Protégé of Jackie Jackson from the legendary Jackson Five, Donny B. Lord reached the #5 spot on the unsigned charts on MySpace in 2008 for the song, “Get on the Floor” and has made the top 10 list in six different categories on Broadjam.com.
Other achievements for DBL has been a music feature on MTV’s My Super Sweet 16 and this song entitled, “Fire” has been heard on Motorola and Verizon commercials, and television features including the CBS hit series The District and Cane.
Even though his music fences on hip-hop meets Caribbean reggae, Donny B. Lord likes to consider his music multi-cultural with no specific genre attachment. While his music does flow within many genres, a strong influence of Michael Jackson shines through his singing style and through his dance moves as seen in the video, “Addicted”.
When D.B.L. was just a child, he was discovered on stage during a Disney production by Jackie Jackson and was welcomed to audition at the Jackson mansion, “Hayvenhurst” for their singing group. During the audition, Jackie jumped up and said to Jermaine, “Little Michael, little Michael!” That was all it took to land D.B.L. the part. Here began his venture from actor to singer.
Today, D.B.L. manages and produces in his own studio called, Curly Locks Productions, is working hard on his next album and putting the finishing touches.
I spoke with the singer himself, and asked him some questions about his ties to the Jackson’s and about his music:
How is your music different from other musicians? What is your signature sound? Who are your influences? My music embraces the sounds of my Caribbean culture mixed with mainstream R&B and Pop music. I’m like a Caribbean Michael Jackson. I can sing a beautiful sultry ballad with layered harmonies and huge Pop hooks, and a high-energy dance track where I feature my Reggae dancehall “chat” style singing. My musical sound has strong bass lines, percussive syncopated rhythm and really lush background vocals and harmonies. I enjoy singing with a Reggae triplet feel on top of a straight hip hop/club banger track and then bringing in a full Pop/Michael Jackson hook on the chorus. My vocal style takes from Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Sting, and even Phil Collins.
I know a big part of your story as an artist is your multicultural upbringing and extensive travel. What is your cultural background? And where have you lived and travelled to? I come from a multicultural mix of West Indian, East Indian, Native American, Black and White. I saw a lot of different faces from my crib as a baby. Different people who ask me where I’m from and what my ethnic mix is stop me on the street. I get the “exotic” thing a lot. I’ve learned that’s a good thing, especially with women. I’ve lived in Europe, the Caribbean, Canada and the U.S. I’ve travelled all over, even to the indigenous Papua New Guinea near Australia. I have also performed in Switzerland, England, and Belgium. It’s funny..In Papau New Guinea the Bushmen thought I was some sort of sorcerer or shaman when they saw me do some of my gravity defying dance moves and body flexibility.
Since you first entered the industry, what changes have you seen? How has the industry shifted in your opinion? I was just a kid when I started. The competition was pretty tough but the industry is supersaturated now. Everybody thinks they are stars. Even the animals seemed to have gotten more talented. It seems like everyday I get an email of a link to some new dancing dog or talking cat. What’s next? A chimp that can dance the Tango? My new competition could be a member of a different species. It’s gotten way more competitive. Also, I feel that it’s more about trends and fads now than about true talent.
How long has your dream of becoming a performer been following you? The minute I saw Michael Jackson on television. I thought that it was a cool game that I could stand next to the television and perform the same exact moves as Michael. When my mom first saw me do it, she knew instantly that I had something. I was a great imitator. I could emulate somebody’s voice and gesticulate my body to copy anything I saw. It was a natural talent from the time I was a young kid. My mother told my aunt, who was a celebrity in the Caribbean and she took me under her wing. I was always a perfectionist. For example, I’m not a natural born singer. I was just determined to express my self musically. I knew I had to have a voice to sing what I had to say to the world. I worked at it diligently for years and years. Then, creating my own style took even more years.
You are a multifaceted performer. You write your own music, you’re a musician, music producer, classically trained ballet dancer and martial artist. How do you implement all these talents in what you do? It’s a process for me. I don’t see my talents as separate entities. The formation of a creative idea begins with a feeling. Then I usually play what I “feel” on the piano or another instrument. I start to record all the parts that I hear in my head. I never think about theory or what I shouldn’t do or cannot do musically; I go with the feeling even if it breaks the rules. It has to express the feeling inside of me. Then I usually vocally scat into the mic and record the melody. Melody is everything; it’s key. The melody, rhythm and phrasing have to be right first, and then the music and the melody inspire the lyrics or the content of the song. For me, certain sounds, instruments, sound effects, synths, etc. will inspire me right away to get the direction of the song. I always have a visual of the story in my head, and I have the stage show in my head. By the time the song is complete, I already have ideas for the visual image on stage, the choreography, the dancers, or even the music video, the camera angles. It just all comes together like one big puzzle and it feels so good. Music is like sex to me. It really is. A really great song and a well-produced track will affect me my body.
Have you always been focused on music or have you also pursued other aspects of the entertainment industry? When I started, I was an actor and a dancer. I did commercials for Pepsi, Cheerios, Iron Kids Bread, Footlocker, and Fox Television. I danced on awards shows like the People’s Choice Awards with R&B singer Brandy. As a kid, I did television shows on CBS; I was a featured choir boy in the feature film “All I Want For Christmas”, I worked on the film “Hook” with Robin Williams and I played the young Hank Gathers in “Final Shot: The Hank Gathers Story” opposite veteran actors George Kennedy and Nell Carter. I also did educational films and television shows for Disney and series on HBO when I was a kid and performed with MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice and Jennifer Love Hewitt. I also worked with Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson’s choreographers, including Lavelle Smith and Tina Landon, and with Ron Brown of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. When I was older I did some stand up comedy performing at the world famous The Improv in Hollywood and studying at the Groundlings in L.A. I studied Shakespearean theatre in London, England and also with the London City Ballet.
You’ve been fortunate to work with some really big names. Who are some of the people that have influenced you the most? I will never forget the first time I performed in front of Michael Jackson’s brothers Jackie and Jermaine and they jumped up and said “Little Michael. He’s a little Michael!” It was truly the greatest compliment ever to be in the presence of my idol’s family and have them refer to me like that. I remember once Mrs. Jackson saw me do an imitation of Michael and she said that it was like “seeing her son before her very eyes.” I was in an elevator with Ray Grady, M.J.’s first cousin, when I was invited by the family to join them being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, when he said to Jackie that I reminded him of a little Michael. Jackie Jackson took me under his wing and has mentored me since I was young. He has become a mentor, a father figure, and a best friend to me over the years. Jackie has not only been there for me professionally; he has helped me through some tough personal times. I’ll never forget when Jackie saw me sad and distraught over a breakup with an ex girlfriend. He called her up for me just to see if there was any hope in rekindling the relationship. I remember thinking, “I can’t believe this. Jackie is on the phone coming to my honor to help me, to try to save me.” I was speechless. Jackie has always been so kind and generous to me. He welcomed me into his family, into his home. He has played so many roles in my life. But he can also be very hard and critical of me, but it only made me better. He is tough. He is probably my toughest critic. But when J. says that something is good or that something is ready, you know it is because it’s not easy to impress him. He is a perfectionist and I developed that same personality trait in everything I do from knowing him, and living with him. He is exceptionally clean, organized and thorough as well. I got that trait from him for sure.
How did you become fortunate to work with Jackie Jackson? Jackie created a singing group called MIXX and they were looking for one last member. I was performing on a T.V. show when his talent scout discovered me. She was so impressed by my strong dance and performance skills that she invited me to audition for Jackie at the family mansion in Encino. After my audition, Jackie offered me the spot right away. He said that he had found the last member of his group. Being in the studio and being part of a young Pop boy group is what first introduced me to the music world really. I remember being in the studio at the mansion and feeling a warm tingly feeling behind the mixing board and the microphone. Every time Jackie and the rest of the boys went on break, I would stay back and mess with all the buttons and the sliders on the board and the keyboards and equipment. Then when they came back and the mix was different I pretended that I didn’t know why.
How has working with the legendary Jackson family influenced your career? It has been the greatest learning experience of my life. There is a great work ethic there in the family. They strive for the best and they are perfectionists. Because Jackie pushed me so hard, I now can write, produce, play instruments, mix and engineer my music, as well as sing and dance. He helped me develop my style. I also credit another great producer Olivier Roulon for really helping me carve out my style and develop my artistry. Olivier is a great coach. He gives me advice and I run with it.
Did you ever get the chance to meet your idol Michael Jackson? How did losing him affect you as an artist? I met Michael at his home at Neverland. I actually got to dance for him in his dance studio as well. I do this signature dance step that’s like a huge leap off the ground where my two feet split and go past my head past 180 degrees. When I did it Michael went “Wow!” and then continued to ask me how I executed the move. I thought to myself here is Michael Jackson, a legend, asking me how to do something. But that’s what I learned about Michael, he is a true master. He was always humble and always learning. He was like a sponge. He soaked up everything. There was no ego. You feel incredibly humbled around Michael Jackson. You realize that there is so much to learn. He was truly bigger than life. --His property, his music, his dance movements, his persona. He was moving art. Michael shared so much with me in conversations that I will forever implement. He was a genius. One thing I learned from Michael was never to take short cuts. He told me that the same way you hear the idea or you see it is the same exact way you must execute it. Don’t take any shortcuts. Do it EXACTLY. He was a very precise man. I learned that from him. I observed the way he tracked vocals, the way he pieced the track together. He was a part of the entire process. He heard things that I never knew were there. He saw things in a very vivid way. I also learned that he was such a carefree and young spirit with the wisdom of a 100-year-old man. He had a great sense of humor. He also loved the Caribbean and loved the fact that I was part Indian. He thought Indian people were the most beautiful people in the world. He said that he also loved the Caribbean and the people from that part of the world.
I know Michael Jackson was one of the hardest working professionals in the business. You’ve said in interviews that his own family used to call you “Little Michael”. What are some of the similarities between you and the King Of Pop? My ability to see the whole picture and the whole creative image. I see and hear a song or project from beginning to end. I see the music video, the choreography, the stage, and the lighting. I also think outside the box. A lot of people also say that our mannerisms are the same..It’s like the gentle giant thing. I am very soft spoken and gentle in my demeanor, but then I take it to a whole different level when I’m performing, especially when I go into my Caribbean style. I’m also a very sensual performer like Michael was. I love to make music that paints pictures. Michael was very visual. He painted pictures with words and sound. I don’t know. There are a lot of similarities. Michael was very detailed oriented; I am as well. I think also I am very misunderstood and I have felt that I don’t fit in a lot because I have moved around so much and been in so many different environments. Michael and I definitely share that playful and mischievous boyish personality. I love acting like a kid and joking. I have my mom laughing all day long.
I know your passion is music but you really value education and you graduated from college. Tell me about that? I always valued education. I attended private schools on both sides of the globe. My parents made sure that I had a great education; so going to college was inevitable. It was a promise to my mother actually. She said she would always support me in my dream but that I had to go to college to have a strong foundation for life. She was right. Going to college was an amazing experience. I have learned a lot about people and the world through school and travelling. I ended up graduating from the University Of Southern California from the Annenberg School for Communications with a B.A. in Public Relations/Journalism with Honors. I always enjoyed writing. In college I had the opportunity to write editorials and weekly articles for the school newspaper and be a journalist. Being on the other side of things gave me so much information that I need to know being an artist. I learned how to give interviews, how to handle the media. I learned about promotions and marketing and business. While in college I also got the opportunity to internship at record and film companies and learn the ins and outs of the business. I also took some great classes in music, fine arts and language. I love being an artist who can be a role model to others and say that I stayed in school, finished my education, and still pursued my dream.
I noticed that you currently are in negotiation with a major record label. Do think this is your big break into mainstream? Yes.
Of all your songs, which is your favorite? That is such a difficult question. My music is very personal. Each song is an episode of some special moment in my life, and every moment is a unique learning experience. Every song shows some part of me. Whether it’s my romantic side, my sensual side, my fun and playful side, my sentimental and socially conscious side, etc. Offhand I can say I love “Addicted” and “Gone”. Gone is so significant on so many levels. Something special happened during that song and I think the most observant listeners will feel what I feel when that song plays. Something passes through the spirit at a particular part of the song and it gets me every time. My mother had tears in her eyes the other day when it was playing, and it was at that same spot in the song. Something spiritual happened in “Gone” and I feel that M.J. had something to do with it. R.I.P. King Of Pop. Oh, wait; I can’t forget “Closure”. There is something haunting about that one too.
What do you do when you are not thinking about music or performing? Or are you always thinking about music and performing? I love watching cartoons. No joke. Before a performance, you will find me laying back watching cartoons. I also really love spending time with my dogs Jou Jou and Zin Zin. I love mentoring young kids and teenagers and feeding the homeless. I love meditating, going out into nature and dreaming and visualizing. I love showers. My dream shower includes five huge jet streams that blast me from all sides with me in the middle doing a Michael Jackson “Ohhh!!!!” with my hands up in the air. I could live in the water. I also love the beach, watching the waves crash. Oh, believe it or not, I love cleaning my house. Doing laundry, vacuuming, mopping, washing my car, and polishing the windows are all things I enjoy doing. I love burning incense and candles and lighting oil burners. I love a clean house with a beautiful aroma.
Do you have any hobbies that you enjoy doing? My mom is an excellent chef. So, I’m learning. I’m like her little protégé at this point. I think I will be a great cook because it’s so similar to composing a song. It’s all about the right balance and putting the right elements together.
What are some exciting projects in the works? There are some very exciting things in the works. I want to leave a little mystery to the whole thing. But all I can say is that you will see me utilize all my gifts and talents in the next coming years. I will not be limited. Another hint is that my story will be seen and heard.
When can people get a taste of D.B.L.’s new album? This year will be a very exciting year.
When you are signed to a record deal, are you anxious and ready for the media frenzy that is headed your way? How will you deal with all the attention? It’s funny, since I was a kid I was always different and I always stood out. So, I’m kind of used to people noticing me and getting attention. It used to bother me when I was younger because I assumed it was bad, but now I take it in stride and see it as people being interested becomes I’m unique. As long as I have a strong support system with true friends and hopefully a beautiful woman by my side as a lifelong partner and a beautiful family, I’m fine. I’m pretty good at being so into beautiful people with beautiful energy that I can block what I don’t want out. I’m sure it will be difficult at times but I’ve gotten some practice from being around Jackie and his family. Jackie is such a gracious guy. He appreciates his fans and he is so kind to them. I want to be the same way.
Some artists don’t like the attention? Are you one of those artists or do you love having the spotlight on you all the time? I definitely like being left alone. I am an only child, so I am perfectly happy being in solitude. But, I love attention when I want attention. When I’m performing, I’m in a certain mode. I have learned to actually embrace my audience more. When I was younger I used to shut them out. But now I become immersed. I allow their energy to penetrate me just as much as my energy transfers to them. I understand, though, that to whom much is given, much is expected, so the tradeoff to success and fame is less privacy. That comes with the territory but being somebody who can influence others lives is my purpose. I would love to look out into a crowd and see a bunch of Japanese kids wearing their hair in “curly locks” like my signature hair style, or knowing all the lyrics to all my songs and trying to emulate me, not only in dance moves and style but also in mind, thought, ways, demeanor and behavior.
What would you like to do with your celebrity status? Bring people together. Because I have lived amongst many different tribes of people, I realized that we are all more similar than we are different. We are operating from man made social, cultural, racial, political and religious confines. I was not raised to adhere to these limitations. I am a people person who seeks to know the soul of the person I meet. The physical façade is no indication of the character, spirit or soul of the person in front of me. Once we all realize that we are genetically almost identical and that the few insignificant physical differences that we have through evolutionary adaption don’t really separate us, then we can work on uniting. I personally can’t be biased or racist against anyone, because I would probably end up ostracizing one of my own.
To find more by Donny B. Lord
Listen to a special 5-track episode with Donny B. Lord on The Great Unknowns Presents
Donny B. Lord on MySpace
Donny B. Lord's official website