Sam Donahue (18 March 1918 – 22 March 1974) was an American swing music jazz tenor saxophonist, trumpeter and musical arranger.
Born in Detroit, Michigan as Samuel Koontz Donahue, he began his musical career at the age of 9, studying clarinet, saxophone, and trumpet - eventually developing into an excellent tenor saxophonist. While in school, he was offered his first professional job, at a newly-legalized beer garden in River Rouge, MI, about 6-1/2 miles southwest of his hometown.
He became a well-respected tenor saxophonist from the swing era who, in a couple of cases, almost became famous, although he ended up fairly obscure. Donahue put together his first band in 1933 when he was just 15, an outfit that he led for five years.
His first big-name job was with Gene Krupa (1938-1940) and he had occasional opportunities to solo on the drummer's records. After short stints with Benny Goodman and Harry James, Donahue led his own big band which recorded 20 titles for Okeh, Bluebird, and Hit during 1940-1942. Other than singers Francis Wayne and Irene Day, none of Donahue's sidemen were famous, although Count Basie guested on his recording of "It Counts a Lot."
Donahue joined the Army in 1942 and in 1944 took over the Artie Shaw Navy Band, a talented if no-name unit that recorded V-Discs in 1945 and made some radio broadcasts. After his discharge, he became a teacher and led his own civilian band for a time, making recordings for Capitol during 1946-1947 but not creating much of a stir.
Donahue worked with Tommy Dorsey, fronted the Billy May Orchestra during 1954-1955 and headed a big band on an irregular basis during the second half of the '50s; there was an album apiece for Remington and Prescott in 1958 and additional material has come out on the collector's labels Big Band Landmarks and Jazz Hour.
Donahue picked up some recognition for his work with Stan Kenton's Orchestra during 1960-1961 but then became the leader of the Tommy Dorsey Ghost Band. Despite the orchestra being revitalized a bit (Helen Forrest and Charlie Shavers were members part of the time) and making many tours, the job was somewhat thankless.
After 1966, Sam Donahue left the organization. He worked as musical director for the Playboy Club in New York and during his last five years, led his own band in Nevada where he died of cancer on March 22, 1974, in Reno. (Info edited from mainly All Music)