Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay

Dublin Core


Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay


Florence, Lauderdale County, FAME Studios, Rick Hall, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, Sheffield, Elvis Presley, Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia, Percy Sledge, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Alabama Music Hall of Fame


Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay (August 22, 1947 - )

If anyone can lay claim to having lived a life that was marked by being in the right place at the right, Donna Jean Godchaux (pronounced “God-show) can. From growing up in the Florence/Muscle Shoals, Alabama area while the Muscle Shoals recording scene was exploding, to moving to San Francisco where she met her first husband Keith Godchaux, as well as Jerry Garcia, Donna’s life is one of opportunities taken. Born Donna Jean Thatcher on August 22, 1947, in Florence, Alabama, Donna spent her childhood years on the banks of the Tennessee River, attending Sheffield High School, where she was a cheerleader. Music has always been a passion with Donna. As she points out, “I was singing from pretty much as soon as I could talk.” That love of music eventually took her to the various recording studios that had begun to populate the Muscle Shoals area. After graduating from high school in 1965, Donna began singing with her best friend Jeanie Greene in a group that they eventually called Southern Comfort. Jeanie’s husband Marlin was a music producer, working with Rick Hall’s FAME Studios. In 1966, Donna and Jeanie sang backup on Percy Sledge’s megahit “When a Man Loves a Woman,” which Marlin produced for FAME before producing a rerecording at Norala Studios in Sheffield, Alabama. The song spent two weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and four weeks on the Billboard R&B singles chart. In 1969, she and Jeanie hit solid gold again when they sang back-up on Elvis Presley’s number one hit, “Suspicious Minds.” Other albums on which she sang backing vocals include “3614 Jackson Highway” by Cher (1969), on which she also appeared on the album cover, “Boz Scaggs” (1969) by Boz Scaggs (both albums recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio), and “From Elvis in Memphis” (1969), by Elvis Presley, which featured the top five hit “In The Ghetto,” penned by country artist Mac Davis. In 1970, Donna decided it was time for a change of scenery and moved to the San Francisco area. It was here that she met and married Keith Godchaux, a keyboardist playing various clubs and bars in the Bay area. In 1971, the couple introduced themselves the Jerry Garcia, a founding member of the Grateful Dead. From that meeting, Keith was asked to join the band, with Donna joining the group in 1972, singing back-up and occasional lead vocal. The Godchauxs remained with the Grateful Dead until 1979, when they left to try other avenues of music on their own with the band The Heart of Gold. Just a little over a year after leaving, Keith died of injuries sustained in an automobile accident. It was during this time that Donna took a break from music. She remarried, and in the mid-1990s, she and her husband David MacKay, also a musician, moved back to Donna’s home in northwest Alabama, eventually settling in the town of Killen, just a few miles east of Florence, where it all began for her. It was at this time that Donna’s desire to return to music began to take hold, and she began to write songs once again, as well as forming the Donna Jean Godchaux Band with Jeff Mattson in 2009, which also features David MacKay on bass. In addition, Donna has appeared at various venues and concerts with many of her former Dead bandmates, including Bob Weir and Mickey Hart. Donna was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 as a member of the Grateful Dead, and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 2016.

Watch and Listen:
"Keith & Donna - Sweet Baby"
"Scarlet Begonias - Grateful Dead"
"When a Man Loves a Woman - Percy Sledge"
"Suspicious Minds - Elvis Presley"
"Interview - Donna Meeting Garcia, Grateful Dead"
"Interview - Donna Meeting Elvis"


John Griffin, University of North Alabama


“Donna Jean MacKay interview, 3/28/1998” Accessed December 2, 2016
“Donna Jean Godchaux interview, 2/24/2016” Accessed December 2, 2016
“Donna Jean Godchaux Band with Jeff Mattson official website” Accessed December 2, 2016
“Hall of fame another stop on Godchaux Mackay's long strange trip” Accessed December 2, 2016

All images courtesy of Mr. George Lair and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.


Alabama Cultural Resource Survey




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