Elbert was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, but when aged three his family relocated to Buffalo, New York. He learned to play guitar and piano as a child, and in 1955 formed a doo-wop group, the Vibraharps, with friend Danny Cannon. Elbert acted as the group's guitarist, songwriter, arranger, and background vocalist, making his recording debut on their single "Walk Beside Me".
He left the group in 1957 for a solo career, and recorded a demonstration record that earned him a recording contract with the King label's DeLuxe subsidiary. His solo debut "What Can I Do?" reached #12 in the U.S. R&B chart, and he followed it up with the less successful "Believe It or Not" and "Have I Sinned?", which became a regional hit in Pittsburgh.
He continued to release singles on DeLuxe, but with little commercial success, and also played New York's Apollo Theater and toured the chitlin' circuit of African-American owned nightclubs. After completing an album, The Sensational Donnie Elbert Sings, he left DeLuxe in 1959, joining first Red Top Records, where in 1960 he recorded "Someday (You'll Want Me to Want You)", and then Vee-Jay Records, where he had another regional hit with "Will You Ever Be Mine?," which reportedly sold 250,000 copies in the Philadelphia area but failed to take off nationwide.
His career was also interrupted by a spell in the US Army, from which he was discharged in 1961. He then recorded singles for several labels, including Parkway, Cub and Checker, but with little success. However, although the 1965 Gateway label release of "A Little Piece of Leather" failed to chart in the US, the record became a #27 pop hit when released on the Sue label in the UK several years later in 1972, and remains a Northern soul favorite.
Elbert relocated to the UK in 1966, where he married. There, he recorded "In Between Heartaches" for Atco Records in 1968, a cover version of The Supremes' hit "Where Did Our Love Go?". and an album of Otis Redding cover versions, Tribute To A King. His 1969 Deram release "Without You" had a rocksteady rhythm, and went to the top of the Jamaican charts. He returned to the US the same year, and had his first US chart hit in over a decade with the Rare Bullet label release "Can't Get Over Losing You," which reached #26 on the Billboard R&B chart. Following the success of that record, "Where Did Our Love Go?" was released on the All Platinum label, and became his biggest hit, reaching #15 on the US pop charts, #6 on the R&B charts, and (in 1972) #8 in the UK. Its follow-up "Sweet Baby" reached #30 on the R&B chart in early 1972.
Elbert then signed with Avco-Embassy, where he entered the recording studio with the successful production team of Hugo & Luigi. Although his cover of The Four Tops' "I Can't Help Myself" reached #14 on the R&B chart, Elbert balked at the label's insistence that he record material associated with Motown. He returned to All Platinum and had a run of minor R&B hits, but left after he claimed authorship of Shirley & Company's R&B chart-topper "Shame Shame Shame" which was credited to label owner Sylvia Robinson. For 1975's "You Keep Me Crying (With Your Lying)," Elbert finally formed his own label, and "I Got to Get Myself Together," appeared on an imprint bearing his surname, but it was among his final recordings.
By the mid 1980s Elbert had retired from performing, and became director of A&R for Polygram's Canadian division. He suffered a massive stroke and died in 1989, at the age of 52. (Info Wikipedia)