By Bob Andelman
Originally published November 21, 1986)
(NOTE: I was so happy to finally uncover this profile of singer Donna Allen. Not only did I enjoy her singing and performing, but I had the biggest, hugest crush on her. I could barely talk to her — and this was at least the second, maybe third time I profiled her. And somehow I missed her appearance on “The Voice” in 2013! How cool! — Bob Andelman)
This guy came up to Donna Allen after she finished a performance at The Forge in Miami Beach and made an all-too -familiar proposal. “I want to do something for you,’, he said. Sure, you do, thought the I976 Chamberlain High School homecoming queen, ex-Buccaneer cheerleader and Miss Black Tampa beauty pageant runner-up.
“I have 40 million men say, ‘I want to do something for you,’ “ says the singer. “He said, ‘I don’t want anything from you. I just want to do something for you.”
This man – whose name she won’t reveal – was different. He invested a quarter of a million dollars in Allen and her career, helping land the Tampa native a deal with the 2l/Amor label, which is distributed by Atlantic Records.
It is the break she moved to Miami for 18 months ago.
About two months ago, the first single by Donna Allen, recording artist, was released – appropriately enough titled “Serious.” Her first album, “Perfect Timing,” was just released.
DONNA ALLEN interview excerpt: “My parents always motivated me. There were times I wanted to forget (my goals). At one point I didn’t think I was going anywhere. My family said, ‘Keep at it – you’re good.’ My family was always behind me.”
“Whoever’s heard this thing has given me a thumbs up,” says Dick Kline, marketing and promotions director for 2l Records in New York. “We believe this will be a big record.”
WTMP (1150 AM) in Tampa has been playing “Serious.”
“Donna Allen is a hot property,” says Chris Turner, operations manager for the station. “I think it’s a pretty good record. I think it will be top 20, definitely.”
If it isn’t a big record, Allen will be very disappointed.
“I’m very ambitious,” she says. “I’ve always wanted more in life. There’s so much out there. If you put your mind together, believe in yourself – you can get what you want.” What Aller wants is everything.
A voracious reader and talker, she already is looking past a music career that barely has begun toward her next goal – TV anchorwoman or talk show host.
“I’ll have my own show – something like ‘Pulse Plus,’ “ she says. “[ know I could do that.”
The plan is to take a tutor on t[e road with her when she tours Europe to support the record in early 1987. Later, she says, she’ll go to college and study broadcasting.
Allen describes her current album as funk. “It’s really, really funky,” she says. “It’s Tina Turner, Chaka Khan and Janet Jackson – those three combined.”
Anyone who remembers Allen from her stints as lead singer for Maxx, the longtime house band at Mikel’s nightclub, or with Mother’s Finest, knows this woman is not making an idle boast about blending elements of Turoer, Khan and Jackson.
Former Maxx bassist Ray Villadonga, now a supervisory field representative with the U.S. Census Bureau, says, “There’s this natural charisma about Donna; she never really had to try. She looks at the audience, she grabs them. I think she has star quality.”
Mikel’s is no longer in business. But for two of the years it was open, men and women packed the dance floor and tables to watch Allen work. Her skintight outfits, flowing wigs and piercing voice were riveting
But discipline is what made Allen a success, she says. It is something she has had in many guises throughout her 27 years.
Allen first felt the limelight at Chamberlain a decade ago, when she became the school’s first black homecoming queen. Before that, she and friend Willie Kearney represented Tampa on “Soul Train,” winning second place in a national dance contest.
DONNA ALLEN interview excerpt: “I’m very ambitious. I’ve always wanted more in life. There’s so much out there. If you put your mind together, believe in yourself – you can get what you want.”
Cheerleading was something else Allen did at Chamberlain; when the NFL put a team in Tampa, the 17yearcld girl tried out and made the Swash-buc-lers squad two years in a row.
Next came the 1978 Miss Black Tampa competition, in which she was first runner-up.
Curiously, Donna Allen reached each of those mile posts without yet considering a career in music.
“I didn’t know I could sing in high school,” she says. “I was basically into dancing and acting.”
Singing wasn’t always easy for Allen.
“My parents always motivated me,” she says. “There were times I wanted to forget it. At one point I didn’t think I was going anywhere. My family said, ‘Keep at it – you’re good.’ My family was always behind me.”
There came a time when Donna Allen had to leave Mas, had to leave her hometown to spur professional growth.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be in Tampa all my life,” she says. “I needed to establish a name, and that’s what I did. If you’re interested in a career in entertainment, you have to move to Miami. Miami has more to offer. It’s like a baby New York.”
It wasn’t an easy decision for the family’s eldest child to move away from Mom and Dad (Sylvia and David), twin sister Denise, brother Dexter, sister Diane and five nephews and nieces.
“You can only stray in one city so long and do the same thing,” she reasons. “You should leave when it’s hot; move on to better things in life. Nothing is going to come to you. You have to be a little aggressive in this business.”
Nothing comes cheaply, though, especially success; Allen paid a personal price for her ambitions, breaking off a long-standing engagement.
As a recording artist it seems even tougher for Allen to meet Mr. Right.
“I’m not ready for a serious relationship,” Allen adds. “My career is important. Everything is going the’ right way, and I couldn’t do that if I was married … I only date. My only love is my career.”