Donald Ray Brown was born on March 28, 1954 in Desoto, Mississippi. At the age of two, Brown and his family moved to Memphis, Tennessee. Donald came from a musical family, which instilled a love of music in the young boy. His first foray into music included early stints on the drums, baritone horn and tuba. In the ninth grade, he began to play the trumpet and showed a great deal of talent on the instrument, winning several awards for his abilities.
Brown’s first musical mentors were his cousin Lloyd “Stan” Anderson, a gospel pianist and his sister Waddia, who was a gifted singer and pianist. Upon graduating from high school, Donald enrolled at Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis) on a trumpet scholarship, but he quickly switched to the piano. While attending college, he was persuaded to study jazz by his friend and classmate pianist James Williams.