Emma Donovan is an acclaimed Indigenous Australian singer and songwriter best known for her work with soul bands, The Putbacks and The Black Arm Band project. She has also toured and recorded with Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter, Spinifex Gum, Christine Anu, Yothu Yindi, Jimmy Little and Paul Kelly among others. On her mother’s side, Emma is part of the famed Donovan family of singers of the Gumbaynggirr people, of what is now known as Northern New South Wales. On her Father’s side, Emma is of the Yamatji people, of what is now known as Western Australia.
Emma started her singing career at age seven, appearing in family band The Donovans. The Donovans included church song renditions with Emma’s mother Agnes, her five uncles and maternal grandparents Micko and Aileen. Emma’s childhood was filled with music. In church, on stage with The Donovans, at family and community events and talent shows across New South Wales, Agnes supported her daughter’s musical development every step of the way.
Emma started her original music career by founding the acapella group The Stiff Gins in 2000. After The Stiff Gins, she releases a solo album Changes in 2004 and an EP Ngaaranga in 2009. In 2004, she was the subject of SBS documentary Gumbaynggirr Lady. In 2007 Emma joined The Black Arm Band and was part of their Murundak show, which reproduced iconic songs of the Aboriginal resistance movement in a theatrical setting. From its inception, till it wrapped up in 2018, The Black Arm band was an enormously important group, producing a number of shows which toured internationally and helped establish the careers of a new generation of indigenous singers of whom Emma was one.
In 2015 Emma began her ongoing collaboration with Melbourne combo The Putbacks, meeting drummer Rory McDougall and bassist Mick Meagher when they were playing together in The Black Arm band. Emma and The Putbacks went on to release the album Dawn to great acclaim. Dawn was born of Emma and the band’s shared love for classic American soul and the protest music of Indigenous Australia. Equal parts Aretha Franklin, Coloured Stone, Ruby Hunter and Al Green, Dawn was a revelation for soul audiences worldwide.