JANELLE DONOVAN BIO by Scott Yanow
During the past 15 years, Janelle Donovan has gained a strong reputation as a very talented singer/songwriter. Her beautiful voice and her intelligent and often-insightful lyrics are always an infectious combination. While she is most known by her fans for her country and rootsy Americana songs, in recent times she has opened up and included blues and swinging jazz too.
Janelle was literally born around music. “My mother said that when she was pregnant with me, she would put a record player on her stomach and play Beethoven.” Born in Brooklyn, she remembers hearing a variety of music while growing up. “I listened to a lot of classical music which was played in the house, and then I got into my mother's record collection which included Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Johnny Mathis and Peggy Lee. I would take those records into my room and sing along with them, trying to master the masters.”
She began performing when she was just five years old at summer church schools. Throughout her school years, Janelle was often the lead in whatever productions were taking place. She also began writing original music at the age of six. In addition to composing lyrics and music, she wrote stories and plays, winning a regional play writing contest in high school that had renowned novelists as judges. She also wrote her school's graduation song.
Janelle attended Syracuse University as a performing arts major, taking classical and formal voice lessons, acting and writing classes. She performed as an acting intern in the Syracuse Repertory Theatre which hosted off-Broadway productions. She also began performing at a piano bar when she was a freshman, working as both a cocktail waitress and a singer who performed jazz standards.While she performed jazz and pop standards at clubs off campus for a time, she soon grew tired of singing other people's music when she had original ideas of her own. She became a regular performer at a folk club, Captain Mack’s Clam Shack, that featured some renowned artists such as Dave Van Ronk, and also performed her own material at civic events and showcases.
A turning point in her career was when she met Tony Perrino. “He became my comrade-in-arms in music. I would ad-lib the melody and write most of the lyrics. He would then take the melody, play around with it, come up with other ideas, and we would work back and forth to create songs.” Perrino's long list of associations include Delbert Mc Clinton, Dan Toler, Dickey Betts, Orleans, the Blue Oyster Cult and many others. The duo was eventually joined by Joe Mele, a very versatile guitarist who is also a writer and has worked with B.B. King, Aretha Franklin, Buddy Guy as well as Dickey Betts.
Ten years ago at Janelle's instigation, the trio formed Tone Records. Among their releases since then have been Take Me On A Moonlight Ride, the EP Christmas Love, and the Spice Of Life love song collection “Love Songs for ...Only You”. Janelle performed a guest vocal on the recent Blues Noir CD, “What I Am”. She sang on the duet “One Red Rose” with composer Peter Corrigan, and received rave reviews. A project very close to Janelle's heart was Monahan's Old Truck, a memorial CD that was released at the one-year anniversary of 9/11. It includes interviews with many of the firefighters (the proceeds go to the firefighters' families) and it features inspirational music. In addition, Janelle uses her songwriting abilities to help kids who have disabilities, motivating the children to work with language and be creative. “I find it incredibly rewarding.”
While gaining many fans for her songs and her singing, Janelle Donovan has won quite a few awards including the North East Songwriter of the Year awards for 2000 and 2001. the Female Vocalist of the Year for 2001 and the Sunrise Award for up and coming vocalists.
As can be heard on her gutsy vocalizing on the lowdown “One Red Rose” from the What I Am CD, Janelle has developed into a powerful blues singer. Other recent songs find her swinging (“Magnetic Eyes”), bluesy (“First Falls The Heart”) and performing the uptempo party song “I Cant Help It Honey (I Was Born That Way).” After urging from her fan base to expand their holiday album and a recent move to LA, she initiated collaboration with Mark Cargill CEO of CCI Media (producer/violinist with famed recording associations such as Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Michael Buble’, and Outkast) and Greg Cook(engineer/producer for CCI Media) to expand her Christmas Love EP into a full-length CD (it will be released soon), singing like a 1950s jazz vocalist on “Good King Wenceslas” (aka “Good King Jazzman”). Yet on “Christmas Eyes,” she sounds quite at home on a pop classic love ballad. In fact, that original song could become a standard in the future. Mark, Greg and Janelle have been very busy since the success of their Christmas CD writing and recording new pop-jazz and soft rock originals to be released in CD and MP3 in September of 2011.
Janelle's eclectic nature is natural. “My mother was born and raised in a small town in Georgia and loved Johnny Cash. My Dad was from New York, and loved Beethoven and Mozart, and my older brother, Chris, was into all types of soul music and r&b. I had a broad exposure to music including gospel, and it has all woven itself together. Ray Charles is an inspiration to me because he could sing and write in many different styles. That is what I aim for. I've written a lot of Americana and country songs but now I think my strongest suit is in bluesy jazzy pieces. My fans don’t expect me to fit into one style all of the time.”
Janelle Donovan sounds like herself no matter what the style, and her consistent high quality and growing body of work are quite impressive. “For the future I have no intention of stopping my writing. I hope that someday when I'm long gone, a little girl somewhere will be sitting at the piano listening to my songs and using them as a guide for her own musical growth. I hope that the music I leave behind will inspire people.” And we all hope that there is a great deal more to come from Janelle Donovan.