Shalom Life | September 25, 2014

Jewish Hall of Fame: Donald Fagen

This week's inductee is the Grammy-award winning co-founder of American jazz rock band Steely Dan

By: Caitlin Marceau

Published: September 24th, 2014 in Culture » Music » News

Jewish Hall of Fame: Donald Fagen

Since the dawn of time, Jewish people have contributed greatly to various fields, from sports to entertainment to politics to porn. With our Breakthrough Jew feature, we recognize those who are up and comers in these various industries, identifying those great innovators and leaders in the contemporary world who are making a mark on society that will last a lifetime.

With the Jewish Hall of Fame, we recognize the remarkable advancements members of our community have made on today's society. These are people who have truly changed the world, and have earned the respect and praise of the members of today's younger generation.

ShalomLife’s Jewish Hall of Fame is our ongoing tribute to the greatest Jews who have ever lived; be sure to catch us weekly with our latest inductees, and tweet us @ShalomLife with your suggestions.

Check out last week's inductee into the Hall of Fame here.

Hall of Fame Member: Donald Jay Fagen

Born: January 10th, 1948, in Passaic, New Jersey

Born on January 10th, 1948, in Passaic, New Jersey, Donald Jay Fagen was destined for musical stardom. Growing up with a musically and artistically inclined family - his mother Elinor having been the singer in New York’s Catskill Mountains - it only made sense for Fagen to follow in his artistic parent’s footsteps.

In 1958, his parents moved him to a New Jersey suburb which would have a lasting impact on him. He didn’t enjoy his time in the suburbs, resenting the environment and vibe, and even used his dislike of the neighborhood to influence his 1982 album, The Nightfly. During his time in the suburbs, Fagen developed an interest in R&B music, and also jazz. It was his love of these styles that encouraged him to learn the piano and the baritone horn, which he played in the South Brunswick High school marching band.

Fagen graduated from high school in 1965 and attended Bard College. There he studied English literature and met an array of future actors and musicians, including his would be best friend and Steely Dan bandmate Walter Becker. Although the foundations for the band began developing in the mid 60’s, it wasn’t formed until the early 70’s, while Fagen and Becker were working as writers for ABC/Dunhill Records.

Steely Dan released several albums between 1971 and 1974, despite the bandmates changing several times (with the exception of Becker and Fagen). In 1977, Steely Dan released the album Aja, which would go platinum. Unfortunately the band would temporarily break up in 1981, however it would help launch Fagen’s successful solo career.


In 1982, Fagen released his insanely popular album The Nightfly. It was a Billboard hit, placing eleventh on the charts, and went platinum. There was even a DVD release special that came out in 2002 in honor of the 20th anniversary. Fagen’s second album, Kamakiriad, was released in 1993 and produced by Becker. The album was critically acclaimed, however it wasn’t as successful as The Nightfly.

Fagen’s third album, Morph The Cat, began production in August 2004, however the album wasn’t released for audiences until early 2006. The album was a hit, and was named album of the year by Mix Magazine. In 2007 the album won the Grammy for Best Surround Sound Album with it’s digital 5.1 remastered sound.

In 2000, fans and critics around the world were witness to the rebirth of Steely Dan. The group released their eighth studio LP, Two Against Nature in 2000, and ended up winning four Grammy's, including Album of the Year. It was the first Steely Dan album in twenty years, and has since been certified platinum in the U.S.


Despite being 66 years of age, Fagen continues to produce music and tour the world (which he did this summer touring with Steely Dan) with his original sound and meaningful lyrics. Having contributed to the musical world for over 40 years, it's our honor to induct him into this week’s Jewish Hall of Fame.

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