James D. Dannenbaum was born in Houston, Texas. He attended The University of Texas at Austin, where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering in 1962. During his college days, Dannenbaum was selected as the Outstanding Senior by Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honorary. He was member of the Friar Society and was president of the Silver Spurs. In 1961, he was named the Outstanding Male Student of the university.
Dannenbaum currently serves as Chairman of Dannenbaum Engineering Corporation, a Texas-based consulting engineering firm. Dannenbaum Engineering Corporation has been providing professional services to municipal, state and federal agencies, and private clients for 65 years.
Dannenbaum is an active member of the Houston community and has received numerous awards including "One of Four Outstanding Young Men of Houston in 1969" from the Houston Junior Chamber of Commerce, "Engineer of the Year for 2004" by the Greater Houston Chapter of Texas Society of Professional Engineers, and "2004 TSPE Outstanding Engineer of the Year for the State of Texas" by the Texas Society of Professional Engineers.
In 2007 Governor Perry appointed Dannenbaum to the UT System Board of Regents. He has been a member of the College of Natural Sciences Foundation Advisory Council for 32 years and served as chairman from 1984 to 1987.
He married his high school sweetheart, Shirley Kay in 1963. They have two children and five grandchildren. In his personal life, Dannenbaum has been a lay reader at St. John the Divine Episcopal Church in Houston since 1955, with interim service at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Austin from 1958 through 1962.