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The Donna Marie Interview, Page Two

Below is Part Two of the Donna Marie Interview.  All questions (in red) are by Carl Superstar.

I understand you were born Marie Ladagona on June 28th 1950 in Newark, New Jersey.  I'm guessing Ladagona is an Italian name.  Am I right?  How did your parents come to be in America?  Was it a musical family?

Ladagona is an Italian name.  My parents were first generation Americans.  My Mom's parents were from Sicily and my Dad's parents were from Barri.  Both of my parents speak fluent Italian.  My Mom had a beautiful singing voice, but never pursued a career.

What was life like in 1950s Newark?  Were you old enough to be aware of the pop music revolution going on in America?

I was born in Newark, NJ, but also lived in Jersey City and Union during the 50s.  My family finally settled in Union, NJ.  Music was, and still is, a big part of my life, so yes, I was very aware of the pop revolution.

How old were you when you first started singing?  And what sort of things were you doing as a child?  Who was your childhood musical hero?

I was about 10 years old when my Dad took serious notice of my voice and decided to help me pursue my dream.  As a child I sang mostly for family get-togethers, charity affairs and political rallies.  My childhood musical heroes were Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand and Connie Francis.  The one thing that they all had in common was that they sang with feeling and from their hearts.  These women played a great part in helping me develop my style.

How did your career get kick-started?  And during the period prior to working with Jimmy Wisner in 1968, what were you up to?  Didn't you record some singles as Marie La Donna for Gateway Records?  And also do some demo work for Columbia?

My Dad took me to a local studio where I recorded "I'll Cry For You," which we used as a demo.  We brought the demo to the Connie Francis office where I was introduced to Don Stirling.  Over the next few years, I worked with Don Stirling as Marie La Donna.  Don wrote "Bobby Baby" and I subsequently made a master recording of this song, which was sold to Gateway in 1963.  The song went to number one in the Midwest - not bad for a 13 year old.  I was signed to Gateway and in 1964 released "How Can I Let You Know," written and produced by Don Stirling; the Skyliners did back-up for me on this song.  Also in 1964 I recorded "Little Snowflake," written by Murray the K's mother; Murray was known as the fifth Beatle here in the United States.  This was my last known recording with Gateway and as Marie La Donna.  After 1964 I hired a manager and my name was changed to Donna Marie.  Around 1966 I was signed as a solo artist - not demo work - by Columbia Records.  My first single was "The Whole Wide World is Watching Us," produced by Charles Calello; the flip-side was a Burt Bacharach song called "Through the Eye of the Needle."  My next single was "The Penthouse," produced by Paul Leka of "Green Tambourine" fame.  Around 1967 I acquired a back-up band and, with this band called the Mystics, I opened for the Four Seasons at the Asbury Park Convention Centre.  The next recording on Columbia was "He Gives Me Love (La La La)," produced by Jimmy Wisner.

What was it like to be in the studio for the first time?  How would you describe the music you were making very early on in your career?  You seem to get compared a lot to Leslie Gore.  Would that be a fair comparison?

I was 12 years old the first time I was in a studio, so even though it was a little frightening, I was still excited.  They told me that Little Eva had recorded in the studio only the day before; I was very impressed.  As to the Leslie Gore comparison, the only similarity is that we both recorded "He Gives Me Love" at the same time.

How did you come to meet Jimmy Wisner?

At the same time that I was recording at Columbia Records, Jimmy Wisner was producing for Columbia and that's how I met him.  He had a song that he thought was perfect for me and we recorded "He Gives Me Love (La La La)."

"La La La" is a song I remember from my early childhood, as it beat Cliff Richard in the 1968 Eurovision  song contest.  My mother is Spanish, so we always took an interest in the Spanish entry.  Were you aware of the song's background when you came to record it?  Can you remember much about the "La La La" session?

The only thing I know about the song was that it was a Eurovision winner, but I didn't know about the Spanish background.  I feel fortunate that I was able to work with top studio players while I was at Columbia.  To me, every session was exciting and I felt blessed to be a part of it.  What I remember most about Jimmy Wisner was the support and encouragement he gave me.  He brought out the best in me and helped to give me the confidence to perform as I did.  He was a nice, kind man.

According to my research, you also recorded "The Penthouse," the theme to the film of the same name.  What can you tell me about the film?  How did you get to be involved with the soundtrack?

The only thing I know about "The Penthouse" is that it was a crime film.  It was considered to be one of the first R rated movies of that time and the subject matter depicted a brutal attack on a woman in a penthouse apartment.  My involvement came about because I was working with Paul Leka at the time and he asked me to record the title song to this film, which I did around 1967.  Around 1968, I ended my association with Columbia Records.  I hired a new manager - Lenny Mietus.  Lenny was the one who eventually introduced me to Jeff Barry.

How did you come to be involved with the Archies?

In 1970, Jeff Barry was considering signing me as a solo artist.  One night Jeff asked if I would like to come and observe an Archies' session.  I was thrilled!  There were three female studio singers there that night, each getting a try at singing the female lead with Ron Dante.  Unfortunately, they all had trouble getting the timing down on the speaking part at the beginning of the song.  After they called it a night, Lenny approached Jeff Barry and asked him to give me a shot.  Jeff didn't think I would know the song, but Lenny told him that I had a good memory and I'd been listening all night.  I got it down in one take.  They were all thrilled, including Don Kirshner who'd turned up.

What was Ron like to work with?  Everything I've read about him makes me think he was a true gentleman and a consummate professional.

Ron Dante was great to work with and you're right, he was a true gentleman and a consummate professional.  During the recording of "Together We Two," we struck up a great friendship and became very close.  That's the night I also met Andy Kim who wrote "Together We Two" with Jeff Barry.  Andy was a great guy to work with and I felt honoured when he called me back to do background on one of his sessions.

Was the music you recorded for the Archies' project shown as part of the Archies' cartoon series?

I really don't know if any of the music that I recorded was part of the cartoon series.

I've got to ask this question.  What do you whisper into Ron's ear when he asks you, "Hey, what's your favorite thing in the whole wide world?"

Ron and I have been asked this question numerous times.  I whispered in his ear something that no one could hear, and I'll never say!

What do you remember of the Archies' one and only live appearance at Saint Theresa's Church in Kenilworth, New Jersey?  It sounds like an unlikely venue for an Archies' gig.  Is Kenilworth near Newark?

As I stated earlier, Ron and I became friends.  As a favour to me, he came down to my neck of the woods to do a live performance for charity.  We sang "Sugar Sugar," "Who's Your Baby" and "Together We Two."  Kenilworth is next to the town where I live in Union, NJ.

Have you kept in touch with any of the people from the Archies' project?

Funny you should ask about keeping in touch with people from the Archies' project.  I recently saw Ron, after 30 years.  He was performing in Middletown, NY, which is only a half-hour from where I live now.  I got in touch with him, via email, told him I was in the neighbourhood and that I would love to see him again.  He was thrilled to hear from me; we had a great reunion and did a lot of catching up.

What happened to you post-Archies?  I know you gave up the music business at some point to bring up your family.  Are your children now at an age where you could contemplate a return to music?

After the Archies, I married but still did demo work for Helen Miller ("Make Me Your Baby" fame) up until my first pregnancy.  She was considering doing a remake of "Make Me Your Baby" with me.  Motherhood got in the way.  I'm happily married for over 30 years.  My husband George and I have three children - Danielle, 30; Michael, 28; and Matthew, 10 (that's right, 10) and a grandson Jordan who's 2 years old.  I would love to return to singing professionally.  Right now I'm enjoying singing in church.

Toni Wine and Ron Dante appeared on stage together for the first time this year.  Does that news make you feel like performing again?

When I saw that Toni and Ron had appeared together, it absolutely made me want to perform again.

What are your plans for the future?  And, looking back over your music career, what's the memory you treasure the most?  What makes it so special?

There is one thing I'm excited about.  I have a friend, Karen, who writes and composes Christian music.  She wants me to make a CD with her and we're considering submitting our work to several labels.  I would have to say that the night I did "Who's Your Baby" with Ron Dante is my most treasured memory.  To be able to do that song, in one cut, in front of all those powerful people was probably the most exciting thing I ever did.  I didn't sleep all night just replaying it all in my head and the adrenaline flowed for three days.

Donna Marie in 2002

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Even though you didn't ask, I feel I'd like to mention at least two other writer producers that had a big impact on my career.  They're Van McCoy, of "The Hustle" fame, and Teddy Randazzo who produced several big artists, one being Little Anthony And The Imperials.  Looking back on my career, I feel so fortunate to have been able to experience all the things that I did.  I worked with many famous and wonderful people.  I think that answers all your questions.  I really appreciate your interest.

A recent photograph of Donna Marie, looking as radiant as ever, taken by husband George on his newly acquired digital camera.
Interview conducted in November of 2002 by Carl Superstar.

No Kind of Superstar #4

No Kind of Superstar #4 - 56 A4 pages/glossy cover. If you'd like a copy, please send 1.00 (UK), 4 IRCs (Europe) or 5 IRCs (rest of the world) to:

No Kind Of Superstar / PO Box 274 / Wakefield WF1 2UG / England

In addition to the Donna Marie interview in issue #4, there's also a cool article, 'The Archies A-Z,' in issue #3.  Any questions, or to check on availability of past issues, please send an email to Carl Superstar.