HER*STORY: Donna Frost

There are those who will dismiss you because you are a woman. But I never let that get in my way. I was determined to become my own person, reliant on no one to do what I do.

Donna Frost

Donna Frost / Singer-Songwriter / Age 58 / Hendersonville, Tennessee

Donna Frost was born into a family gospel group and hit the road with them at two weeks old. She decided she wanted to be a performer at age six after witnessing the Beatles phenomenon on the Ed Sullivan Show and she has been a full-time touring artist for the past 23 years.

I sold Christmas cards at the age of nine to make my own money to buy a piano.  My aunt gave me my first guitar. Later on, when I was older, she paid for me to go to Belmont University to study music. She also bought my brother and I a van and an equipment trailer for us to tour in when we were older with our rock band.

Donna was influenced by all kinds of artists in every genre but became attached to one in particular–one of the first women to achieve major success as a solo artist in the country music industry. Skeeter Davis’ hit single, The End of the World, is still a favorite today and I can definitely hear her influence in Donna’s music.

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As a child, my first hero was the late Skeeter Davis, who was my idol and became my mentor when I was an adult. I sang with her the last eight years of her life in the 1990’s – early 2000’s.

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Donna Frost with Skeeter Davis

Donna also found steadfast support from her mother–the “rock” of her family–and her aunt, Mary Lynch Jarvis.

Pop album

(Jarvis) was a pioneer…for women who worked in the industry. She was Chet Atkins’ right hand at RCA for 20 years and blazed a trail for women in the music industry.

Being a woman in the music industry is certainly difficult. There’s the Good Old Boys club; there were the occasional dominating males I worked with in some of the bands who tried to push me around…I’m very independent. Now it’s the ageism thing sometimes. But, overall, I’m very blessed. I’m busier now than I’ve ever been with my music, and, as I said…I’m self-reliant.  I perform and tour by myself most times.  I book the gigs, I drive, I roadie, I play and sing, I do everything for myself. And I like it that way. My experiences with my bandmates through the years have been great overall,especially the bands I have played in with my brother and with my good friends. I’m fortunate.

How do you define success?

To me, success is loving what you do, doing what you love, and I see myself as successful because I have been doing this since I was a teenager. I have been a full-time touring artist since 1993 and I have had so many rich experiences, so many wonderful people in my life that are my friends…friends I would not have had were it not for my music.

Back when I was younger, I was like everyone else. I thought a major label deal and becoming a big star was what I wanted. It didn’t happen that way. And the older I got, the more my priorities and expectations changed. I have learned there’s more to life.

I also am involved in several programs that help others through music. In addition to my shows as an artist, I play several shows each month for Music for Seniors, which brings music to the elderly (some of them are Alzheimer and dementia patients). I am an ambassador for Ukulele Kids Club, which places ukuleles in hospitals for sick kids. Prior to that I was with Musicians On Call for five years (We brought live music to hospitals and hospices.) and Songs of Love for five years (writing and producing songs for terminally ill children).

Being able to give back with my music is very important to me. That means more than any record deal or fame and fortune. I am quite happy with my life. I’m thankful that I’m so busy at age 58 and still able to go do my thing!

Ukebilly

A couple of years ago, life threw Donna a curve-ball and it turned out to be the beginning of a new chapter in her music.

I’m currently promoting my 5th CD and first all original Ukulele music album, Ukeabilly Mama, which came about when I was recovering from my accident (broken arm) and surgery two years ago. I had to cancel six weeks of shows but I was playing my Ukulele, writing music and rehearsing. When the accident happened, the doctors said I would not be able to perform for 6-8 months but I proved them wrong. The Ukulele saved my life and gave me a cool new angle to my career. It has opened some new doors and set me on an amazing journey.

What are you working on next? Is there something you’d still like to see happen in your career?

I’m always writing new songs and hope to get in the studio to record my 6th CD in the months ahead. I’ve written close to 300 songs and have only recorded about 60 of them. I am currently writing my first book, Guitars, Ukes and Sequin Boots-My Life in Song, which I’ve been working on for a couple of years and hope to have out soon as well. Something I would love to see happen would be having some of my songs placed in films and TV shows. That is what I would like most!

Which actress would play you in the movie of your life?

Bette Davis or Diane Keaton.

You can hear Donna’s music, check tour dates and more on her page at REVERBNATION.

Red guitar

#52FilmsByWomen: THE PIG CHILD

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27/52 THE PIG CHILD

I’ve never been able to stomach graphic or violent horror movies but, once in a while, a film comes comes along that is pure horror and I have a great appreciation for that. Pure horror taps into the dark and scary places of our human psyche–exploring them through story and metaphor so that we can safely look into the face of our fears and desires.

Directed by Lucy Campbell, THE PIG CHILD follows a female scientist who, driven by her experiments with human/animal DNA, decides to surrogate an illegal pig-human embryo using her own body. This short film follows the consequences of that heedless decision.

Campbell is currently in development on her feature re-imagining of the Frankenstein story and this short was the result of some of that research. It’s garnered a great deal of festival play and award nominations and wins. Campbell’s work reminds me of Hitchcock’s films combined with the original Twilight Zone series…both of which terrified and fascinated me as a child. After seeing this short, I’m so looking forward to what she does with Frankenstein.

WATCH THE PIG CHILD

#52FilmsByWomen: WAITRESS

 

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I’m halfway through a year of films directed by woman. This week I want to talk about the legacy left behind by Adrienne Shelly, who gifted us with this one film, before her death by homicide at the age of 40.

Shelly was a working actor, primarily in television, who originally wrote the principal role in Waitress for herself. Not only did she write, direct and act in the film in a supporting role, but she also wrote songs for it and co-designed sets and costumes. It was a labor of love and passion.

Waitress is a favorite of mine (and I know for many other people as well) because I find myself returning to it in moment of sadness or loneliness. It is comfort food, in much the same way Jenna’s pies comfort her in the midst of her sadness and loneliness. While I mourn the fact that we’ll never have another Adrienne Shelly film, this one work fully encapsulates what I think must have been her defining outlook on life. The characters are funny but sharp, the situations bleak but girded with hope, the colors transforming from muted to vibrant as Jenna bursts through her circumstances to take up her true place in the world. It is a kooky comedy laced with grim reality and keen observations. Shelly had a singular voice and style; this film is hers through and through.

Shelly barely saw her film completed and submitted to Sundance before her murder (by an undocumented office construction worker) in November of 2006. Initially ruled a suicide, it was only the persistence of her husband that pushed detectives to uncover clues leading to her killer’s identity and confession of murder, which was the result of a random attack.

Watching Shelly’s film through the lens of her death–as most everyone has–is a supremely bittersweet experience. The film itself is a joyful celebration of life and hope. Shelly turns in a poignantly funny and pitch-perfect performance as Jenna’s waitress friend Dawn. And, of course, the film’s ending never fails to elicit tears from me. As Jenna finishes a day at her pie diner and heads home into the sunset, she carries in her arms Adrienne Shelly’s two-year old daughter, who played Jenna’s daughter in the film. The little girl smiles, waves and shrieks “Bye bye!” to the other two waitresses standing outside the diner, one of whom was her mother.

Adrienne’s husband established the Adrienne Shelly Foundation, which supports women filmmakers. The film was recently developed as a stage musical and is currently enjoying a successful Broadway run. Shelly’s legacy as an artist impacted not only the audiences who saw and continue to see her work but the many other female artists who, ten years later, are still following in her footsteps.

 

 

 

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