Saturday, May 1, 2010

Donna De Lory: The Voice Behind Madonna

Madonna once said, “I’ve always admired Donna’s voice; her songwriting is poignant and heartfelt.” She was saying this about Donna De Lory, her back-up singer of nearly 20 years. De Lory, who herself is a veteran of music, performing on albums with Santana, Carly Simon, Belinda Carlisle, and, of course Madonna, still remains a fresh artist in the music industry.

Suggested by Madonna’s songwriting partner at the time, Patrick Leonard, she was hired by Madonna in 1987 as a background singer for her worldwide Who’s That Girl Tour, but it didn’t end there. Donna appeared not only in the background, but on the side of Madonna, along with other back-up singer Nikki Harris on classic tours such as Blond Ambition, The Girle Show, and The Drowned World Tour.

Not just a tour regular, but an album regular, her vocals are all over legendary albums such as Like a Prayer, I’m Breathless, and Erotica. In 1991, the world got to see both Madonna and Donna behind the scenes of the Blond Ambition Tour in the film Truth or dare. Viewers may remember Donna as the woman who not only dared the icon to fellate an Evian bottle, but to reveal her one true love to the world.

Just working for Madonna would enough to fulfill a dream for many, but not for Donna. Aside from being just a back-up vocalist for the world’s most famous woman, De Lory is a songwriter, and has had several albums over the years. It was 1992 that saw her self-titled debut album, with the #1 Dance hit “Just A Dream,” which was co-written by Madonna herself during her sessions for 1989’s Like a Prayer.

Though, according to De Lory, the song was not a hit with executives at MCA, her then-record label, and the song almost never saw the light of day. The track was a success, though, reaching #1 on Billboards dance charts. Since her initial success, she has explored the musical world of meditation.

Albums such as Bliss, In the Glow, The Lover and the Beloved, and Sky is Open are less-pop, more metro-spiritual. Perhaps not full of infectious ditties, the albums are strong, well-crafted pieces of art which transcend the listener to land of bliss. “I just started along this path of doing healing music, going back to Bliss, writing songs about certain things in my past, about remembering my mother and where I came from, doing music has always been spiritual for me,” says the singer.

For De Lory, who has been in the business nearly 25 years, she surprisingly finds inspiration in the simple things of life. “I've been inspired by doing yoga and being on that spiritual path, reading a lot of different writings and teachings, and my yoga practice.” “I think that music is an instrument for feeling,” the singer says, and it’s that feeling-provoking music that has gotten Donna a major following in the yoga world. She’s doesn’t just do her songs in regular English, but in Sanskrit.

Madonna fans may remember the material girl dabbled in Sanskrit for her Ray of Light album on the track “Shanti/Ashtangi” and later on the Music B-Side ‘Cyerraga” Why the singer would have gone down the Sanskrit route, Donna says, “I’ve studied more yoga have a little more knowledge, I know more about the Sanskrit and the mantras, and I did mantra CD that was very popular, this [album, Santuary,] is kind of a follow up to that CD. People who loved that CD were asking for another one.”

That sequel album is Santuary, released in 2008, has already become a metro-spiritual staple. Songs such as ‘Bathe in These Waters” and “Jai Ma,” are all yoga ready. Listening to Donna’s vocal performance is like listening to another instrument on the record; her voice becomes fluid, thus becoming one with the musical surrounding it. It’s no wonder Madonna hired Donna, her vocals are heavenly.

As the back-up singer of the world’s top selling female artist, one would think that De Lory would want that fame and success, but for her, it’s the contrary. According to Donna, “I really wanted to make this beautiful music…by me, really, just going inside, and saying this is what I want to say, not worrying about trying to get on the radio, and not worrying about having a hit song, or try to be hugely successful and sell millions.” Surely we enjoy singing along to pop music, but to actually appreciate a singer is rare. Not only is Donna appreciated by Madonna, but by her own fans. “Everyday I get emails about where people say this has touched me so much…you don't know how much this music helped me get through this, it helped me heal,” says De Lory.

De Lory is one artist who has stayed true to her audience, but in there lays the challenge for the singer/songwriter. “Every artist represents a certain group of people, but you have to say ‘it's going to touch certain people and they are going to relate to it’. She continues, “I just keep writing songs, [and] they have a message in them.” When it comes to categorizing her music, Donna remarks, “I feel that they come from more of a mature place from me, and in my life when I first realized what life was about, about love, and more about me looking at more of the big picture of life. Then I just continued to write to that place.”

If Madonna’s Sweet and Sticky world tour was missing anything, it was Donna. Though, De Lory had good reason to miss the show, the pregnancy of her second child. While she didn’t do a full-on tour, Donna did work to promote her record. “I traveled a lot when I was pregnant, out performing.” But when the baby actually came, Donna went home and began to write again. “I actually got my piano fixed and I started playing my piano, I wanted to play for her, it's actually made me go back to my songwriting more.” Donna deals with similar battles of every working mother, De Lory tries to make time for both her children and her career. “You know those questions come up, can I be there giving this music for people and be a good mom and be there for them, I’m constantly trying to find a balance,” De Lory says.

Madonna’s hardcore fans may have noticed a shift in direction of the singer’s shows. Back in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, it wasn’t just Madonna on stage, but her two back-up singers, including De Lory during most of the show. They not only sang together, but danced and interacted on stage. But a change happened in 2004’s The Re-Invention Tour, when Donna De Lory and other back-up singers were part of the band, not on stage with Madonna. This trend continued with the 2006 The Confessions Tour.

When it comes to by Madonna has changed the routine, De Lory says “she's gone more in that direction. It's like the vocals don’t matter as that dancing, which is cool and the people really like it, so it's all good.” For true blue Madonna fans everywhere, there lies the question if De Lory will ever get back on tour with Madonna.

She was absent for the singer’s Sticky and Sweet Tour due to her pregnancy, but fans worldwide wish her back. “I used to say I would never again, and then I did,” De Lory says. “I mean I have different needs in my life [now], and there are times I’m working so hard with her, I don't even have time to do my music. So then that becomes a small conflict there, so we'll see,” Donna continues. Ultimately, De Lory is certain a collaboration of some sort will happen again. “I'm sure I’ll work with her again in some context, we've been friends for a long time and we sound great together, so I’m sure there will be some opportunity, I’ve love to do another big benefit concert with her,” she says.

Fans wanting to see De Lory on stage now need not to wait too long. The back-up singer will take the mic as part of 2010’s Lilith Fair along with Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Mary J. Blige, and many more.

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