Sam Donahue Biography

8 March 1918, Detroit, Michigan, USA, d. 22 March 1974, Reno, Nevada, USA. Among the most respected of swing era musicians, tenor saxophonist Donahue formed his first group in the mid-30s, leaving Sonny Burke as leader when he later joined Gene Krupa’s band. In the early 40s he played with Harry James and Benny Goodman. He returned to leading his old group again but in 1942 was drafted into the US Navy. When Artie Shaw was discharged from military service in 1944, Donahue took over Shaw’s navy band. In the next two years he built it into a first-class swinging unit, much admired by musicians and fans alike. After the war, Donahue formed a new unit, hiring many of his former service personnel, which he led during the uneasy commercial decline of big bands. He worked in other bands, including those of Stan Kenton, Billy May and Tommy Dorsey. In 1961, five years after the latter’s death, Donahue became leader of the official Tommy Dorsey orchestra, which toured extensively, and featured Frank Sinatra Jnr. as singer.

A highly skilled musician and one capable of drawing the best from his musicians, whether young or his contemporaries, Donahue remained one of the lesser-known names of the swing era but to the end retained a faithful following. In later years he became musical director for the Playboy Club in New York.

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

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