Rest in Peace, Donnie…
Donnie Finnell was born in Chicago, and raised in Nashville, but he really didn’t learn how to sing until he moved to New York City. His aunt was choir director at the local church, and she also directed a children’s gospel choir, to which Donnie and his sister were active members. But Donnie didn’t get serious about singing until he moved to New York City at the age of 20, and this is where the real foundation of his singing began.
As Donnie affectionately recalls: “There is so much to say about that time. One of the things that I’ll always treasure is being backstage at a very popular night club in New York (The Living Room) and watching people like Arthur Prysock, Billy Daniels, Mable Mercer, Adam Wade, even Bobby Short and Marilyn Mae, they were the best of teachers.”
Donnie sought the expertise of a vocal coach during this time, and through him would get gigs.
“Also, I didn’t have my own band at the time, and I found it makes all the difference in the world. Everyone who heard me sing encouraged me to continue. And so I have.”
When Donnie moved to San Diego, he was able to finally form his own band.
“I have also learned a great deal from them, and I’m still learning from Gary Wilson, Roy Youngs and Martinez Kelly.”
His original band he’d performed with for many years.
“Gary plays keyboards and is very, very good. He knows me and knows how I sing and always gives me the right support. He also plays upright bass, guitar, and drums. He has a CD of his work.”
Gary Wilson, in his own right, is an exceptionally gifted musician. His album, “You Think You Really Know Me”, after 25 years had suddenly gained critical acclaim in New York, garnering fans such as Lou Reed and Beck, among others. And Donnie goes on to compliment the other musicians from the original Company East group:
“Roy Youngs is one of the finest guitar players anyone could ever hope to work with and I truly mean that. He can play and style and play it well. He will come over to my place sometimes and he’ll help me with the guitar.
Martinez Kelly plays drums. Marty keeps everything in the groove, and is a very reliable drummer. Marty and I have worked out a couple of songs together that the audience seems to enjoy, and we have fun with it.”