Emma Donovan
Australian singer
Emma Donovan
Emma Donovan is an Indigenous Australian singer and songwriter. She is a member of the renowned Australian musical family the Donovan family. She started her singing career at age seven with her uncle's band, The Donovans. In 2000 she became a founding member of Stiff Gins, leaving the band three years later to release the solo album Changes in 2004. She performs with The Black Arm Band, and released a solo EP, Ngaaraanga, in 2009.
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  • 2010
    Age 29
    She has also performed her solo material at the Royal Festival Hall and London, Musee de Quai Branli in Paris, the Benaki Museum in Athens, the Tjibaou Cultural Centre in New Caledonia, the Treaty Grounds of Waitangi in New Zealand, and the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
    More Details Hide Details She has sung with and performed with indigenous Australian musicians such as Frank Yamma, her cousin Casey Donovan, Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter, Kerriane Cox, Christine Anu, Tiddas, Yothu Yindi, and Jimmy Little. She has also performed with Paul Kelly, Ursula Yovich, and Shellie Morris. Donovan has appeared in or been featured in a handful of documentaries. The documentary Gumbayngirr Lady featured Donovan, and was filmed and aired by the Special Broadcasting Service in 2004 as part of their BLAKTRAX series. The hour-long film followed Donovan to her home region of Macksville, New South Wales. In 2005 she appeared in the ABC series Dynasties (episode 5), which was filmed on location in Woodford, Queensland while she was performing at the Dreaming Festival. In 2003 Donovan was nominated for Female Artist of the Year at The Deadlys, which were held at the Sydney Opera House. The next year she performed at the Deadly Awards, as well as at the opening of the 2004 Olympic Torch Relay. She was again nominated for a Deadly award in 2005.
    A music video for the single was shot in Donovan's home region of Nambucca, and released in May 2010.
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  • 2009
    Age 28
    She won Best Female Artist and her single "Ngarraanga" won Best R&B Single at the inaugural 2009 BUMP Awards. "Ngarraanga" was also nominated for two 2009 Deadly Awards; Single of the Year and Best Female Artist.
    More Details Hide Details Donovan's single "Changes" won the "New Artists 2 Radio Competition" for the Adult Contemporary genre and was picked up by major commercial networks across the country. The first time the award went to an Indigenous artist. "Ngarraanga" and "Changes" were also nominated in the 2010 Top 5 Australian Independent MusicOz Awards. Donovan's singing and songwriting frequently blends reggae, gospel, smooth soul, roots, and country music. Although she has stated she is proud of her Naaguja, Yamatji, and Danggali tribal heritage, she most frequently expresses her Gumbaynggirr heritage from her mother's side in her music, often singing in the traditional language. Emma is based in Sydney. She remains close with her cousin Casey Donovan, who in 2004 became the youngest winner of the Australian Idol competition at 16. Casey is the daughter of Merv and Tracy Donovan. Stiff Gins
    She won Best Female Artist at the 2009 BUMP Awards.
    More Details Hide Details Donovan appeared in the ABC series Dynasties in 2004, and was the subject of the 2005 SBS TV documentary Emma Donovan: Gumbainggir Lady.
    She performs with The Black Arm Band, and released a solo EP, Ngaaraanga, in 2009.
    More Details Hide Details She has been nominated for multiple Deadly Awards including Female Artist of the Year, and performed at the opening of the 2004 Olympic Torch Relay.
  • 2007
    Age 26
    In 2007 she performed at the WOMADELAIDE festival, various festivals in Melbourne, and the Sydney Opera House with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
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    Simultaneously while working on murundaki in 2007, Donovan was working on more of her own material with drummer Yanya Boston.
    More Details Hide Details The pair co-wrote the single "Ngarranga – Remember", intended as a prayer to acknowledge the Stolen Generations experience. It was initially released on the Kimberly Stolen Generation Corporation's 2007 compilation CD Cry Stolen.
    Donovan was invited to become the youngest member of The Black Arm Band in 2007.
    More Details Hide Details The travelling group performed a stage musical called Murundak/Alive – The Black Arm Band, which reproduced iconic songs of the Aboriginal resistance movement. The show toured England and Canada to great acclaim. The cast consists of a rotating line-up of Australian indigenous musicians, and in 2007 murundak won the Helpmann Award for Best Contemporary Music Concert for murundak.
  • 2006
    Age 25
    In 2006 she performed at the Perth Festival of the Arts, the Australian Performing Arts market in Adelaide, the Waitangi Day Ceremony in New Zealand, The Dreaming Festival in Queensland, and a short tour to Paris.
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    Which Way Program (2006) In 2006, Donovan went into the studio to record three songs with longtime writing partner Yanya Boston, a drummer she had met while performing with the Stiff Gins.
    More Details Hide Details She also worked with Rob Wolf and Adam Ventoura. Among the songs were "Lonely" and "He's Just A Kid." At the time she was a participant in the Music NSW industry program Which Way.
  • 2005
    Age 24
    In 2005, Donovan embarked on an Australian tour to promote the album.
    More Details Hide Details Some of her popular singles from the album were included on Indigenous compilations; "Koori Time" was included on the Sending a Message album put out by ABC, and "Gumbayngirr Lady" was included on the Fresh Salt compilation. The album made radio playlists throughout Australia, including the Qantas Inflight radio station, which added the single "Changes" into regular rotation. In 2007, Wendy Martin of the Sydney Opera House stated "Emma is one of the most requested artists on Koori Radio 93.7FM since the release of her CD Changes, and is fast becoming one of the most popular live performers in Sydney." "Changes" was released as a single on 15 February 2010 on MGM.
  • 2004
    Age 23
    Donovan released her debut solo album Changes in 2004.
    More Details Hide Details The Sydney launch of the album was well received. The style was a blend of soul, gospel, and reggae, with country undertones.
  • 2003
    Age 22
    After touring both nationally and internationally, Donovan left the group in 2003 to work on solo material with industry professionals.
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  • 1999
    Age 18
    In late 1999, Donovan formed the vocal acoustic band Stiff Gins with Nardi Simpson and Kaleena Briggs after meeting at the Eora College.
    More Details Hide Details They released their first EP, Soh Fa, on Sony Records in 2000. Donovan co-wrote their second release, the full album Origins. The album won the 2000 Deadly Award for Most Promising New Talent. Their single "Morning Star" won the Deadly's Best Single Release in 2001.
  • 1997
    Age 16
    Education Emma's family moved frequently, and she attended multiple schools in New South Wales and WA, with an extended time spent at North Newtown Primary. In 1997, at age sixteen, Donovan was studying contemporary music at the Eora College for Performing Arts in Chippendale, New South Wales.
    More Details Hide Details The school was founded to provide educations for Indigenous students. She began branching out from country music, exploring reggae and R&B as well.
  • 1981
    Age 0
    Heritage Emma Donovan was born in 1981 at Liverpool, Australia, a suburb of Sydney.
    More Details Hide Details Her father, Neville Councillor, is from Geraldton in Western Australia, and he's of Naaguja and Yamatji heritage. Her mother, Agnes Donovan, is a Gumbainggir/Danggali woman from the Nambucca Valley on the north coast of New South Wales, where Emma was raised. Music Donovan's musical singing career started at a young age. Her grandparents Micko and Aileen Donovan, years before her birth, founded the Aboriginal country band The Donovans, which consisted of their five sons and daughter Agnes singing at local events. Emma's uncles still perform as the Donovan Brothers band. At the age of seven Emma began periodically singing with the Donovans. Her family and mother Agnes encouraged and supported her singing, Agnes taking her to talent competitions around the country. Agnes also helped developed Aboriginal showcases at the Tamworth Country Music Festival in the late 1990s, which Emma took part in.
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