Soul Survivor

Donnie dishes on his past, present and future

When Kentucky-born, Atlanta-based soul vocalist Donnie scored a deal with Motown Records, folks in the Atlanta music scene figured he'd blow up just like his fellow Hitsville mate India.Arie. Donnie released one critically acclaimed CD, The Colored Section, but then seemingly vanished. CL recently caught up with the enigmatic singer and he gave us the low down on his new multimedia performance, "Color T.V."

You've been missing from the music scene for quite a bit. What the hell have you been doing?

Being a person. Being a human being. Growing. Going through life just like everybody else. Having ups, downs, getting over issues, getting into new things, constantly doing my art, finding different parts of myself, and developing those parts also, artistically speaking.

Regarding your art, what specifically have you been developing?

Musicals. Writing musicals and scripts. Basically, I'm trying to find something more interesting than just getting on stage with three background singers and a band. It's boring. I did a medley of songs from the musical Why the Cock Crows — which I wrote with Janice Watley — a few months ago at Apache Cafe, and I think people really responded to the script.

Are you planning to mount a full-scale production of the play?

Yes, I'm just getting investors lined up. It's just getting money behind it because putting on a production costs. And it ain't no little money.

Can we expect to ever see another album from you?

I'm doing an album with Steve Harvey, who did production on The Colored Section, and I'm releasing it independently. I just came from Los Angeles and heard some of the stuff he's been doing and it's fabulous. The new album will be released in the spring — April or May. But nothing beyond May. It's been too long.

Are you still signed to Motown?

No, I'm not. Thank God.

What happened?

Nothing happened. Nothing happened! That's the whole point! That's the reason I say, "Thank God." They didn't promote [the album] — they didn't do anything. And plus, I was not ready. I was just out of my mind. I had never had that much money in my life. Just having people call you that ain't called you in 1,000 years. I was very paranoid. I was crazy during those times. It just was not the time.

When did your relationship with Motown end?

The relationship ended when it started. Technically, it ended this year, but I'm telling you, man, it was a nothing. I figure they signed me to shut me up. I just came to that realization last year. I heard somebody say that one day. 'Cause it would have changed the whole flow of the industry. And I'm not bragging. I'm saying, it was art that was appealing.

I'm sure you're aware that many people speculate that you have a drug problem.

I'm not worried about people and what they got to say. I've wanted folks to like me since I was a little kid, and I used to use my voice as way to do that. But I had to stop using it for that because when I started having troubles with my voice, what did I have left?

What was wrong with your voice?

It just wasn't there, physically or mentally. Going through that period with my voice, I had to learn who Donnie really was. I'm a soul artist, man.

So what's your upcoming show, which you've titled "Color T.V.", at Apache all about?

"Color T.V., WTCS Rainbow Radio." It's just a take on vaudeville radio and TV; taking from all of those things and doing parodies and relating it to my music. There'll be skits all through the show, I'll do songs from the upcoming album, and I'll do songs that I don't do very often, like "Turn Around" and "Rocketship." I just want it to be a new show. I don't want it to be anything like it was.