a clear desire to return to playing classical music, a form that she used for her daily practise. A powerful performer with dazzling technique, she played with enormous swing and had a solid following. The audience at a 1980 appearance in New York’s Sheraton Centre Hotel broke previous attendance records. In 1992 she was given an American Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment of the Arts, and enjoyed renewed popularity in the years before her death from cancer in 1998.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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