AUSTIN -- International singer/songwriter Donna Hightower best known for her 1972 hit, "The World Today is a Mess," died Monday in Austin. She was 86.
Hightower was born in 1926 in Caruthersville, Missouri, the daughter of sharecroppers. She listened to the radio to escape the hard lifestyle, though she never planned to have a singing career. According to a press release on behalf of her family, she recalls being influenced by Ella Fitzgerald, and later, Ella Mae Morse and Kay Starr.
After having two children, and divorcing the husband she married young, Hightower moved to Chicago and worked in a diner kitchen. That's where she was discovered by a "Chicago Defender" newspaper reporter. She was eventually signed to Decca Records in 1951 and cut her first record, "I Ain't In The Mood."
The next few years would find her performing all over the U.S. with Louis Jordon, Johnny Mathis, Tommy Edwards and Della Reese.
In 1959, Hightower went to England and then to Paris to perform with Quincy Jones and The Platters. She stayed in Europe for the next 30 years, calling Madrid home for over 20 years.
The press release states Hightower's her years of work in the music industry finally paid off while she was in Spain. She won a European song festival in 1970, which won her the notice of Columbia Records, and she was offered a recording contract.
Hightower then wrote the lyrics to her biggest hit, "This World Today is a Mess." That record single was issued internationally, selling more than a million copies, and became the song for which she is most closely associated. Columbia chose not to issue the records in the United States and thus, her fan base remains largely in European countries.
Hightower used to say that in 1990, the Lord told her to move to Austin, Texas, and she did and went into semi-retirement. She last performed in Spain in 2006 when she was the guest of honor at the IV Festival International de Jazz.
Hightower is survived by two children -- a son, Bobby Hightower of California, and a daughter, Judy Simms of Gary, Indiana.