Her voice will literally make the hairs on the back of your neck stand. Her energy is infectious and her bravery will inspire you. Donn T is not only an amazing singer, but she’s a visionary and a symbol of freedom, individuality and fearlessness.
EGL recently got a chance to chat with this beautiful soul where she opened up about her new album Flight of the Donn T, her brother Questlove and her upcoming performance at the 8th annual Roots Picnic.
EGL: Let’s get started! You just released your album Flight Of The Donn T. How does it feel?
“It’s so exciting. I’m thrilled, I can’t believe I’m on the other side of making the album. It took a minute to pull things together and to figure out a vehicle to get my creativity out there. I didn’t anticipate starting my own label, which I did last year, D Tone Victorious. At the beginning of things, that wasn’t a part of the program, but it formed and it was a necessity, so I did it. Being behind the scenes and working out the label stuff, as well as co-producing the album, it was a fete but I did it and I’m proud of myself and the music.
My co-producer [is] my husband Jake Morelli. He’s pretty instrumental and he’s bringing a lot to the table. He’s played with Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, The Roots and some of everyone. It was a community, but I was at the helm of the ship. I was the captain.”
EGL: Your song “Waiting” gives me chills. Tell us more about the song’s message.
“The song’s message is about that in between place, like right before a dream comes to be, as we’re dreaming and hoping about something we want to occur. Actually, it’s not a fate-filled song at all. It’s not like I’m applauding like, “Yea, you go, you can make it.” It’s a very vulnerable song about just that space and what it feels like when you’re hoping something occurs and you don’t know if it’s going to, it may not and what do you do with that? It’s about uncertainty. It’s about holding on, something is going to occur. We’re always moving forward even when we’re in a standstill. Sometimes you don’t know how to step, whether to move forward, to the back or to the side. Just stand still and something is going to occur that inspires direction.”
EGL: The visuals are beautiful as well. So raw and your emotions jump off the screen.
“Thank you so much! Those are my homies ID-EgoSuperego, [and] Eternal Polk and Arthvr Alleyne directed the video. They were inspired, and I will be working with them on more videos from this album. We’re really inspired and excited to work together.”
EGL: What’s your favorite song on the album and why?
“It’s so hard to pick one, there’s three that come to mind [laughs]. I love “What’s Beautiful” because it’s about new love. It’s the story about my husband and I and how our friendship evolved into love and the strength that we have as colleagues together, and as a man and a woman. It’s just very special on a personal level.
I like “I Recognize” because it’s light and fun. People enjoy when I write from a very intense place. With “I Recognize,” it’s fun. It does have a message and it’s about being an individual. Coming from a place as an indie artist where I’ve had to create my own way when labels give you the “to the hand” because they’re not sure what to do with you. This song is like I recognize you were guarding me, I walk alone. For anybody that’s paving their own way, creating their own path, that was kind of my cheerleading song.
“To the Moon, Alice!” is also a favorite of mine because it’s real personal. I love every song on my album, and I created it that way. I wanted to have a strong connection and strong story about every single song on the album; nothing was wasted. On a personal level, part of my journey was not only love and being a newlywed but becoming a bonus mom to a now 12-year-old. “To the Moon, Alice!” represents our relationship. It’s a similar spirit to “Hey Jude” where John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote it for John Lennon’s son Julian as a comfort on how to go through life. My bonus daughter and I are very close and have a strong bond, and I wanted to give her a gift she could take with her and have forever.”
EGL: Your music makes the soul feel good. What do you want people to know about your music?
“The music is varied and very eclectic. I want to inspire people through music to be brave and be courageous in life. As women, we have some voices but we don’t have enough voices to tell us to take risks and do it differently, and that we are mind, body and soul and not just body. Bodies are beautiful, but we have to stretch ourselves and allow ourselves to be what we are: creators. Women bring things to life and birth things, we don’t have enough of those voices. Even though you haven’t seen it happen, you do it and you be the first. You can be the innovator. If who I am in the industry inspires one person to do that, than that’s huge. That’s what the album is about, that’s what I’m about.”
EGL: You’ll be performing at the 8th annual Roots Picnic. Are you excited?
“I’m so excited. It’s a hot ticket. Every single slot is magical, it’s going to be an incredible day from the beginning to the end. (Donn T will be performing at 12:30)”
EGL: I read where Bill Chenevert wrote that you’re often promoted as Questlove’s sister rather than an artist in your own right. How does that make you feel?
“I know someone said that but in actuality, I don’t get that a whole lot. Once people discover who I am and what I’m doing, they’re like “Oh my gosh,” there’s a big story there. I love my brother and I’m proud of him, so that’s beautiful and I’m honored. The story is so much bigger than my brother. With my father being famous as well, he has a star on Broad Street with Patti Labelle and a variety of other artists. My granddad was the founding member of the Dixie Hummingbirds, which are considered to be the creators of gospel music. Growing up in that environment, I don’t feel like there’s any competition and it doesn’t make me feel bad to have those comparisons. I’m in great company.”
EGL: So you’ve performed with amazing artists like Amy Winehouse, Marsha Ambrosius and John Legend. Who would you like to collaborate with next?
“I would love to collaborate with Esperanza Spalding. Oddly enough, I would like to do something with Dr. Dre or Missy Elliot. I would love to do something with Sia and Prince as well.”
Don’t you just love her? Donn T will be performing at the Mixed Remix Festival in LA next month, and she’ll be touring this summer. Also, don’t forget to watch Donn T’s electrifying performance at the 8th Annual Roots Picnic on May 30th at 12:30 p.m.
Interview By: Ericka Smith, Entertainment Editor