Music, sausage and education

Music, sausage and education
Music, sausage and education
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To see Richmond native Donna Meade performing on stage, you wouldn’t know that being an entertainer wasn’t her chosen career. According to her, it is more about family DNA and a marriage move to Nashville. You might know her better as Donna Meade Dean, the wife of the late country music icon and self-proclaimed “sausage king” Jimmy Dean. Before being pursued by Jimmy, she had become a legitimate force on the Nashville music scene. She performed regularly in one of the city’s biggest clubs and was a writer who even secured a recording contract and released albums. She said the music career wasn’t what she really wanted to do, but it was all she knew how to do and she needed to make a living.


She met Jimmy on the TV talk show “Nashville Tonight.” One thing led to another and a choice – go on the road promoting her career or dedicate herself to a life with Jimmy. “I told the record company no. I’m going to go sell sausage.” It’s a decision about which she has no real regrets, although recent history would say the performance bug never really left her. After Jimmy’s passing Donna felt it was OK to once again step out of the long shadow cast by Jimmy and begin performing on a limited basis.


Having not sung regularly for over 24 years, she laments that her voice is not as strong as it used to be. But what she may lack in vocal strength is more than made up with charisma and the ability to truly connect with an audience. In my mind, that’s the difference between being just a singer or being a performer, which Donna truly is. Around town she still has a dedicated following that was highlighted by a successful show at last year’s State Fair – a show that, according to fair officials, was the fair’s second biggest draw (eclipsed only by Charlie Daniels). That’s the benefit of having true roots in a community, roots this girl from Richmond’s East End has never forgotten, “I like to think I’m a down-to-earth kind of gal. I don’t know of any other way, or person, to be but to just be myself.”


Donna joined the Honky Tonk Experience (see Sifter’s HTE review) for two sold out shows at the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen this past week. The shows were part of the center’s 2nd Stage series, which is held in their intimate Cardinal ballroom. She performed a handful of well-known numbers including Patsy Cline’s standard “Walking After Midnight.” You can hear the authenticity and soul in her voice that complements any song she does. It reminds me a lot of a later day Loretta Lynn.


 On stage croppedThis Mother’s Day, Donna will rejoin the Experience on stage, along with country music Hall-of-Famer Bill Anderson, as part of the Jimmy Dean Music Festival. Proceeds will benefit Henricus Historical Park in Chester to assist in building an education center. Supporting education was important to Jimmy (and Donna), “He was a stickler for education and very much a supporter because of his lack of much formal education due to his family’s circumstances.”  That monetary support, from the Dean Foundation, has included schools here in the Richmond area, as well as schools in Jimmy’s home state of Texas. This festival is just Donna’s way to continue that philanthropic legacy, hopefully on an annual basis.


AN EXCLUSIVE TIP TO SIFTER READERS  Donna will also be performing two nights in November at the Cultural Center’s main auditorium with local favorites Robbin Thompson, Steve Basset, Susan Greenbaum and the Richmond Symphony. You heard it here first!


Donna talks about getting her musical DNA:

HTE and Donna cropped









Photos: Staunton I. Cottrell


  1. Enjoyed this article very much….:-)

  2. Great job Bill. I enjoyed reading and listening, Perfect 10!! Looking forward to the JD Music Festival. Keep up the good work!

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