Ral Donner is perhaps the best known of the singers of the 60's who sounded very much like singing sensation Elvis Presley, although Terry Stafford would have to be considered in the same light. Donner's sound was very, very close to that of Presley so much so that when his first top forty record was released, many listeners believed that it was Presley.
Ralph Stuart Emmanuel Donner was born in Chicago in 1943. He spent some time singing in his church choir and by age 15 he was doing commendable imitations of Elvis Presley. Donner was in some bands during his high school years in Chicago. He recorded his first record with one of these groups, the Gents, in 1959. Donner did some limited touring and made some appearances on local television. Through these experiences Donner came to the attention of established entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr., who encouraged him to develop his singing career.
In 1960 Elvis' recording of Girl Of My Best Friend was released on his Elvis Is Back! album, but not as a single. Ral Donner made his own recording of Girl Of My Best Friend and a tape of the recording was sent to Gone Records. After he re-recorded the song it was released on that label and by mid-1961 it had reached the top twenty nationally. Ral Donner had his first big hit. And many were amazed at how much his voice sounded just like Presley.
Donner continued recording on the Gone label. His next effort, written by George Burton and Paul Hampton, went to number four and established his name in the mind of the record-buying public, and You Don't Know What You've Got (Until You Lose It) proved to be his biggest hit. Others followed, including Please Don't Go and She's Everything (I Wanted You To Be). He left Gone and recorded for a number of other smaller labels, but without much success.
Ral stayed with his singing career even though he had not had a hit since She's Everything (I Wanted You To Be) had gone top twenty in 1962. Following Presley's death at the age of 42 in 1977, there was revived interest in Ral Donner. He recorded an album titled 1937-1977 I've Just Been Away For A While Now. Recording with him on the tribute album were former Presley sidemen D.J. Fontana and Scotty Moore, as well as the Jordanaires. Donner supplied the voice of Elvis and the narration for the 1981 film This Is Elvis!.
The revival of Ral Donner's career proved to be short-lived; he suffered from cancer and died in 1984, at age 41. He is buried in Chicago. His biggest hit and most memorable tune You Don't Know What You've Got (Until You Lose It) still gets playtime wherever oldies are spun.
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