During its heyday in the early 20th century, Harlem, New York served as the cultural center of Black America. One of the striking features of Harlem in those days were the legions of soap box preachers. Crates that had once transported bars of soap, were used as streetside podiums by those who stood upon them and competed for the attention of residents whose very survival was often connected to their ability to dream about a better life. Those soapboxes have long been replaced by televangelists and mega-churches, yet there remains a nation of people who truly need a message of survival. And it is for those folk that Donnie offers The Daily News—a new collection of songs that speak to the joys, pains, and challenges of being an American in the early 21st century. "I just wanted to put music to our everyday culture" Donnie says, "because nobody's news is like ours."
That an artist would use his or her music as a metaphoric soapbox is not new—it's a tradition that is as old as Billie Holiday lamenting the practice of lynching on her classic recording "Strange Fruit" and continues today in the music of folk like The Dixie Chicks and Steve Earle. What perhaps separates Donnie from many of his contemporaries is the passion—bordering on religious fervor—that he brings to his music. This is something that comes naturally to Donnie. As the son of two ministers, for which attendance in Church was a non-negotiable, Donnie learned quite a lot from the styles that emerged from the pulpit and the sounds that filled the churches that were his spiritual homes in Lexington, KY and later Atlanta, GA. What he didn't learn from the church he learned during his stint at one of Atlanta's performing arts schools: "that's where I learned some music theory", Donnie recalls, but he also found musical inspiration "just looking at the world... America is in bad shape. I witness human tragedy every single day. And that shit don't make sense."
Donnie first emerged out of the Atlanta Soul music scene, which also produced India.Arie. It was with the support of Arie, that Donnie independently released the critically acclaimed The Colored Section (2002) on Giant Step which led to his signing with the legendary Motown record label. Donnie's affinity toward legendary Soul singers like Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway was clear, but few critics realized the other influences that were as vital to Donnie's sound as classic Soul. "I come from Gospel," Donnie notes, "I come from Rance Allen, James Moore, John P. Kee, Darryl Coley—all of these men in Gospel sing and draw emotions." Like the classic Soul Men that also influenced him, Donnie understands how fluid musical genres can be. Like The Colored Section before it, The Daily News is evidence of Donnie's appreciation of a wide range of styles including ragtime, jazz, the blues, show tunes, Soul, hip-hop, gospel and of course contemporary R&B.
Though many critics have described Donnie's sound as "old school", he makes it clear that he is "an artist of today and though my songwriting is classic, I want it to sound like today." The "classically contemporary" sound that listeners hear on The Daily News has much to do with the legendary musicians that appear on the album including Al McKay (Earth, Wind, & Fire), Jimi Macon (Gap Band), Bobby Watson (Rufus, Michael Jackson), and Wayne Linsey (Stevie Wonder, Anthony Hamilton) - all of whom wanted to work with Donnie because of his unique abiiility to deliver old school Soul performances that speak to today's audience.
The relationship of Donnie's music to the "here and now" is best reflected in the themes of the music itself. Tracks like "Over-the-Counter Culture" (which features Phonte of the hip-hop group Little Brother), "Classifieds" and the title track, "The Daily News", are clear indictments of the shortcomings and dangers of contemporary America. While the urgency of such issues reflect the way in which news is presented to us —24 hours a day at a break-neck pace—The Daily News is also a reminder that many of these issues are timeless, as is the case on songs like "China Doll" which tackles the difficult subject of child molestation, the very personal "Suicide", and "Impatient People", which mocks the federal government's response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
Through the socio-political nature of the subject matter found on The Daily News, Donnie says that he hopes his music "brings people some type of joy and it makes them think about what they are doing every single day, especially Americans." His music is a celebration of life. Of moving forward and coping with the ever changing landscape of life in the 21st Century as a proud and conscious American.