vital stats:
given name   Albert Francis Donahue
birth   June 12, 1904, Dorcester, MA
death   Feb. 20, 1983, Fallbrook, CA
sister   Mollie Donahue
wife   Frederica Gallatin, b. Mar. 15, 1913, m.June 14, 1933
son   Albert
son   Peter
daughter   Nancy
grandchildren   three
education   Dorcester High School, Dorcester, MA; Boston University Law School, Boston,
    MA; New England Conservatory of Music, Boston, MA
residence   [ boyhood ] Edwin St., Dorcester, MA

    Donahue's musical instrument was the violin, which he began playing at age 9.
    Sidemen who were in his band included, at various times, Ray Anthony (trumpet), Bart Varsalona and Lloyd Ulyate (trombones), and Allan Reuss (guitar).
    Donahue's longest-serving vocalists were Barry McKinley and Paula Kelly, followed by Phil Brito and Dee Keating. 
    Between 1935 and 1942, Donahue and his orchestra made a total of 23 titles for Decca, 103 for Vocalion, and 43 for Okeh.
    They hit the charts several times, with such recordings as Jeepers Creepers (which went to #1 in Billboard), The Wise Old Owl, Lambeth Walk, and Moon Love
    Noted songwriter Hoagy Carmichael sang on one side with the band, Poor Old Joe, on September 7, 1939.
    Donahue's first long-play album, "Low Down Music in a Top Hat" (Solitaire 513), named after his theme, Low Down Rhythm in a Top Hat, was released in 1951, and contained such songs as Old Fashioned Girl, Tell Me More, Nickel for a Memory, The Way I Feel, and Am I Falling in Love?.
    His stereo debut, "Invitation to Dance" (Design SS-16), made in 1957, concentrated on better material, including Autumn Leaves, High Society, Around the World, and When the Saints Go Marching In.
    His band headlined the stage show which opened on September 12, 1940 at Loew's State Theater in New York City, then, typical of the era, returned to a schedule of one-night stands:
Al Donahue Orchestra itinerary - sample
Sept. 25, 1940 - Misler Theatre, Altoona, PA
Sept. 26, 1940 - Orpheum Theatre, Connellsville, PA
Sept. 27, 1940 - Pennsylvania Theatre, Butler, PA
Sept. 28, 1940 - Castle Farms, Cincinnati, OH
Sept. 29, 1940 - Meyers Lake, Canton, OH

    Throughout the rest of the '40s they appeared at such venues as Ciro's in Hollywood; the Meadowbrook in Cedar Grove, NJ; the State Theatre in Hartford, CT; Dowell Field in Bangor, ME; the Trianon Ballroom in South Gate, CA; and the Avadon Ballroom in Los Angeles.  But by the end of the decade, the general public's attention had begun to turn to other kinds of entertainment. 
    When, for example, Donahue and his orchestra took part in a revue in the Marine Room of the Edgewater Beach Hotel in May 1953, they were billed third, behind Liberace and Chandra Kaly and His Dancers.
    So Donahue decided to concentrate more on the business end of things and became a contractor for groups of varying sizes on Furness Lines steamships.  (It was said that at one time he had 37 units working.)
    Naturally, his own band was the featured attraction, playing for dreamy dancing on Furness' elegant cruiseships, the "Queen of Bermuda" and the "Ocean Monarch," which sailed on a regular basis between 1950 and 1963.
    He also made souvenir LPs including "Cruising Along to Bermuda" (Bandstand Bermuda BLP-101) and "Cruising Along with Al Donahue: The Furness Way" (Oleandor Bermuda OLP 106).
    In fact, as early as 1932, Donahue's orchestra had provided music aboard Furness'  steamship, the "Monarch of Bermuda," and they were the featured attraction in regular engagements during 1936-38 at the Hotel Bermudiana in Hamilton, Bermuda.  
    In 1941-42, the Alcoa Steamship Company had hired Donahue's band to perform aboard its fashionable "Aluminum Line" cruiseships, the "Acadia" and the "Evangeline," which sailed, variously, to Bermuda, Trinidad, and elsewhere in the West Indies.
    Donahue and his long-time manager, Frank Walsh, even started a music and record store in Bermuda - which the government purchased by compulsory order. 
    He and Walsh then bought Ponzi's House of Music in Oceanside, CA and operated it into the mid-1970s.
    Donahue also donated time playing for local senior citizens groups.
    In 2005, an authorized CD compilation of 25 of Donahue's Vocalion and Okeh recordings,  "The Solid Swing of Al Donahue and His Orchestra" (Collectables COL-CD-7684) was released.  That same year, Lyric Records in Australia put together at least three CDs' worth of Donahue's 1935-41 recordings.
"Al Donahue at Loew's State," New York Times, Sept. 13, 1940.
"Al Donahue Says [ display advertisement ]," Chicago Daily Tribune, Aug. 3, 1942, p.17.
Alcoa Steamship Company display ad, Chicago Daily Tribune, June 1, 1941, p.I5.
---, Chicago Daily Tribune, Dec. 28, 1941, p.H4.
Jim Calogero, "Dorcester Native Al Donahue; Gained Fame As Big-Band Leader,"
    Boston Globe, Feb. 25, 1983, p.1.
"Chandra Kaly in Marine Room," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 31, 1953, p.G10.
Edgewater Beach Hotel display ad, Chicago Daily Tribune, May 31, 1953, p.G7.
Furness Lines display ad, Chicago Daily Tribune, Mar. 13, 1932, p.D6.
---, Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 12, 1950, p.G9.
---, Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan. 21, 1951, G2.
---, Chicago Daily Tribune, Jul. 22, 1956, p.D8.
---, Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan. 13, 1957, p.D22.
---, Chicago Daily Tribune, Sept. 16, 1962, p.G4.
Charles Garrod and Bill Korst, Al Donahue and His Orchestra (Zephyrhills, FL: Joyce
    Record Club, 1991).
Hotel Bermudiana display ad, Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan. 5, 1936, p.E6.
---, Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 6, 1938, p.F6.
Hudson-Ross display ad, Chicago Daily Tribune, May 27, 1951, p.5.
Roger D. Kinkle, The Complete Encyclopedia of Popular Music and Jazz 1900-1950:
    Volume 2 Biographies A Through K (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House Publishers,
    1974), p.821.
---, Leading Musical Performers (Popular Music and Jazz) 1900 - 1950 (Mt. Vernon, IN:
    Windmill Publications, Inc., 1999), p.87.
OCLC WorldCat database.
Gary Theroux, liner notes, "The Solid Swing of Al Donahue and His Orchestra,"
    Collectables COL-CD-7684, 2005.
"Vaudeville," Chicago Daily Tribune, Jul. 19, 1942, p.E2.
Leo Walker, "Al Donahue," in The Big Band Almanac (Pasadena, CA: Ward Ritchie
    Press, 1978), p.96.
Joel Whitburn, Pop Memories 1890-1954: The History of American Popular Music
    (Menomonee Falls, WI: Record Research, Inc., 1986), p.128.

    I would like to expand this tribute with, if possible, a new interview of someone who was important to Al Donahue's life or career.  Are you an alumnus of his band, a member of his family, or a collector who is knowledgeable about his accomplishments?  Please contact me via e-mail

return to "Biographical Sketches" directory
go to Big Band Library homepage

The big bands are back
in a new and exciting way!
by Music Librarian CHRISTOPHER POPA
September 2008

    He found success in a number of locales.
    Although he graduated from Boston University Law School, he was in such demand as a musician that he never took the bar examination. 
    He attended the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.
    As leader of a big band, Donahue appeared at, among other top venues, the Rainbow Room in New York City, the Palladium in Hollywood, the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, and the Oriental Theater in Chicago.
    And for quite a few decades, people linked his name to luxury cruiseships which sailed to the Bermuda Islands, located in the Atlantic Ocean.