Dorothy Donegan was born on April 6, 1922 and grew up in Chicago, Illinois. She began studying piano at the age of eight taking her first lessons from West Indian pianist Alfred N. Simms. Graduating from DuSable High School she went on to study at the Chicago Musical College and the University of Southern California.
In 1942 she made her recording debut, appeared in Sensations of 1945 with Cab Calloway, Gene Rodgers and W.C. Fields, worked in Chicago nightclubs and was Art Tatum’s protégé.
Dorothy’s flamboyance helped her find work in a field that was largely hostile to women. To a certain extent, it was also her downfall; her concerts were often criticized for having an excess of personality. Her outspoken view of sexism, along with her insistence on being paid the same rates as male musicians, limited her career. However limited, her career would overshadow her recordings until the 80s when recognition of her jazz recordings would gain notice.
Pianist Dorothy Donegan, who played stride piano, boogie-woogie, bop, swing and classical music was the first Black woman to play at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall, was a recipient of an American Jazz Master” fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and an honorary doctorate from Roosevelt University, passed away of cancer on May 19, 1998 in Los Angeles, California.
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