Lou Donaldson, alto saxophonist, recording star and entertainer extraordinaire was born in Badin, North Carolina on November 1, 1926. He is the child of parents, Lucy Wallace Donaldson, mother, and Louis Andrew Donaldson, Sr., father. His mother was a first grade teacher at Badin High School, Musical Director at the school, and a concert pianist who was a graduate of Cheney University. His father was a graduate of Livingstone College, an AME Zion minister, and insurance agent. Lou is the second of 4 children, between older sister Margaret and younger sister Elizabeth and brother William, all of whom ended up involved with music. Lou never studied piano because his mother had a switch that she would crack across the fingers when students missed a note. That turned him completely away from being a pianist. When he was about 9 years old, she heard him singing or humming all of the piano etudes that the students played and she took him aside and told him that he had more musical talent than anyone in the family and that he needed to play some type of instrument. She got a clarinet from the Band Director, Leo Gabriel, at the Alcoa Aluminum Plant Band. Although she knew nothing about the clarinet, she taught him basic music and they used the clarinet book to learn the fingerings and how to play the clarinet. Lou mastered the instrument and this ignited his pursuit of a career in music.
At age 15, Lou matriculated to North Carolina A& T College where he received a Bachelor's of Science degree and joined the marching band playing clarinet. After being drafted into the US Navy in 1945, he played in the Great Lakes Navy Band where, when playing for dances, he would also play the alto saxophone. After going into Chicago several times, he heard of Charlie Parker and, after checking him out, he decided that this was the style of playing he would make his own. Previously he had played like Johnny Hodges, or Tab Smith, or another saxophonist named Pete Brown. Returning from the military back to North Carolina A& T College, he played in the dance band led by Billy Tolles, who was a great saxophonist who played with several groups and with the Sabby Lewis Band during the summer months in Boston. Touring bands, such as Count Basie, Erskine Hawkins, Buddy Johnson, and Andy Kirk—all dance bands, used to come through Greensboro, North Carolina periodically four or five times a year. The students from the school would go down sometimes and sit in with the bands, all of which prompted the musicians in the band to tell them to come to New York. Lou never did go to New York then because he was also playing baseball which he loved dearly. But Illinois Jacquet came through with a tremendous band and Lou sat in with this band. The drummer was Poppa Joe Jones who, without any reservations, told Lou to come to New York and checked him in his hotel behind the Apollo Theater. Also, there was an Army band stationed in Greensboro that had several musicians of note: James Moody, Dave Burns, Joe Gale, and Walter Fuller and they insisted that Lou go to New York to establish himself as a musician. They assured him he would be welcomed and that he would be able to “cut the mustard”. Taking this advice, Lou went to New York in 1950 or late 49. Being a GI and a Veteran he enrolled in the Darrow Institute of Music, which was a GI school, and was paid a monthly stipend so that he could survive. While at the school, he played many small clubs in Harlem where he lived at 127th Street and 8th Avenue with his new wife, Maker. Maker was his longtime sweetheart from North Carolina and remained his wife and business partner for 56 years until her death in 2006. Together they raised two children—Lydia, deceased, who was a nurse and educational recruiter, and Dr. E. Carol Webster, clinical psychologist and author who resides in Fort Lauderdale and who, along with husband Charles, founded the African American Success Foundation that Lou very happily supports each year by doing a Jazz Benefit.