Donald Newton ‘Donnie’ Van Zant, better known as Donnie Van, is an American rocker and guitarist. The country musician and former lead singer of the rock band ‘38 Special’, Donnie is the brother of Ronald ‘Ronnie’ Van Zant—the lead singer of ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd’, who was killed in a plane crash. Donnie, along with his younger brother, Johnny, also performs as ‘Van Zant’. Johnny Van Zant is currently the lead singer of the ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd’, while Donnie became the lead vocalist of ‘38 Special’. The duo recorded their first song in 1980’s for ‘Van Zant’. However, they disbanded for a while. In 1998, they came together again as ‘Van Zant’, and recorded two albums. Donnie is a part of ‘38 Special’ since 1974. However, in 2013 it was announced by the members of the band that due to health issues, Van wasn’t able to perform for six months, and might not be able to perform with the band in future as well. Donnie agreed to write and record music for the band, but unfortunately his health only deteriorated with time, and finally in late 2013, he decided to bid goodbye to the southern rock band.
Childhood & Early Life
Donnie was born Donald Newton Van Zant in Jacksonville, Floride, USA on June 11, 1952 to Lacy Van Zant and Marion . He is the middle one among three brothers.
His elder brother and rocker, Ronald ‘Ronnie’ Wayne Van Zant, died in a plane crash in Mississipi on October 20, 1977. He was in a chartered plane along with five members of his band, ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd’.
His younger brother, Jhonny, is now the lead singer of ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd’. His father Lacy Van Zant was a big supporter of the three brothers, and wanted them to follow their dreams.
Their father’s contribution in their success is huge. He neither had experience nor any source in recording music, yet he pushed his boys to become southern rockers. According to Donnie, ‘He is the father of Southern rock music’.
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Donnie co-founded ‘38 Special’ with his then neighbor, Don Barnes, in 1974. Until 2013, he remained as one of the most loyal members of the band.
In three decades of making and performing rock music, the band has sold more than 20 million copies of their albums. The extraordinary energy that the members of the band emit in their shows has connected really well with their fans.
They cover as many as 100 cities a year to perform their songs. The band has produced 15 albums since 1976.
Their Gold and Platinum albums have won countless awards and honours. Some of their many hit songs are ‘Hold on Loosely’, ‘Rockin’ into the Night’, ‘Caught up in You’, ‘Fantasy Girl’, ‘If I’d Been the One’, ‘Back Where You Belong’, ‘Chain Lightnin’, ‘Second Chance’ etc.
Most of their albums have been smashing hits. Donnie was the lead vocalist/ guitarist for the band for 39 years.
Around the 80’s, Donnie and his younger brother, Johnny, decided to become a musical duo ‘Van Zant’. They started recording with the music label ‘Geffen Records’, but later disbanded.
They again got together in 1998 to record two albums for ‘CMC International’. However, they again took a break after 2001.
With their come back in 2005, ‘Van Zant’ started focusing more on country music. They released two more albums with ‘Columbia Records’, this time.
Their first album was titled ‘Get Right with the Man’, which made its way to ‘Top Ten Country Album’ (U.S Billboard) charts at no. 2. Its single ‘Help Somebody’ contributed for the success of the album.
Other songs from the album are ‘Nobody Gonna Tell Me What t Do’, ‘I Know My History’, ‘Sweet Mama and ‘Things I Miss the Most’. It was released under certain copy control in some regions.
In 2013, Donnie suffered from inner-ear nerve damage, and other health issues. It was decided and later, announced that Donnie won’t be able to sing for the band, at least for time being, but he would be writing songs for the band. However, in late 2013 Donnie announced that he won’t be able to do either due to his condition, and finally retired from the band. He said that he had to leave, because his doctor had strictly told him so.
Personal Life & Legacy
Donnie Van Zant has settled in his hometown, Jacksonville in Florida. He lives there with his wife Ashley Van Zant.
Donnie is an avid fan of ‘Jackson Jaguars’ – a football franchise from his hometown of Jacksonville. He can play piano and drums, apart from guitar.