Amsterdam News Interview of Sweet Poppa Lou Donaldson in Florida

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Papa Lou Donaldson, Gw Carver Museum

by Ron Scott
July 27, 2023

Publicist Scott Thompson, Lou Donaldson, Jazz Journalist Ron Scott-Amsterdam News visit Lou in Florida

Scott Thompson, Lou Donaldson and Ron Scott (Ron Scott photo)

Prior to the presidency of the twice-impeached dictator idol-worshipper Red Barron 45, Florida was the ideal place to be, with sun-filled days and beautiful starry nights. The weather remains superb but now there’s an insane governor who believes in banning books and his deranged rants suggest the Trans-Atlantic slave trade was just a century long, live-in internship program that prepared our ancestors for great jobs as farmers and tradesmen. And all the daily torment, physical and mental abuse, rape, and lynchings were just overzealous slave owners helping their students adapt.

Regardless of the negative “Right” obsessions, what inspires my visits to Florida is spending time with the humorous, charismatic, and renowned alto saxophonist “Sweet Papa” Lou Donaldson. My good friend Scott Thompson (former publicist for Jazz at Lincoln Center, and now an independent publicist) and I take joy in driving down to Fort Lauderdale to visit Donaldson (oh, and did I mention it’s Scott’s car). Visiting him has been our joy for some years. Prior to Dr. Lonnie Smith’s transition, he made our foursome. We would stop and pick up the famed organist and meet Donaldson at the Golden Corral ; at the time he was driving his mean El Dorado that was transported down from New York.

Sweet Lou has since retired his El Dorado and is living in a luxurious assisted living complex with a swimming pool, tennis courts, a health club, and golf course. Jazz is piped in throughout the building; pretty sure Papa Lou had something to do with the choice of music. Of course, the retired saxophonist is a superstar at the complex: all the women giggle like schoolgirls when speaking with him and the guys take time for quick chit chat. And the staff, from what Scott and I saw, all praise his name.

Unfortunately, the Golden Corral, our favorite restaurant, had closed, so we quickly found a substitute: A Chinese restaurant, all you can eat…the food was good and for at least two hours, probably more, the NEA Jazz Master, now 96, astounded us with his captivating jazz tidbits, now history. We were hysterical listening to his jokes; some by Redd Foxx. Lou could have survived as a comedian, which was evident during his six decades of jazz performances riddled with comedy. He and Foxx were friends, as were Slappy White, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali.. And trust, he has stories for all of them. An avid sports fan, he loves Kansas City and Patrick Mahomes. He loved playing alto sax, but his true love was baseball with aspirations of becoming a professional. That dream was shattered after an injury he suffered while playing as a student at North Carolina A&T State University..

Fortunately, when we are together, he allows me to record his in-depth oral history lessons. He always says, “Ron, you recording this, right? This is stuff nobody knows unless they were there.” Book agents should note Donaldson has a completed manuscript with a plethora of information as it relates to his unique experiences as a Black jazz musician from segregation to Harlem; Blue Note Records with dilemmas and triumphs in between. Having read the manuscript, it is well worth reading: fascinating, humorous, and seasoned with the brutal jazz truth.

Donaldson very seldom returns to Gotham these days, but expect to see him at Dizzy’s jazz club celebrating his 97th birthday (November 1), which is usually a week or two before or after the actual date. The evening will include an all-star band featuring a host of special guests and words from Donaldson, maybe even a song. There’s only one Sweet Papa Lou!


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NCDOT names stretch of Stanly County highway after jazz icon

By News Staff

October 16, 2022 at 2:00 pm

NCDOT names stretch of Stanly County highway after jazz icon

STANLY COUNTY, N.C. — Stanly County native and jazz saxophonist Lou Donaldson was honored in his hometown earlier this week.

The 95-year-old — nicknamed “Sweet Poppa Lou” — was recognized by the North Carolina Department of Transportation during a ceremony in Badin on Thursday morning.

A five-mile stretch of NC Highway 740 will now bear his name.


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Section of N.C. 740 in Stanly County Named for Legendary Jazz Musician Lou Donaldson

​​Jazz musician Lou Donaldson is honored in Badin. ​

​BADIN – A section of N.C. 740 in Stanly County was dedicated this morning in honor of Badin native and renowned jazz saxophonist Lou Donaldson. 

Officials with the N.C. Department of Transportation joined Donaldson as well as local and state officials in a ceremony Friday at Cedar Grove AME Zion Church in New London.  

Drivers can now see the “Lou Donaldson Boulevard” signs along a five-mile section of N.C. 740 in the Badin area in appreciation of the musician’s contributions to the music world. 

“There are so many great things going on in Badin and in Stanly County, but this is one of the really important things that we’ve done,” said N.C. Representative Wayne Sasser, who participated in Friday’s event. “Keep Mr. Lou in your prayers that he will continue his sweet music for another 95 years.”

N.C. Senator Carl Ford, who is also a musician and participated Friday, offered to ‘jam’ with Donaldson, but figured he’d be told to stop.

“I think it’s great to honor this man here today and with those signs to honor him from now on,” Ford said. “There’s a lot of things that put Badin on the map, but not as much as Lou.”

“Sweet Poppa Lou” could recount an impressive list of prestigious accolades accrued over his lifetime. To name a few, Donaldson is an International Jazz Hall of Fame inductee, National Endowment of the Arts-Jazz Master, recipient of the North Carolina Award for Fine Arts, and a member of the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame.  

Fighting a cold, Donaldson shared several amusing stories, introduced family members in attendance, and reiterated that his hometown and community mean more to him than those tributes. 

“Everywhere I go, people ask me, ‘Badin? Where is this Badin?’”  

Recalling a trip to Japan, Donaldson explained that once he found the Yadkin River on a map, he pointed out his hometown to observers. Soon, roughly one thousand people in a music club knew about Badin.    

Other speakers at today’s ceremony included NCDOT Division 10 Engineer Brett Canipe and Badin Mayor Anne Harwood. The ceremony was emceed by Badin Town Manager Jay Almond.


BJ DRYE COLUMN: Latest news on three Stanly County natives — Star Jones, Louis Cato and Lou Donaldson

Posted in ARTICLES

Published 9:17 am Tuesday, August 23, 2022

By BJ Drye


We sure do have some talented people who are doing great things inside and outside of Stanly County.

That is no secret, as we’ve known about our famous broadcasters, musicians, writers, athletes, artists, entrepreneurs, bankers and others for years.

But today I want to speak of three of our native Stanly Countians who have made the news lately.

Badin native and former co-host of “The View” Star Jones is back on TV as the new host of “Divorce Court.”

Jones was supposed to be a guest at the Best of Badin Festival back in 2001. She did not make it to the festival as plans changed following 9-11.

I don’t know if she’ll ever be back for a public appearance, but we’d love to see her.

Louis Cato has been named leader of the band for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

Cato, who has been a member of the band for the last few years, was promoted to band leader upon departure of Jon Baptiste, who has been on a roll with his own music.

We also have the renaming of a five-mile stretch of North Carolina Highway 740 in honor of jazz saxophone legend Lou Donaldson.

Donaldson’s daughter Carol told me she attended a virtual meeting of the NC DOT about Lou Donaldson Boulevard.

“He asked me to tell the members of the Naming Committee how humbled he is and how, at age 95, it is truly the highlight of his life to receive such a monumental honor and in his beloved hometown.”

I know this is a big if, but what if we could get Louis Cato to perform one of Sweet Poppa Lou’s hits at the unveiling ceremony for Lou Donaldson Boulevard?

B.J. Drye is editor and general manager of The Stanly News & Press. Call 704-982-2123, or follow bjdrye1 on Twitter.

BJ DRYE COLUMN: Latest news on three Stanly County natives — Star Jones, Louis Cato and Lou Donaldson – The Stanly News & Press | The Stanly News & Press (

Badin Passes Lou Donaldson Resolution

Posted in ARTICLES

( Scarbrough/) By Imari Scarbrough ( Scarbrough/) Email the author ( Published 9:45 am Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Badin Town Council unanimously passed a resolution honoring Badin native and jazz saxophonist Lou Donaldson Tuesday night.

The town raised the money last month to apply to the North Carolina Department of Transportation for a name change of a portion of N.C. Highway 740. The council hopes to rename it Lou Donaldson Boulevard.

The resolution celebrates Donaldson and publicly declares the town’s intention to rename the road.

Donaldson, also known as “Sweet Poppa Lou,” has received many awards throughout his career, including admission to the International Jazz Hall of Fame.

Donaldson “…has kept Badin, North Carolina, an active part of his private and professional life, serving in 2013 as Grand Marshal for the town’s centennial parade and returning through the years to perform for local audiences…,” according to the resolution.

In addition to noting his other achievements and aspects of his life, the document goes on to thank the musician “for his representation and ambassadorship of his hometown of Badin and for the joyously indelible effect he has had on those he encountered through the years.”…

COPYRIGHT © 2020, The Stanly News & Press

Lou Talks Sports in the New York Daily News

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Enjoy reading about Lou’s great sports memories in the New York Daily News in this article by Tony Paige – November 17, 2018

Jazz Great ‘Sweet Papa’ Lou Donaldson has Sports Memories to Treasure

Read it online at:

Read pdf: Jazz great ‘Sweet Papa’ Lou Donaldson’s has sports memories to treasure – NY Daily News_files



‘Sweet Poppa Lou,’ Still in His Groove

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After a 60-Year Jazz Career Built on the Road, an 83-Year-Old Saxophonist Keeps Searching for the Perfect Note

Updated Aug. 28, 2010 12:01 a.m. ET

Few musicians today can claim to have changed the direction of jazz. Lou Donaldson did so twice—once in 1953 with Clifford Brown and again in 1957 with Jimmy Smith. From Tuesday through Sept. 5, the 83-year-old alto saxophonist will lead an organ-guitar-drums trio at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.

If Mr. Donaldson’s name isn’t familiar, it’s likely because he spent long stretches away from New York. Like many other artists who combined country blues and jazz, “Sweet Poppa Lou,” as he’s known, built his career on the road. While long tours were a financial boon for Mr. Donaldson, being away from New York for extended periods lowered his visibility. Despite his six-decade career, he has yet to be named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Lou Donaldson and Randy Johnston performing together at the PDX Jazz Festival in Portland, Ore., last year. ENLARGE
Lou Donaldson and Randy Johnston performing together at the PDX Jazz Festival in Portland, Ore., last year. GETTY IMAGES
“I just do my thing—which is getting audiences’ feet shuffling,” said Mr. Donaldson in a recent interview. Long compared with saxophonists Charlie Parker, Benny Carter and Johnny Hodges for his fluid attack and blues infusion, Mr. Donaldson is among the last of a generation of jazz-musician entertainers.

Born in Badin, N.C., in 1926, Mr. Donaldson spent his youth glued to a short-wave radio that picked up the big bands from New York. At age 9, he started playing the clarinet.

Mr. Donaldson attended North Carolina A&T State University before being drafted into the Navy in 1944, where he switched to the alto sax. Baseball was his first love, and following his discharge in 1945, Mr. Donaldson returned home to complete college and play semipro baseball. But a finger injury forced him off the field and onto the stage.

In the late ’40s, after sitting in with Illinois Jacquet’s big band in Greensboro, Mr. Donaldson was urged to move to New York. He did just that in 1950, when his girlfriend (and soon-to-be wife), Maker, took a job in the city. Mr. Donaldson played gigs at Harlem clubs.

“The tenor sax was the boss instrument then, but by playing standards other musicians didn’t know and using power on the alto, I stood out,” he said.

Mr. Donaldson’s first break came in 1952—at the gym. “A guy I trained with was friends with vibraphonist Milt Jackson,” he said. “He urged Milt to use me on a recording because I sounded like Charlie Parker.” At the April 1952 recording session, Blue Note’s owner Alfred Lion was so wowed that he called Mr. Donaldson the following month to record with pianist Thelonious Monk.

Hearing Mr. Brown on the trumpet at a club in early 1953, Mr. Donaldson insisted they record together. The six tracks they recorded for Blue Note in June with pianist Elmo Hope sparked a jazz revolution that became known as “hard bop.”

“That was tough music early on because it was original and very few people could play like that,” said Mr. Donaldson. “You needed a hard, gutty sound—a different swinging feel from anything else going on then.”

In February 1954, Mr. Lion assembled a Blue Note all-star band and recorded “A Night at Birdland.” The searing hard-bop gig featured Mr. Donaldson, Mr. Brown, pianist Horace Silver, bassist Curly Russell and drummer Art Blakey.

As hard bop took off, Mr. Donaldson surprisingly never played or recorded with the major groups of the period. “I didn’t do drugs, and many of the musicians who did wouldn’t hire me because I wanted to keep my pay rather than chip in to score,” he said.

Between 1955 and 1957, Mr. Donaldson was on the road leading a quartet. “We’d play clubs in black neighborhoods from New York to Los Angeles and back,” he said.

When Mr. Donaldson resumed recording for Blue Note in 1957, he was teamed with Smith. Their spirited collaborations on albums such as “A Date With Jimmy Smith” (1957) and “The Sermon!” (1958) helped launch the jazz-soul movement, which incorporated gospel, funk and R&B elements into jazz.

Energized by the popularity of these albums, Mr. Donaldson recorded routinely with organ trios starting in 1961. His sessions for the Argo and Cadet labels between 1964 and 1966 further leveraged the jazz-soul form with an expanded use of organ-sax blues riffs.

Back at Blue Note in early 1967, Mr. Donaldson recorded his biggest seller, “Alligator Bogaloo,” which resulted in a multi-album union with organist Dr. Lonnie Smith. For the next three decades, Mr. Donaldson toured and recorded with leading organists, including Charles Earland and Leon Spencer Jr.

“It doesn’t matter what I’m playing, I’m always shopping for the groove,” Mr. Donaldson said. “One way or the other, I always find it.”

—Mr. Myers writes about jazz and R&B daily at

Jazz Giants Ben Tucker and Lou Donaldson Still Have the Music in Them

Posted in ARTICLES



5:22 PM EDT, June 27, 2012


Louis Armstrong once said, “Musicians don’t retire; they stop when there’s no more music in them.”

Jazz legends and old friends Ben Tucker and Lou Donaldson still have the music in them. That’s why the octogenarians are still touring and playing the music they love.

On Saturday, both Tucker and Donaldson will perform at the Don Redman Heritage Award and Concert at the Mather Training Center in Harpers Ferry, W.Va. They will also each receive the Don Redman Heritage Award for their contributions “in jazz education and music as well as the individual musicianship, humanity and dignity that illuminate the spirit of Don Redman.”

The award was named after jazz arranger Don Redman, a West Virginia native, who studied at the historically black Storer College in Harpers Ferry…

…Lou Donaldson, alto sax

At age 85, jazz alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson believes in keeping active — that means playing golf and making sure his musical chops are tight.

And at a time when most men have decided to retire, Donaldson isn’t hanging up his alto saxophone any time soon.

About six months a year Donaldson is gigging, showing the younger generation what jazz once sounded like.

There’s no practicing anymore for Donaldson. “I practice on the stand,” he said during a telephone interview from his New York City home.

Music was always a part of his upbringing in Badin, N.C.; his mother was a music teacher and concert pianist, and his father was a minister.

But Donaldson had different dreams. He didn’t want to spend his days practicing music and keeping to his mother’s wishes.

“She tried as hard as she could, but I wanted to play baseball, so it was a big conflict,” he said.

By the time he was in high school, though, he was in marching band. It was there that he started to find his musical way by playing the clarinet.

At age 15, Donaldson entered the North Carolina A&T College. He earned a Bachelor of Science, because they didn’t have a music degree.

In 1945, Donaldson was drafted into the U.S. Navy. He was stationed at Great Lakes, Ill., where he played the clarinet in the band.

“But we had to play for dances, and they needed a saxophone,” he said.

It was the Navy who introduced him to the alto saxophone, an instrument he immediately fell in love with.

“I just like the tone of it,” he said.

The Navy, he said, taught him a lot of things, perhaps, most importantly, “that a kid at 18 can learn discipline, strict discipline.”

But it was his time at Great Lakes where he got his education in music. The town is just 40 miles from Chicago and Donaldson would make the trip into Chi Town to see the greats.

“I had never been to a big city like Chicago, so I would go into the city on the weekends and see all these great jazz musicians like Charlie Parker and Billy Eckstine, he said. “I saw them and I thought, ‘Oh, that’s what I want to do.’”

It was jazz saxophonist and composer Parker, though, who made the biggest musical influence on Donaldson.

“I heard Charlie Parker, and I wanted to play like him,” he said. “I wanted to play that style so that kept me interested in it.”

In 1952, Donaldson moved to New York City, where he was a bandleader for Blue Note Records.

Donaldson’s career took off when he recorded “Blues Walk” in 1958. The record could be found in jukeboxes and allowed people to dance. His next big hit was in 1967 with “Alligator Bogaloo,” which became a bona fide hit for Donaldson.

But “Blues Walk” still holds a special place in his heart.

“It’s my theme song, my warm-up song,” he said. “(The crowd) knows it. That’s why I play it.”

But it would be 20 more years before he earned the nickname of “Sweet Poppa Lou.” Bob Porter, a DJ for WBGO, was the one who gave Donaldson his moniker.

“I made a record for him and I played a couple of sweet songs,” he said. “And (Porter) said ‘The tone is sweet. He’s Sweet Poppa.’”

As he continues in his career, Donaldson admits that jazz music isn’t what it used to be.

“There’s not too much good jazz being played,” he said.

Today’s jazz, he said, is too intellectual.

“It’s not compatible with the general public because the musicians study too much,” he said. “They go to school and they study and they know too much about the music. Back in our days, we played whatever the people liked. That’s what we played.”

Donaldson blames it on the generations raised on television, who think show first, music second.

“We might have stood up, but we never did any dancing or anything like that,” he said. “We just played the music.”

He said when it comes to music, he remembers the teaching from his mentors long ago: “Don’t try to teach them, entertain them.”

That, Donaldson said, is good advice.

Donaldson, too, said he’s looking forward to his time in Harpers Ferry to meet up with Tucker, who he’s known for at least 30 years.

“He’s a great guy,” Donaldson said. “He’s outstanding.”

If you go …       

WHAT: Don Redman Heritage Award and Concert

WHEN: 6 p.m. Saturday, June 30

WHERE: Mather Training Center lawn, Fillmore Street, Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

COST: Free admission

CONTACT: For information and directions, call 304-535-6298

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