Donna's Musical Journey
Early Music Life
Donna was born into a musical family. The oldest of 8 siblings, her father (who passed away in 2008), was a Phd. in music education and her mother still sings and plays piano beautifully, mainly for church meetings and events. Donna started piano lessons at age six, taking formal lessons until age fourteen and playing the clarinet at school. She sang with her family at church and in a children's choir (Sunshine Inc.) that her father directed. At age 13, she received a Fender Rhodes piano. Her father started a family band with she and her brothers Lee and Barry. The name of the band was Family Affair. Donna and her brothers did their first studio sessions when she was twelve. A Mini Moog and Farfisa organ were added to her collection of keyboards. A few years later when Donna was a Sophomore in high school, her family performed under a new band name, Dakota. Singer guitarist Randy Graves and saxophone player Arlen Card were added to the band which stayed busy playing church and school dances. Donna participated in acapella choir and musicals. She also played in bands with friends and started writing her own music.
Out On Her Own
After graduating high school Donna left home and moved to Salt Lake City. She tried her hand at playing guitar and singing because she left her keyboards behind. She found work with two concert promoters and at a popular pizza place where she had auditioned to sing and play. During her time working with promoters she got to hang out with Heart, Boston, Jethro Tull, Rick Derringer, and other great bands that came through Salt Lake City. One night when working at the Terrace Ballrom for JC McNeil and United Concerts she shook the Converse high-tops of a cute guy with an Irish afro who was lying on an Anvil road case with an organ quilt thrown over it and asked him if he was alive. This was her introduction to future husband Richard Williams, guitarist with the band KANSAS. With her classical background in music, Donna had been drawn to their music after listening to Masque and had learn to play Song for America on the piano, no easy feat. After a long distance courtship with Rich while he was on the road, he flew her to NYC to attend the Platinum Party for Leftoverture, hosted by Don Kirshner and CBS Records. They were married In Utah on the same day that a tornado had hit his hometown of Topeka Kansas on June 8th., 1966.
Leftoverture Platinum Party at Harkness Ballet Foundation, NYC.
Back to Salt Lake City
Shortly after moving back to Utah, Donna had a corporate technology customer who turned out to be a bass player. He told her he was in a Zappa tribute band and that they were looking for a keyboard player and vocalist. Donna had been a fan of the music for years, and remembered the experience of having a hilarious conversation with Frank at a party after the Mothers of Invention performed at the Fox Theater in Atlanta. She jumped at the chance to play his music (as challenging as she knew it would be). The Zappa tribute band Chunga''s Revenge had been started by Steve Auerbach, a great musician and entrepreneur. He ended up being a dear friend who over the years invited her to participate in a number of great musical opportunities. The tribute band ended up touring with Ike Willis, (Frank's singer and guitar player on 25 or more Zappa albums from 1980-1993). It was a crazy fun and an unforgettable experience.
Steve also involved Donna in the R&B/Funk band H Street which featured incredible musicians including John Flanders (who had toured with Frank Zappa) and Tony Mason (formerly with Motown records). During this time Donna provided back up vocals for a song called Simplify This House on her sister's album Without Disguise. (Donna's sister is internationally recognized vocalist Felicia Farerre, who at the time was performing under her married name Felicia Sorenson). She also provided keys and vocals for various live performances and was hired for vocal sessions.
In 2005 Donna received a call from her friend Steve. He told her he was starting an after school music program in Salt Lake City for the Paul Green School of Rock Music. It turns out that he had gone to the Zappanale festival in Germany and was blown away by some talented kids that performed with former members of The Mothers of Invention. He inquired where they had come from and was told about Paul's school in Philadelphia. He told Donna that he had received permission to open a school in Salt Lake City and asked if she would like to direct shows and provide music instruction. Donna jumped on it and was involved with this incredible program for 13 years. Teaching kids how to rock on stage and in life has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of her life.
KANSAS songs that Donna provided backing vocals for.
The Atlanta Years
While married to Rich, Donna provided backing vocals on Audio Visions, Vinyl Confessions, and Kerry Livgren's solo album Seeds of Change. She also during this time sang and played with a group of excellent Atlanta musicians in prog rock band Team Turbo, . It was in this band that Donna met her songwriting partner of 8 years, Brian Jobson. Donna and Brian were a prolific duo, writing and recording many songs. Donna won a best song award with Atlanta Songwriters Association for her song Captivated and was befriended by one of the judges, Eddie Offord, (producer for Yes) and his wife Valma. Donna started licensing her music to other musicians. Her late brother Rich Gibbons, recorded four of her songs, one that was cowritten with him, "Always", ended up on Billboard's most added list in 1996. Donna performed with rock band WW III and continued to perform live and in the studio with Brian and producer/arranger/ keyboardist Trammell Starks. Donna also performed solo gigs, singing and playing at various venues and had a side gig helping other musicians with MIDI sequencing and production.
Donna singing with David Letterman Band at the Bottom Line in NYC.
Song written by Sammy Khan for Bette Midler that Donna provided the demo vocal for.
The Kansas City Years
In 1993 Donna moved to Kansas City to be with a boyfriend she met at the NAMM show, the editor of a recording/engineering magazine. During that time she met a group of amazing young musicians, Scott Hammer (guitar) Brian Berger (drums), and Brett Bettis (bass) who had started the prog rock band Synergy. Donna added keys and lead vocals and grew musically with these great players writing and performing original songs. and prog rock covers. While stage managing a live concert event for KCUR, the Kansas City NPR station, she met one of the owners of Kansas City Drumworks and they exchanged contact info. A few months later he invited her to sing and play keys with Joey Skidmore, an artist who had just recorded an album for Dixie Frog Records in France. While working on that project, Donna fell in love with and eventually married that drummer. During those years, Donna entertained at local events and venues with popular band Rare Form. She then performed and recorded jazz music with revered pianist Greg Richter and his trio Serendipity. Donna, Greg, and the trio were regulars at popular jazz venues in Kansas City such as Jardines and Plaza III. Donna had made a decision to leave Kansas City and go home to Utah to be with her dear brother Rich who had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Right around that time she and Serendipity were given the opportunity to perform at the opening of the new Gem Theater on 8th and Vine. Donna briefly returned to Kansas City for the event. She, Greg, and the band were an opening act for Diane Reeves, Tony Bennet, Harry Belafonte, and other jazz greats. It was an amazing experience.
Donna rehearsing with the Joey Skidmore band.
One of my favorite Yes songs performed by School of Rock students for a prog rock show that I directed. It was awesome to see a lot of the kids go on to great careers in music. The singer, Maddie Rice, has played with Stay Human, the house band for Stephen Colbert, and is now guitarist for SNL.
While playing with H Street, Donna met respected bass player Fabian Martinez and ended up joining he and gifted singer/guitar player James Turner in the successful local dance /hip hop/R&B/funk/party band TwentyFourVII . The band has been together for 20 years with 5 different lead vocalists. The band recently changed their name to Interstellar Overdrive and had been rehearsing a new show when Covid 19 hit the world. Everyone hopes to stay healthy and get back out there once it is safe to play music in front of audiences again.
Over many years of writing, much of the music that Donna has brought forth has been instrumental. She has always been drawn to instrumental music. Her influences are Thomas Newman, Acoustic Alchemy, David Arkenstone, Lindsey Stirling, Phil Rey-Gibbons, Pat Matheny, Michael Hedges, Lyle Mays, Trammell Starks, and the late Brian Jobson.
Donna has been collaborating with Felicia Farerre and Phil Rey-Gibbons on an Epic Music project to be released under her stage name Emanate. Donna's music business is registered under the name Emanate Music. She will release one of the songs from this project to be part of the Epic Women music project. She is deeply honored to be a part of this collaborative work which will not only highlight amazing women who create Epic Music but will also donate 20% of royalties to the Children's of Ethiopia Education Fund a non-profit that supports the education of girls.