Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and Alabama Music Hall Of Fame inductee, vocalist Donna Jean Godchaux celebrates her 69th birthday today. The native of Muscle Shoals, Alabama began her career as session singer in her hometown but is best known for her time as a member of the Grateful Dead.
Donna’s distinct background vocals are a definable characteristic of mid-1970s Dead, notably on songs such as “The Music Never Stopped” and “Playing In The Band.” Donna was a part of many seminal moments in Grateful Dead’s storied career. She was there for the band’s Europe 72 Tour, at Barton Hall on May 8, 1977 and in Egypt and Red Rocks in 1978. She and her husband, keyboardist Keith Godchaux, amicably left the Dead in 1979 – though Keith would tragically die in a car accident a year later.
Donna has since remained an active vocalist in the years since leaving the Dead. She recently held a reunion show with the Heart Of Gold Band and this summer she joined her former mates Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart for a few Dead & Company shows. She also appeared in the Muscle Shoals documentary film about the acclaimed FAME recording studio where she was a session performer for the likes of Elvis Presley, Percy Sledge and others at the start of her career.
While active members of the Dead, Donna and Keith also at times doubled as members of the Jerry Garcia Band. For Donna’s birthday today, here’s a video of her leading a JGB lineup featuring Keith on keyboards, Jerry Garcia on guitar, John Kahn on bass and Ron Tutt (who also recorded with Elvis) on drums from April 2, 1976 at The Capitol Theater in Passaic, New Jersey. Taken from the the late show, the clip below posted by the Music Vault features Donna belting out a version of fellow Alabama native Dorothy Love Coates’ “Strange Man,” watch: