When vocalist Donna Byrne steps onto the stage at this month’s Tommy Gallant Jazz Festival in Prescott Park, Portsmouth, it will mark her return from a month-long European tour during which she opened for the legendary Tony Bennett. That’s the kind of company in which this talented singer travels.
“It doesn't get any better than this,” said Bennett of his tour’s opening act. “She’s one of the best young jazz singers in the country today. She's the Real McCoy.”
Mr. Bennett, of course, is only one of a growing number of fans all over the world that Donna has been accumulating methodically over the years—a fact made all the more impressive when you realize she has accomplished all this rarely straying far from her birthplace here in New England.
Growing up in Massachusetts, Donna listened to the big bands on the radio as a child. At the same time, she was taking dancing lessons, an experience that exposed her to the music of the Great American Songbook. As her love of music was so nurtured, she later developed a taste for jazz when she discovered some Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald records at an uncle’s house. All of this eventually led to private voice lessons and eventually to her career as a vocalist.
Donna’s first working gig was a happy hour in Falmouth, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, in 1977—eight months pregnant at the time, and still exploring her musical identity. It didn’t go unnoticed that she was improvising, playing around with the melody line and the lyrics. “You’re a jazz singer!” declared the piano player. And all the musicians who came to listen to her—among them the legendary pianist Dave McKenna—were unanimous in agreement. And Donna Byrne, jazz vocalist, was launched.
Over the years, Byrne has performed at some of the jazz world’s most important venues, including the Blue Note and Tavern on the Green in New York City, the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles, and Blues Alley in Washington, DC, sharing the stage with such prominent jazz artists as Dave McKenna, Gray Sargent, Herb Pomeroy, Marshall Wood, and John Clayton, among others. She has also recorded several albums, each one showcasing her wonderful artistry.
Her cool, clear voice, her excellent range and diction and interpretative abilities reveal the influences of Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O'Day, Irene Kral, and Mabel Mercer.
Donna lives in Massachusetts and performs regularly at jazz venues there and along the East Coast. In fact, she played to a full house at The Press Room in January of this year.
Listen to “Nobody Else But Me”