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Dorothy Donegan

Dorothy Donegan - piano

More than fifteen years have passed since the flamboyant jazz pianist Dorothy Donegan died. Sadly, few jazz fans, either then or now, are aware of what enormous orchestral capacity she had at the keyboard (1).

Dorothy was born in Chicago in 1924. Heeding her mother’s encouragement, she studied classical music at the Chicago Conservatory and the Chicago Music College. At eighteen, she became the first African-American to be asked to perform at Orchestra Hall in Chicago. The event created enough interest to lead to some work in a film (Sensations of 1945) (2).

At the age of fourteen and studying classical piano she was also beginning her own jazz career, playing for a dollar a night at the city’s South Side bars (1) During a performance at the Hi-Jinx Club one evening, she met up with Art Tatum, who was so impressed with her abilities he became one of her champions. Despite her accomplishments in playing blues and boogie-woogie piano and making a recording for the Bluebird label, her love was for classical music and she hoped to be a classical concert pianist.

Dorothy never forgot her love of classical music so she continued her classical studies at the University of Southern California and taking Master Classes at the University of Maryland when performing in the Washington DC area. Her perseverance in both genre made her an exceptional pianist with a rich harmonic sense (2).

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