Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Dondria: An overnight sing-sation

Dondrina Dondrina Dondrina

Dondria is never one to try too hard.

This hot Aug. 9, 2010 afternoon, she makes it clear that she’s performing one song. 'In and out', she tells a bystander. From the time she enters the media lounge at Atlanta’s Georgia World Congress Center for the massive Bronner Bros. Hair Show, Dondria’s charisma and positive attitude shine. She greets the crowd before she performs. She laughs for a bit. Offstage, she continues to be the center of camera flashing: constantly posing with her hands on her hips and a million-dollar Colgate smile.

The caramel-toned and long curly-haired young lady is quite comfortable: wearing a blue leather vest, light blue ripped Levi’s shorts, gold open-toed heels, and gold bangles. Dondria gives hugs left and right without losing her smile. Even on stage as the amps and microphones give out, she keeps on singing. When holding this conversation, Dondria stands comfortably by a column outside of the lounge and drinks out of a bottle of Dasani. Dondria is laid back with every response: glaring eye contact and minor hand gestures. She is a purveyor of quality -- never missing an opportunity to thank her supporters.

Dondria Nicole Fields has a wonderful voice with incredible range, vibrato, and crescendos where it counts: obviously a skill and gift tailored in the church choir that heavily idolizes Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, and Etta James. The 23 year-old Dover, OK born, Sasche, TX raised singer and songwriter has music in her blood next to a small treble clef tattooed above her right ankle. Her first single under producer Jermaine Dupri’s So So Def imprint, 'You’re the One', opens with an organ riff layered under her powerhouse vocals and a sound potent enough to take listeners to a Sunday morning service. The follow-up melodic crunk single, 'Shawty Wus Up', cranks it up a notch with assistance from vocalist/songwriter Johnta Austin and rapper Diamond. Another single, 'Makin’ Love', features a looped Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes sample and is an ode to true love.

But Dondria knows she wants more. Her music and style resurges a lost art. “I’m definitely tryin’ to do my part in bringing that real R&B and soul back, which is really not relevant right now,” she says. “Everybody’s tryin’ to crossover and do pop or, you know, make it more hip hop, but nobody is really embracing the real R&B. So that’s what I’m doing, and that’s what’s gonna set me apart.”

Call it cruel intentions, but music wasn’t really a priority. It doesn’t start as Dondria’s passion, but she would grow to accept it. Dondria’s mother encourages her to join the church choir and take advantage of her vocal talents. She knows her young daughter has skills unlike any other. “My mom says that even when she was bathing me in the tub, I was singing,” Dondria remembers. “I wasn’t really feelin’ it, but it’s just one of those things like when you’re mom makes you go to Sunday school, you just go. I just developed a passion.” As she grows up, the cycle would only continue, and Dondria’s talent would gain more recognition than she would ever imagine. She would enroll in Tarleton State University, a college not too far from Dallas/Fort Worth, and major in music. Also quick to recognize her incredible range and impressive ability, Dondria’s superiors only feed her more encouragement.

“All my voice teachers strived for me,” she remembers. “They made me try out for solos, and they made me try out to do these competitions. All this stuff at one point in time, I wasn’t really interested in, but I guess just developing the understanding that I have a gift. I’m expected to use this gift for good and spread joy – spread what God has given me, and I’m supposed to share it. I guess I just understood that. I realize I really have something, and people are embracing it. Now, I wouldn’t do anything. I can’t. I wouldn’t do anything else.”

Dondria never minds joking around. She knows her voice wasn’t the only thing big on her. Her college roommate, noticing Dondria’s huge appetite for food, gives her the nickname “Phatfffat.” Needless to say, the name fits. “I’m little, but I eat a lot,” she says followed by a slight gush of chuckles. “I can throw down.”

Taking it in stride, Dondria runs with the joke. She uses “Phatfffat” as her screen alter ego on YouTube in 2006. She would make mini-videos of herself singing customized versions of popular R&B records. Before long, her online enigma would build an online cult following in the States and abroad (as far as Australia according to Dondria) amassing 3 million page views and over 20 million video views total on her channel. “I wouldn’t imagine that anything would happen like that,” she says. “I just reached a broader audience with it. It’s amazing.” She knows her genuine spirit makes her a marketable brand to be reckoned with. “I’ve had such a big following on YouTube because I’m real, I’m down to earth. I’m myself. I’m not puttin’ on a façade about how glamorous this business is. It’s like the cover of a book, but nobody’s reading the book. I’m just showing everyone that it’s okay to be real. It’s okay to be yourself.”

Her cover of Ciara’s 'Promise' breaks a million views and gains a new fan in Dupri, who reaches out to Phatfffat via several unresponded messages on YouTube. Dupri requests Phatfffat and her mother to fly out to Atlanta to record with quartet Jagged Edge. And then, the dominoes start to fall.

It’s now 2007, of course, and Dupri has other plans. Phatfffat, overwhelmed with excitement just to record with Jagged Edge, would have a recording contract waiting on her. The opportunity still overwhelms and excites her to this very day. Phatfffat earns another cameo on a Bow Wow single, 'Like This', and records her first single, 'Can’t Stop', in 2008 – a '60s Motown-like song equipped with girl group overdubs, catchy piano loops, and bouncy handclaps also co-written by vocalist Chrisette Michelle. 'Why You Hurtin’ Me', a conga-induced R&B number with sonic synth riffs, puts a cheating lover on blast on record. Never one to not thank nor bless her fans, Phatfffat, now Dondria, releases a 2009 mixtape, Dondria Duets, that revisits those R&B cover records that gained her millions of fans and friends in high places. The mixtape was even available for fans to download for free.

Dondria is quite wise beyond her years. She’s not afraid to admit that she’s too young to remember certain eras of music or the quiet storm for that matter. She knows and reiterates that she’s blessed. She constantly expresses sincere gratitude as people approach her about her music and her vocal prowess. She’s assertive enough to know what she wants out of her music and from her fans. “I really want to keep pushing,” she says. “I want people to be like ‘We know – we know.’ I’m really trying to bring real R&B and soul back. When you listen to stuff that came out in the 80s and 90s, it just gave you this certain feeling. You know, it’s 2010 but you can still listen to that music and still be in your zone, still love it, and appreciate it like you did as if it were made today. So I am gonna make that music that last for years and years and years and years, and it will always be appreciated.”

Now, what starts as purely accidental is Dondria’s dream come true. The old soul’s major debut effort, Dondria vs. Phatfffat, is set for an Aug. 17 release date. The album pays homage to the social media starlet’s evolution and split personalities. Already armed with an incredible buzz, Dondria is also the opening act for vocalists Trey Songz and Monica on the Passion, Pain, and Pleasure Tour.

Even her manager looks on and respects Dondria’s focus and wisdom. She is destined to not become another conventional female vocalist, studio concoction, diva, or prima donna. Dondria’s manager is proud of her responses and knows that Dondria is golden – even as her manager tries to play with her iPhone to forward her contact information. But when it’s all said and done, Dondria wants longevity. “I wanna be appreciated, and I wanna be respected,” she says. “I’m not trying to be a one hit wonder or come out with one album and you never see me again. You don’t’ have to talk about certain things that you’re uncomfortable with or dress certain ways. You can be yourself and still make good music, still be appreciated, still be respected, and do great things. I’m trying to create a brand that is gonna last forever.”
Words Christopher Daniel

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