We’ve been waiting for this moment for so long, so now is the time!
You can watch the video of the masterclass led by the great singer, performer, GRAMMY AWARDS Nominee, former professor of Berklee College Of Music – Donna McElroy
Here are the topics that we discussed at the masterclass:
- Vocal technique
- Gospel and Spiritual Repertoire
- Review of students’ performances
The masterclass is in English with consecutive translation into Russian
Donna McElroy, born in Louisville, KY, in 1955, is the “middle child” in a
family of six children.
“I was the baby of one group and the oldest of the next, with a generation’s
span in the sibling order! I know they were a very active couple, but to me it
seemed my mom and Dad did nothing but work, sleep, and have more
children! Because of the economic status of the family, we never
experienced material luxury! Food, music, listening to music and watching
this new tool called television were the national past times.”
It was time when there were limited social activities, late 1950’s when Black people in America were still attempting to define themselves in the national demography as more than menial labor. In the African American culture, there were community organizations, school activities, and of course, church. Hearing her mother and aunts and uncles, older brothers and sister, all the brilliantly talented and spiritually exhilarated people singing in the choirs and choruses of the Baptist church was inspiring and planted in Donna the seeds of passion for the use of the voice to express joy, sadness, victory, disappointment, all the emotions of a fully lived life. Donna’s early influences were television and radio artists, actors, singers, and other performers who were seemingly living dream lives and euphoric existences. Her three older siblings were scholastically competitive and won scholarships to prestigious colleges, while Donna’s personality was shaped by the burgeoning progressiveness of the society, with the Rock & Roll industry evolving from the increased freedom to visit and be influenced by music of Black America, its freedom, rhythmic syncopation and “undisciplined” melodic interpretations. Also, there was the movie soundtrack industry, which planted seeds of versatility, humor, and theater in her personality and her vocal identity. Early influences ranged from Diana Ross and the Supremes and Mahalia Jackson to Judy Garland, Julie Andrews, Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald; and that was just the female side of the vocal world! Sammy Davis, Jr., Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Andy Williams, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Joe Williams, Johnny Mathis…you name it! If they were on TV or in a movie shown on TV, Donna was all over their voices, imitating and recreating their sound!
When Donna was a child the terms “lick,” and “run” did not have a recognized role in vernacular; riffing and running were not the accepted terms used to explain the emotional adjustment to melodies; you just could SINNNNG, or you couldn’t! Needless to say, Donna McElroy could just SINNNNG!
Winning local talent contests, appearing as early as age 10 on local music fare, by the time it was Donna’s chance to choose a college destination, the obvious choice was Fisk University, three hours’ drive from her home in Louisville, and the perfect opportunity to learn more about the heritage of Black Music and the African Diaspora!
You see, Fisk was the home of the world-renowned Fisk Jubilee Singers, the natural progression for Donna. Also, the musical influences of Donny
Hathaway, Roberta Flack, Gil Scott Heron, Deneice Williams, and all the artists of the Fabulous 70’s and 80’s record industry in America! The Fisk
experience also lent to her expressiveness and her song writing development.
Graduating from Fisk after touring with the Jubilee Singers all over North America and Canada, and earning the Bachelor of Music in Performance in 1977, Donna immediately began a rich and varied professional life, singing with the likes of the present president of Gabon, Africa, Alain Bongo, when he was eighteen, and progressing through performances, records, and tours with artists in various industries.
Then the life-changer happened; the car accident in ’81 that knocked everything out of her head, requiring a re-start button to be hit and new
information to be saved up. “It was like I was born again, and all the previous life didn’t count, and everything was re-activated in my life!” But the natural ability-need-urge-calling to sing was not snuffed! Contrarily, it was embellished by the intensity of the potentially fatal experience, and
sparked a new seed in her inner being. She was born to sing, so sing she would!
According to the artist data site, https://www.allmusic.com/artist/donna-mcelroy-mn0000741113/credits, Ms. McElroy has sung with and been in
the mix of some really iconic artists’ recordings and discographies, recovering from the head injury and continuing to build an incredibly
diverse career. It might have looked like versatility; to Donna it was finding out who she had been before, and in the process discovering new gifts
she’d not been aware of before!
Bebe and Cece Winans
Tennessee Ernie Ford
The Allman Brothers
Victor Wooten and the Berklee Faculty and Staff
Ok, I’ll stop here…
In 1989, Donna signed an artist contract with Warner Brothers’ Nashville label, and was catapulted into the new world of being the commodity. It no longer was about being the talented singer bringing a great contribution to the over-all project. Suddenly Donna was the project! There was nothing in her experiences that could have prepared her for this demanding responsibility! All the work she’d done as a backup singer played no part in preparing her for the artist’s way! She kept hearing the same question, “Who’s your demographic?!”
Donna didn’t believe a true artist needed to have a demographic; a true artist was appealing to ALL! The limitations created from being a singing
affiliated with a record label were, to be pleasant, unpleasant for Donna. The years she spent as a burgeoning recording artist were only fodder for
her decision to sing what came up, to sing what satisfied, to sing!!! Then Richard Evans, Professor at Berklee College in the Contemporary
Writing Department, contacted Donna to come to Berklee and share her gifts and talents with the students and faculty there. As they say, the rest
was history! Now, twenty-five years later, the Voice Department of Berklee College is saying “Goodbye” to a true giving diva who’s never been selfish with her talents and has been a spirit of counsel. These days, Donna is planning her retirement starting with a nice rest and a chance to think of her life as a retired mentor!