Don Shirley Net Worth – Wife, Family, Cause of Death

With income from his songs and albums, Don Shirley has amassed a net worth of $10 million at the time of his death on April 6, 2013.

Donald Walbridge Shirley (January 29, 1927 – April 6, 2013) was an American pianist and composer. During the 1950s and 1960s, he recorded a number of jazz albums with a classical influence for Cadence Records. 

In addition to organ symphonies, piano concertos, cello concertos, string quartets, an opera, works for organ, piano, and the violin, a symphonic tone poem based on James Joyce’s 1939 novel Finnegans Wake, and variations on the 1858 opera Orpheus in the Underworld, he composed works for organ, piano, and violin.

Shirley was a promising piano student growing up in Pensacola, Florida. His early career wasn’t recognized for his traditional classical music, but he had success by blending different musical traditions.

During the 1960s, Shirley toured several states in the Deep South. His first driver and bodyguard was Tony “Lip” Vallelonga, a New York nightclub bouncer. Green Book, a 2018 film in which Mahershala Ali played the lead character, dramatized their story.

Today we’re going to discuss how much money Don Shirley has and how he builds his net worth.

At the end of this article, we will also tell you how to get rich like Don Shirley. So be sure to read to the end.

Don Shirley Net Worth at Death

Don Shirley had an estimated net worth of $10 million at the time of his death on April 6, 2013. He was a 20th century Jamaican-American pianist and composer who frequently performed with the Don Shirley Trio. A chapter of his life story was filmed in the 2018 movie Green Book. He earned more than $1 Million a year from his songs and albums.

Don Shirley, a Jamaican-American pianist and composer, showed promise at a young age, performing with the Boston Pops at age 18. Despite the challenges of segregation, he managed to perform in famous venues and develop a distinctive style with the Don Shirley Trio that combined classical, spiritual and popular elements. 

After his death, Shirley was largely forgotten until the 2018 film Green Book, starring Mahershala Ali as Shirley and Viggo Mortensen as Anthony “Tony Lip” Vallelonga, his bodyguard and chauffeur.

To calculate the net worth of Don Shirley, subtract all his liabilities from his total assets. Investments, savings, cash deposits, and any equity he has in a house, car, or other similar asset are included in the total assets. All debts, such as student loans and credit card debt, are included in total liabilities.

Here’s the breakdown of his net worth:

Name: Don Shirley
Net Worth: $10 Million
Monthly Salary: $70,000
Annual Income: $1 Million
Source of Wealth: Pianist, Composer

How Much Money Did Don Shirley Make From His Music, Songs, and Albums?

During his lifetime, Don Shirley earned more than $8 million from his music and performances.

Shirley made his Boston Pops debut in June 1945, when he was 18, with Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Major. The London Philharmonic Orchestra premiered his first major composition the following year, and the Haitian government invited him to perform at the International Bicentennial Celebration in Port-au-Prince in 1949.

Shirley, then twenty years old, was discouraged by impresario Sol Hurok from pursuing a career as a classical pianist because the country was unwilling to accept a black man in that field, despite his qualifications. Shirley then created his own genre, combining influences from blues, spirituals, showtunes and popular music to create songs with high recognition and unique character.

Igor Stravinsky called Shirley’s abilities “worthy of the gods,” and Duke Ellington claimed he would “give up his bench” at the piano to let Shirley take the helm.

Popular Songs and the Don Shirley Trio

Shirley began recording his own interpretations of traditional favorites such as “Blue Moon,” “Lullaby of Birdland” and “Love for Sale” with Tonal Expressions in 1955. As the Don Shirley Trio, he worked long-term with bassist Ken Fricker and cellist Juri Taht, who frequently accompanied him in the studio and on stage.

The trio’s 1961 self-titled album, which spawned the Top 40 hit “Water Boy,” was a triumph, and they continued to record together until 1972’s The Don Shirley Point of View.

Performances and Other Works

Shirley made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1955 with Duke Ellington and the Symphony of the Air Orchestra. Over the years, he has appeared with the Detroit Symphony, Chicago Symphony, and Cleveland Orchestra, as well as in prestigious venues such as La Scala in Milan and the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.

Shirley composed “Divertimento for Duke by Don” after the death of his good friend Duke Ellington in 1974. Variations on Orpheus in the Underworld, a tone poem based on James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, and pieces for piano, cello, and strings were among his other challenging works.


After suffering tendinitis in his right hand in the early 1970s, Shirley was forced to curtail his productivity, and by the end of the decade he had disappeared from the public eye. According to a 1982 New York Times article, the artist made a comeback, performing regularly with his longtime collaborators in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.

In the early 2000s, Shirley resurfaced with sporadic appearances. In 2001, with the help of a dedicated student, he released a new album CD, Home with Donald Shirley, on his Walbridge Music label.

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Don Shirley’s Green Book

Shirley’s life and talents were brought back to audiences in 2018 with the Peter Farrelly-directed film Green Book. During a tour of the American South in the early 1960s, the film depicts the budding friendship between two men of different backgrounds. The title derives from a manual designed to help black drivers navigate hostile terrain.

Green Book won the People’s Choice Award at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival and was considered an Oscar contender, though it drew criticism for serving the “white saviour” stereotype and being made without consulting Shirley’s surviving family.

Don Shirley’s Personal Life, Education, Wife

Shirley never had children after a single marriage and divorce. Green Book included a scenario in which he is chained in a YMCA shower after having contact with another man, raising doubts about his sexuality, which he concealed.

His brothers Calvin and Edward became doctors, and the latter established a close relationship with Martin Luther King Jr. Shirley was not the only member of his family to achieve professional success.

According to a November 2018 New York Times article, the musician was commonly referred to as “Dr. Shirley,” possibly due to his honorary degrees, as he never attended graduate school. Shirley variously reportedly earned doctorates in music, liturgical art, and psychology, and worked temporarily as a psychologist in the early 1950s.

Shirley was also reportedly a talented painter and fluent in eight languages.

Don Shirle’s Early Life and Family

Donald Walbridge Shirley was born in Pensacola, Florida, on January 29, 1927, to Jamaican immigrants. His father, Edwin Shirley, was an Episcopal clergyman, and his mother, Stella Shirley, was a teacher.

Shirley began playing the piano when he was two and a half years old, and by the age of three, he was performing on the church organ. Shirley moved to the Soviet Union when he was nine years old, at the time his mother died, to study theory at the Leningrad Conservatory of Music. Later, at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., he got advanced composition classes from Conrad Bernier and Dr. Thaddeus Jones.

Don Shirley’s Cause of Death

Shirley died April 6, 2013, at his home in New York City from complications of heart disease. He was 86 years old when he died.

Don Shirley’s Friendship With Tony Lip

Although Green Book’s script made some changes to the material, such as shortening Shirley’s year-long tour to two months, the basic story of the protagonists’ professional and personal connection is largely genuine. When they met in 1962, Shirley wanted to tour with his music, but he was wary because of the hostile treatment he had received from Nat King Cole in Alabama a few years earlier; it was decided that Tony Lip, an Italian labourer from the Bronx who worked as a bouncer at the Copacabana nightclub in Manhattan, would provide the necessary muscle.

According to Nick Vallelonga, the writer of the script, Lip’s father was appalled by the bigotry he saw on the tour and reconsidered his views while developing admiration for his boss. He said the two were very good friends until her death in 2013, and Shirley often spoke on the phone during the vacations.

Further Reading

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How To Become Rich Like Don Shirley?

Don Shirley did not become rich by luck. To become as rich as Don Shirley, you have to work smart.

Successful people become rich because they take advantage of the opportunities that come their way. They are in the right place at the right time and take the right action.

Thanks to the Internet, the world has changed massively in recent years. Nowadays it has become much easier to make money online.

Instead of looking for a 9-5 job and staying in your comfort zone, it’s better if you become your own boss as soon as possible.

You can learn how to build a digital asset that generates cash flow for you while you sleep to grow your wealth quickly.

If you seize this golden opportunity in time, you can become as successful as Don Shirley one day.

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