Madonna’s famed backup singer Donna De Lory on ditching pop for devotional music and why Kabbalah wasn’t for her
LOS ANGELES – Donna De Lory spent decades performing in sold out arenas as Madonna’s leading back-up singer, but now, she’s set out to become the face of devotional music. Her new album “The Unchanging” is her most artistic and deeply personal to-date – a far cry from bopping under spotlights to “Like a Virgin” and “Holiday.”
“My initial passion was just to sing, it gave me such bliss. But at some point in my life, I wanted to be of service to other people,” De Lory told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column. “I want my voice to be that vehicle that heals the hearts of others. I love having fun and dancing, and I love the celebration of performing, but I want to use my voice for something more.”
De Lory’s musical path originates from a strong family legacy – her grandfather was a musician in the Warner Bros. studio orchestra, working on classic films including “Casablanca” and “Gone With the Wind,” while her father was a part of Phil Spector’s band, additionally playing keyboard for the Beach Boys and producing several Glen Campbell hits. By the end of her teen years, De Lory was lending her unique voice to albums by the likes of Carly Simon, Bette Midler, Selena and Belinda Carlisle, while at the same time delving into the religious practices and spiritual philosophies that shape the music she makes today.
“I was babysitting as a teenager in Beverly Hills and the mom said ‘come to Church.’ It was about going inside yourself and healing your own suffering and being part of a community,” she recalled. “I love finding the truth in every religion. One grandmother was a Catholic and the other was a Christian, and I see clearly that it is all pointing reference to the same place…I hope when people hear my music they will just hear how much I love God and how thankful I am.”
But it was in 1987-- when De Lory was barely 21 years old-- that she became part of Madonna’s exclusive touring ensemble, becoming the Queen of Pop’s right-hand woman for the legendary “Who’s that Girl,” “Blonde Ambition,” “Drowned World,” “Girlie Show” and “Confessions” tours. She then soared to notoriety in Alek Keshishian’s iconic documentary “Truth or Dare.” And when you are keeping company with the big M, it comes as no surprise that her devotion to Kabbalah would come into play.
“Kabbalah, all of a sudden, was mandatory. I thought it couldn’t hurt, but it wasn’t my belief system per se. However, two times the teacher tied on the [Kabbalah symbol of the] red-string, and two times I watched it untie and come off me,” De Lory noted. “They tie these things and knot them and they aren’t supposed to come off for a long time. After it came off two times on its own, I figured that I didn’t need that to protect me.”
The 2008 “Sticky & Sweet” tour marked the first time in more than two decades that she wasn’t by Madonna’s side on-stage, and De Lory, who now resides with her husband and two young children in California’s Topanga Canyon, chose to skip last year’s “MDNA” showdown as well.
“I looked at some clips online. I know her and what she is trying to do. But the whole thing in trying to advocate non-violence and then be on stage with guns?” De Lory observed. “Even though she is very wealthy and very famous, Madonna is still human and like all of us, she is trying to figure it all out. She was always a great example for me; she worked so hard and wanted something so badly.”
Early on, that extraordinary level of stardom was what De Lory wanted too. In 1993, she debuted as pop solo artist with a self-titled album through MCA/Universal Records – even recording a song that didn’t make Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” album as her own – but it soon became apparent that the Tinseltown machine just wasn’t her jam.
“I would go to her parties, name any star and they would be there. But these people weren’t my friends. I didn’t feel comfortable. To think of myself in a scene like that felt empty,” De Lory explained. “And I got more and more into world music and the record company was like, what is she tripping on? They were telling me I was overweight, I looked too big in my music videos. I was belly-dancing and wanted my stomach to actually be a stomach. I stood up and told them tough luck, I had already passed that point in my 20’s of being so insecure with trying to be skinny.”
And even though De Lory became suspicious when camera crews started following them around in 1990 with the claim that “Madonna just wants home footage” and warned everyone else to be careful about what they said, one Hollywood star almost caused her undoing.
“I had a French boyfriend I met on the first tour, we were going to breakup, but we were holding off. So I was off with Madonna in London and I met Robert Downey Jr. He just rocked my world. We started hanging out,” she added with a nervous smile. “Then in ‘Truth or Dare’ they asked me if I had ever messed around on my boyfriend and told the truth. Sitting in the screening, I was so afraid, even though I was breaking up with my boyfriend, that he would see this… Luckily, none of that about me ended up in there.”
De Lory’s new album “The Unchanging” is now available on iTunes