A celebrated chanteuse and songwriter with a signature breathy, voice, Donna Lewis soared to fame in 1996 with the dance-pop classic “I Love You Always Forever.” People around the globe still have boundless affection for the smash-hit song, but the Welsh native is an artist of many dimensions, equally at home with catchy pop tunes as she is with jazz, acoustic, electronica, and beyond.
Lewis’s most recent album, Brand New Day (2015), is a striking departure from anything she’s done before. Produced by her longtime friend and collaborator David Torn, who arranged all the songs, the album redefines her as an artist with its jazz-inflected cover tunes and genre-busting original songs. Along with the open quality that her fans love, Brand New Day has an inviting intimacy complemented by the progressive jazz musicians Ethan Iverson (piano), Reid Anderson (bass), and Dave King (drums).
Lewis grew up in a musical family in Cardiff, Wales. Her father was a self-taught jazz-style pianist and guitarist. A fan of jazz singers including Ella Fitzgerald and Mel Torme, as well as piano rock king Elton John, she started piano herself at age 6 and began writing her own songs at 14. Classically trained at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, Lewis majored in flute and piano (she’d become an honorary fellow of the school in 2000). Upon graduating, she spent a year teachers training in Sussex and then moved to Birmingham, playing solo shows and pairing with local bar bands. Lewis went on to hone her unique style in piano bars across Europe, developing a loyal fan base and retreating to her home studio to write songs and record demos.
A demo of “I Love You Always Forever” found its way to Atlantic Records Chairman Doug Morris, who was so enamored with the tune that he flew Lewis to New York to meet him and offered her a deal on the spot. Featured on her 1996 debut album, Now in a Minute, the breakthrough hit remained at the number two spot on Billboard's Hot 100 chart for nine consecutive weeks and ultimately reached platinum status. The record was an international sensation, and “I Love You Always Forever” became the first song ever to get a million spins on American radio and the third best-selling tune in the history of Atlantic Records. On the heels of this success, doors of opportunity opened—from cameo television appearances to the chance to record “At the Beginning,” a duet with Richard Marx on the soundtrack of the animated 1997 film Anastasia.
Lewis’s second album for the label, Blue Planet (1998), spawned two hits including “Love Him,” which topped the Billboard dance charts. While on hiatus to start a family, she left her mark on such projects as The Art of Noise’s The Seduction of Claude Debussy; the all-star 2001 benefit album, Utopia; and a collaboration with Italian producers Souled Out on the cowritten track “Take me O,” which stormed to Ibiza success in 2000. She also began her creative partnership with Torn, a guitarist and studio wizard known for his film scores (including Friday Night Lights and Lars and the Real Girl). In 2001, five electronically textured songs Torn and Lewis wrote and recorded for the Chute project were the most requested on L.A.’s beloved KCRW for three weeks running.
Next came the stripped-down acoustic sound of her independently produced 2002 album, Be Still, which marked a back-to-basics return to voice and piano-driven songs. This would point the way to Brand New Day—but first came Lewis’s high-energy 2008 album, In the Pink, produced by Gerry Leonard, the Irish guitarist known for his work with Bowie, which was praised for its “supremely undeniable Euro-style catchiness.” The single “Shout” became a top 5 radio song in Southeast Asia and was also featured in the Irish independent movie 32A.
In 2011 Lewis wrote the song “Follow my Way,” produced by David Lowe for the independent documentary Street Journeys, and in 2012 she collaborated with the progressive house duo Project 46 and DubVision to release “You and I” on Spinnin’ Records, which reached top 5 on the Beatport chart.
In 2015 Lewis and Torn began planning the Brand New Day project with executive producer Jeff Resnick. It was, said Torn, pure “kismet” that he and Lewis were able to get Iverson, Anderson, and King—also known as the trio The Bad Plus—for Brand New Day. The album powerfully reinvents cover songs including David Bowie’s “Bring Me the Disco King” and tunes by Neil Young, Damien Rice, and Chocolate Genius—and serves up two new Lewis originals, “Sleep” and “Brand New Day,” as well as a rapturous new version of “I Love You Always Forever.”