Songwriter, Lawrence native Lisa Donnelly dies at 37

Lisa Donnelly

The words “soul” and “talent” appear over and over in tributes to Lisa Donnelly from people who knew her.

The 37-year-old Lawrence native and singer-songwriter died Friday in San Francisco.

Donnelly graduated from Lawrence High School in 1997 and from the University of Kansas in 2002, with degrees in psychology and theater, according to her obituary. After graduation she moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music.

“Lisa led her life with a wide open heart,” her family wrote on Donnelly’s Facebook page after she died. “She brightened every room she stepped into. Her smile and spirit were infections, her effervescence was inspiring to all who had the great fortune of coming in contact with her and the purest reflection of her soul: her music. She was incredibly gifted and leaves us with volumes of powerful songs to remember her by.”

The page quickly filled with dozens, possibly hundreds, of condolences. Friends shared memories of growing up in Lawrence, KU theater, traveling abroad and, of course, making music with Donnelly. Many posted old photos and videos of their favorite songs of hers.

Lisa Donnelly

Donnelly was fluent in Spanish and loved to travel, making friends across Latin America, Europe and the United States.

Before leaving Lawrence for Los Angeles, The Lisa Donnelly Project performed regularly at the Jazzhaus and other local venues.

Donnelly’s website describes her latest sound as “cowgirl rock and soul.”

In a 2013 interview with the Journal-World, Donnelly said her decidedly non-9-to-5 life involved traveling a lot, keeping odd hours and living in a city — Los Angeles — that can be cutthroat, competitive, industry-driven and even lonely. 

That was a few months before the release of her album “Home,” which she said explored “the understanding that home is with you wherever you go.”

Donnelly appeared on national television, after she sang during the December 2012 wedding ceremony of Ashley Hebert and J.P. Rosenbaum of “The Bachelorette.” She performed an original song she wrote for the couple, “Here to Stay,” as well as Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

In early 2016, Donnelly shared with friends online that she had experienced Bell’s palsy, which causes paralysis of muscles on one side of the face. She had struggled with complications brought on by the condition since that time.

Donnelly told the Journal-World in 2013 that performing music based on one’s own experiences lets audiences know they’re not alone, which inspired her own singing and songwriting.

“There’s a never-ending well to draw from because life is so complex and beautiful,” she said, “and there’s always something to write about.”

A memorial service is planned for Tuesday in California.