Tag Archives: Rolling Stone

Happy Birthday, Donna Jean Godchaux!

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Did you know there was a woman in the Grateful Dead?

It’s true.

According to Wikipedia, Donna Jean Godchaux was a member of the Grateful Dead from 1972 until 1979.

The aforementioned website says she was

a backup singer on at least two #1 hit songs: “When a Man Loves a Woman” by Percy Sledge in 1966 and “Suspicious Minds” by Elvis Presley in 1969. Her vocals were featured on other classic recordings by Boz Scaggs and Duane Allman, Cher, Joe Tex, Neil Diamond and many others[2][3]

before she joined the Dead.

Donna introduced [her husband] Keith to Jerry Garcia after Garcia’s performance at San Francisco’s Keystone Korner in September 1971.

Here’s what Biography.com says about that fateful meeting with Jerry Garcia:

One night after a Grateful Dead show in San Francisco, she accosted Jerry Garcia and told him that she needed his home phone number because her husband was going to be his new piano player. Unbeknownst to her, the Dead’s keyboardist at that time, Ronald “Pigpen” McKernan, was sick and would soon have to stop touring due to his illness. Garcia handed over his phone number and soon after, both Keith and Donna, joined the Grateful Dead. Donna performed in the band as a back-up vocalist.

That website goes on to say,

Godchaux recorded and toured with the Grateful Dead for eight years, until, in 1979, both she and her husband left the band by mutual agreement. Keith was addicted to drugs and his playing suffered; Donna was an alcoholic, and had a violent temper when she drank. After Sex Pistols singer Sid Vicious died of an overdose in January 1979, Donna decided that she’d had enough, and flew home two days before the end of the band’s tour.

In a Rolling Stone article, Donna Jean talked about the differences between being a studio singer and singing with the Dead.

¬†“I was a studio singer, never singing off-key. I was used to having headphones and being in a controlled environment.

“Then, all of a sudden, I went to being onstage with the Dead in Winterland,” she continues. “Everything was so loud onstage. And not to mention being inebriated.”

Today is Donna Jean Godchaux’s birthday!

It’s true that some Deadheads don’t appreciate Donna Jean’s voice, and she was screechy at times, but like the rest of the band, when she was on, she was really on. I like her singing more often than not, and appreciate what she contributed to the Grateful Dead.

Happy Birthday, Donna Jean!