Tanya Donelly Biography

Guitarist, Songwriter, Singer (1966–)
Tanya Donelly is a musician who was influential in the alternative music scene in the 1980s and 1990s with bands such as Throwing Muses.


Tanya Donelly formed Throwing Muses while still in high school, and the band landed a record deal with British label 4AD in 1985. While finding some success, Donelly started to step away from the band in the late 1980s to explore other projects, working with Kim Deal, formerly of the Pixies, to create the Breeders. She started the band Belly in 1991 and was nominated for a Grammy with the band.

Early Life

Born on July 14, 1966, in Newport, Rhode Island. As a part of two bands, Throwing Muses and Belly, Tanya Donelly helped shape the sound of alternative rock in the 1980s and 1990s. She started playing music early on, forming Throwing Muses while still in high school. She played guitar alongside her stepsister, Kristin Hersh, with David Narcizo on drums and Elaine Adamedes on bass. The siblings shared vocals for the group.

Throwing Muses won acclaim for its dreamy sound, eventually landing a record deal with British label 4AD in 1985. The band released its first full album the following year. Their self-titled effort attracted a lot of positive attention from the British music press, and the group eventually developed a following in America with their subsequent releases. Donelly usually contributed a track or two to each of the band's albums, while her stepsister reportedly served as the main creative force behind the group.

The Pixies and Belly

Donelly started to step away from the band in the late 80s to explore other projects. She worked with Kim Deal, formerly of The Pixies, to create the Breeders. After appearing on their debut album Pod (1990), Donelly moved on. She also broke ties with Throwing Muses after 1991's The Real Ramona.

In 1991, Donelly formed the band Belly with Chris Gorman on drums and Fred Abong on bass. Abong left before the group's first album, 1993's Star, was released. With Belly, Donelly handled the lead vocals and guitar. She helped craft the group's ethereal, folksy-yet-catchy sound, including Belly's biggest hit "Feed the Tree." The video for the song became a staple on MTV, introducing the group to a larger audience. Belly enjoyed greater commercial success than Throwing Muses did, and the group even received a Grammy Award nomination for Best New Artist in 1993.

Solo Career

Belly broke up after its second album, King, was released in 1996. Around this time, Donelly married bassist Dean Fisher, who had been with the Juliana Hatfield Three. The couple worked together on Donelly's first solo recording, Lovesongs for Underdogs, which was released in 1997. While Donelly wrote most of the songs, she and Fisher co-wrote one track. Fisher also played several instruments on the album. They both worked on her next three solo albums, 2002's Beautysleep, 2004's Whisky Tango Ghosts and 2006's This Hungry Life. While she never regained the popularity she achieved with Belly, Donelly has continued to pursue her own style of music.

Over the years, Donelly has contributed tracks to several compilations, including the 2010 children's album Sing Me to Sleep. She picked "Moon River," a song she liked to sing to her daughters, Grace and Harriet. She is reportedly working on a new album at present. In addition to her music, Donelly has started another career. She reportedly has become a postpartum doula, working with new mothers and their babies.

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