Al Donahue Biography

1903, USA, d. 20 February 1983. Al Donahue And His Orchestra played their first professional engagement at the Weber Duck Inn in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, in 1925. Donahue had learnt his musical craft on steamships for the Eastern Steamship Line, and also played for campus groups while at college. The shows in Boston were well-received and brokered further engagements at the Hollywood Beach Hotel in Florida, where the band would play annually for five years. More lucrative still was a performance at the Bermudiana Hotel. So impressed by their performance were the hotel’s managers that they asked Donahue to arrange for the band to play for their whole chain, which included steamboats as well as hotels. Thus Al Donahue’s orchestras could be found almost everywhere in America during the 30s, with some 37 units performing the Donahue theme song, ‘Lowdown Rhythm In A Top Hat’. Some of the vocalists commissioned by the band included Lynne Stevens, Paula Kelly (later to join Glenn Miller), Phil Brito, Snooky Lanson and Dee Keating, all big names of the time. Donahue himself was able to choose the cream of the bookings to personally appear at, including the Rainbow Room in New York’s Rockefeller Center where he filled in for Ray Noble (he would return annually for the next six years).

By the 40s the orchestra’s sound and style had moved to swing from its more self-consciously highbrow origins, and engagements at Frank Dailey’s Meadowbrook, the Hollywood Palladium and other top concert halls and theatres were in abundance. After relocating to California in the 40s he continued to tour coast to coast, also appearing in a film, Sweet Genevieve. In the 50s Donahue and his orchestra were part of an unsuccessful west coast television series, before their band leader returned to musical direction for the Furness Bermuda Line. He also opened a music store in Bermuda with long-standing friend and band manager Frank Walsh. When that was the subject of a compulsory purchase order by the Bermudan government, they used the finance from the sale to purchase Ponzi’s House Of Music in Oceanside, California. It closed in the mid-70s.

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

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