All the founding band members were born in 1979; Brett Anderson (vocals) on May 30; Allison Robertson (guitar and vocals) on August 26; and Maya Ford (bass guitar and vocals) and Torry Castellano (drums, percussion, vocals), both on January 8. They all became friends by eighth grade and formed as a band in May 1993 to play for their school's "Day on the Green." One of two girl bands in their town Palo Alto, California, they were relatively unknown until they were out of high school. They are all self-taught musicians and practiced in Castellano's garage nearly every day during high school. They called themselves "Ragady Anne" in their early days and shortly thereafter changed their name to "The Electrocutes"
Towards the end of their high school days, while they were still known as "The Electrocutes," they decided to create another band (with the same members) that would play softer tunes without distorting the metal queen image of The Electrocutes. To help their fans distinguish between the two bands, they all took matching "Donna" monikers, where all of their names were Donna and their last names were the first initial of their last name (Brett Anderson became Donna A, etc.), which they used only when performing as "The Donnas."
They worked with producer Darin Raffaelli for their first two albums, the first of which, simply called The Donnas, was released on Raffaelli's Superteem! record label. (It was later released again on Lookout! Records.) They took a week off their senior year of high school to tour Japan as The Donnas, and were promoted and organized by Pinky Aoki a.k.a. The Phantomgift. Afterwards, they signed with Lookout! Records. As the band grew, they were urged to sign with a major label company. In 2001, they signed with Atlantic Records.
In 2002, The Donnas released Spend the Night as their Atlantic debut. The album represented their first attempt at mainstream success. With their single "Take it Off" they were booked for appearances on Total Request Live, Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and the Late Show with David Letterman. In the summer of 2003, they played the main stage at Lollapalooza. In 2004, they released their sixth album Gold Medal. In February 2005, they toured Australia with the Big Day Out music festival, playing from Sydney to Perth. While in Aust. they performed Take It Off Live on National Prime time show "Rove Live" with Rove McManus.
Atlantic repeatedly placed the Donnas' music in video game soundtracks. "You've Got A Crush On Me" can be heard in the PlayStation 2 game Splashdown. "Who Invited You" can be found on the soundtracks for True Crime: Streets of LA and MVP Baseball 2003 as well as Splashdown: Rides Gone Wild. "I Don't Want to Know" is in the Gran Turismo 4 soundtrack also and a cover of the song was also used for Donkey Konga 2 for the Nintendo GameCube. "I Don't Want to Know" was also used as the theme song for the first season of The-N's hit series, "South of Nowhere". A cover of "Take it Off" is featured in Guitar Hero and added as a downloadable track in Guitar Hero 2 on the Xbox 360 (released in 2006) and Downhill Domination (released in 2004). Rock Band 2 (for the PS3, Xbox 360 & Wii), released by Harmonix in 2008, features the track "New Kid In School" which was released exclusively on Apples iTunes service. "Fall Behind Me" was also used in a national television commercial advertising the Nissan Xterra while Take It Off was used in a Budweiser commercial.
Atlantic also energetically marketed the Donnas through placements in numerous film soundtracks. The band appeared in the movie Drive Me Crazy in 1999 (as The Electrocutes), and later on the TV show Charmed performing the single "Fall Behind Me" at P3. They also appeared in the 1999 teen comedy Jawbreaker as the prom band, contributing two songs to the soundtrack ("Rock 'N' Roll Machine" and "Checkin' It Out"). A cover of "Roll On Down The Highway" was used in the Disney movie "Herbie : Fully Loaded" and Backstage was used in "Freaky Friday". The Donnas can also be heard on Mean Girls during the end credits playing a cover of the Billy Idol song "Dancing With Myself", and they also contributed to the soundtrack of the movie Grind. The video "Too Bad About Your Girl" also features the cast of that film. The song "Take It Off" features in the movie Dodgeball. The song "Take Me To The Backseat" can be heard in the movie D.E.B.S. (2004 film). A cover version of the Kiss song "Strutter" was used in the soundtrack to the 1999 movie Detroit Rock City (film)."Please Don't Tease was used in "New York Minute" and "Everyone Is Wrong " was featured in the movie "Elektra". Then Guitar Hero used "Take It Off" for 2009 Guitar Hero Smash Hits. "Take It Off" was also used in the 2009 hit movie The Hangover. "Play My Game" was featured in a Season 1 episode of What's New, Scooby Doo?. "Who Invited You" is featured on the soundtrack of the 2003 movie What a Girl Wants.
On May 19, 2006 The Donnas announced on their public message board that they had "parted ways with Atlantic Records," claiming "[t]he decision was entirely mutual and completely amicable and will not impact the band, nor will it impact upon the writing, recording or touring for the next Donnas album." In March 2007, the Donnas released a single, "Don't Wait Up For Me," and had a new band logo designed.
The Donnas independently released their seventh studio album titled Bitchin' on September 18, 2007 Purple Feather Records label. Bitchin' was produced by Jay Ruston and The Donnas and contained the single "Don't Wait Up For Me".
In 2008 The Donnas toured with the Melbourne-based, Australian band Kisschasy as part of their Skin and Bones tour. They also toured the U.S. and Canada with The Hives.
In July 2009, the band released a retrospective collection entitled Greatest Hits Vol. 16 to celebrate the band's 16th year together. The album contains new songs, re-recorded older songs as well as some unreleased material. The band toured that summer with Pat Benatar and Blondie on the two's joint Call Me Invincible Tour. Drummer Torry Castellano was unable to play on any of these tour dates as she was suffering from tendonitis of the shoulder, which was accredited to the fact that as a self-taught drummer she had held the drumsticks incorrectly (even though it felt right to her) and sustained long term damage over time. Long-time friend Amy Cesari of the band The Demonics has been chosen to fill in for Castellano.
On July 9, 2010, Castellano announced via the band's website that due to her continued shoulder problems she would have to retire from drumming and performing with The Donnas. She returned to school at Santa Monica College and then Stanford University, where she graduated in 2013 and went on to Harvard Law School.
In August 2012, the band was reported to be recording their eighth studio album and also premiered a new song called "Tramp" at a recent private show.
In November 2016 Cherry Red Records re-released the bands fifth album Spend The Night to include six bonus tracks which consist of B-sides and songs from previous albums.
As of February 2018, there is no news on the status of a new album. To date, the band's last show was in Sioux City, Iowa on June 15, 2012.