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Donald Ulysses Walden: Career, Parents, Songs, and Awards

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Donald Ulysses Walden, a jazz musician, was born on July 12, 1938, parents Gracie Buck and Louis Walden. From 1938 to 1946, the family resided in Clarksville, Tennessee. Walden’s mother took him to see bands who were touring the South because of his musical talent. At the age of eight, Walden made the decision to pursue a career as a “stand-up saxophonist” after hearing the Silas Green Band from New Orleans, a well-known band of the time.

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The Walden family relocated to Detroit, Michigan, in 1946. Around the age of 15, Walden began studying music at the Detroit Community Music School and the Larry Teal School of Music. He got to know saxophonist Yusef Lateef and pianist Barry Harris while he was a student at Chadsey High School. Alto saxophone Charles McPherson, drummer Roy Brooks, and trumpeter Lonnie Hillyer were among Walden’s contemporaries.

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During the “Loft Movement” of 1960, Walden moved to New York along with many other Detroit musicians. But by 1966, he had returned to Detroit in order to seek other musical chances, such as those in Rhythm and Blues. He was a member of Aretha Franklin’s band in 1968, and his name appears on the CD Aretha in Paris. Additionally, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, and The Four Tops were on tour with Walden.

The original Detroit Jazz Orchestra (DJO), which Walden founded in 1981 and featured a 16-piece string section, was widely praised by critics across the country. He was given the Michigan Governor’s Art Award in 1985, and in 1996, he became just the sixth musician from Detroit to receive Arts Midwest’s Jazz Master Award. The Alain Locke Award and the Legends of Jazz International Hall of Fame Award are two further honors worth mentioning.

“Yardbird Suite,” which Walden released in 1990 at the Detroit International Jazz Festival as a tribute to Charlie Parker, was his most significant recording. A big band with 18 strings, a 30-voice chorus, director Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, and soloist Dizzy Gillespie were assembled for the “Yardbird Suite.” A Portrait of You (1992), A Monk & A Mingus Among Us (1998), and Focus: The Music of Tadd Dameron are three independent recordings that Walden created (2003). He also served as a jazz educator at the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and the Center for Creative Studies.

At the age of 69, Donald Walden passed away in Detroit on April 6, 2008. Deidre and Aisha Walden, Walden’s daughters, are left behind.

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