Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dorothy Donegan (April 6, 1922 — May 19, 1998)

Dorothy Donegan (April 6, 1922 — May 19, 1998) was a classically trained jazz pianist primarily known for performing in the stride piano and boogie-woogie style. She also played bop, swing jazz, and classical music. Obituaries for her argued that her flamboyant personality, tendency to mix unrelated genres in the same concert, and willingness to do lounge music may have caused her to be undervalued in jazz circles.

Donegan was born and grew up in Chicago, Illinois and began studying classical piano at age six. In her early years, she studied at the Chicago Musical College and by age eight her potential was recognized. In the 1940s she became Art Tatum's protégée and in 1942 she made her recording debut. She appeared in Sensations of 1945 with Cab Calloway, Gene Rodgers and W. C. Fields and was known for her work in Chicago nightclubs. She began a trio in 1945, but then returned to solo work. She expressed some interest in returning to classical music after this.

Her first six albums would prove to be obscure when compared to her success at live performance. It was not until the 1980s that her work gained notice in the recorded jazz world, and her live albums from 1991 perhaps gained her the most acclaim. Even at that point, she remained best known for concerts and live performances. At these she would draw crowds with her eclectic mixture of styles and her personality. She died of cancer in 1998 in Los Angeles, California and in the same year was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame.

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