At the young age of 63, Donna Summer, who had been battling cancer, has passed away in her Florida home on Thursday, surrounded by family and friends.  The family released a statement:  “Early this morning, we lost Donna Summer Sudano, a woman of many gifts, the greatest being her faith.  While we grieve her passing, we are at peace celebrating her extraordinary life and her continued legacy. Words truly can’t express how much we appreciate your prayers and love for our family at this sensitive time.”

I was going to write an informational piece on the death of Donna Summer.  I felt it was important for me to write something because like Whitney Houston, in my book, she was also considered to be “the voice”.  Yes, her songs were upbeat, happy, and made you want to dance.  Even the ones about heartache were disco-fied!  However, her notes soared with the best of them, a fact overlooked because of the upbeat tunes she so often sang.  I read of her passing on Facebook, searched frantically for proof of this terrible news, and then gathered articles from across the internet, plugged in my iPod and got my Donna Summer albums playing!  I couldn’t focus.  A majority of her music was among the best, and all I kept thinking was, why did they ever say disco is dead?  These songs are AWESOME!  Hardly any different than the generic beats of a lot of the house music of the 90s, or some of the club music of today.  Newsflash, music snobs, disco never died.  Good music never does.  The fashions, though…well…

Donna Summer had a pretty productive life.  Her birth name was LaDonna Adrian Gaines.  She was born on New Year’s Eve in 1948.  Donna was brought up in a strict Christian household; one of seven kids, raised in Boston.  She was influenced by gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, and sang in the church from an early age.  As she got older, she formed musical groups with her sister and cousin in the style of Motown girl groups at the time, such as the Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas, later going more towards bluesy rock with the emergence of Janis Joplin.  Donna dropped out of school in her teens and joined a psychedelic rock group, the Crow, only to have them disband once they got to New York.  She auditioned for the Broadway musical, Hair, losing it but she was offered the European one.  Off to Germany she went, where she learned the language and began acting in more plays.  While in the Austrian production of Godspell, Donna fell in love with her first husband, actor Helmuth Sommer.  They married in 1972, had a child in 1973, Mimi, and divorced.  Donna kept the name, transforming it to the American version, Summer.  She lived with her boyfriend, artist and super jealous Peter Mühldorfer.  She recorded a song with the Brooklyn Dreams, and fell in love once more with one of the members.  “Heaven Knows” it was a good match, as she married Bruce Sudano in 1980, and had two children, Brooklyn, (named after the group) in 1981, and Amanda in 1982.  She is survived by her three children and husband.

Her first released song was in Europe, a cover of “Sally Go ‘Round the Roses”.  Summer soon met producers, Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, signed with Groovy Records and issued her first album, Lady of the Night, to limited European success.  Donna was writing for another artist, when she came up with the lyric, “Love to Love You, Baby”.  Moroder was exploring the new sound of the time, and they recorded a demo track of the now infamous song.  They wisely decided to release it, with the help of Casablanca Records, setting off a career of royal success.  Though several stations, even in the States, refused it airplay due to its orgasmic sounds and sexy whisperings, the single hit the top ten in 1976.  In 1977, “I Feel Love” became her second top ten, followed by 1978’s “MacArthur Park” and “Heaven Knows”.   It was in the movie Thank God It’s Friday, where her epic signature song, “Last Dance” featured and garnered writer Paul Jabara an Academy Award and Donna Summer her first Grammy.  Subsequent success was found with “Bad Girls”, “Hot Stuff”, “Dim All the Lights”, and “On the Radio”.  The first time the Grammys included the category Best Female Rock Vocal Performance, Donna Summer clinched it (“Hot Stuff”).  Overcome with the overwhelming rise of her early success, Summer became depressed and suffered from anxiety attacks in 1977, leading to her addiction to prescription medication.  Donna turned to the church in 1979, becoming a born-again Christian.

Casablanca and Summer parted ways when tension rose due to Donna’s desire to move her music in a different direction.  Signing with new label at the time, Geffen Rocords, Summer went for a more new wave, rock sound.  The rock edge crept in with The Wanderer, and with her second album, I’m A Rainbow, shelved and after seven years of working with Moroder, Geffen recruited Quincy Jones to serve as Summer’s producer on 1982’s Donna Summer.  Polygram Records, the parent company of Casablanca, came calling over failed contract fulfillments.  Donna Summer gave them the last album owed, She Works Hard for the Money, in which the title track hit #3 on the US Hot 100.  Back with Geffen, Cats Without Claws followed in 1984, with little commercial success, becoming the first of her albums to not reach gold status.  The decline continued with 1987’s All Systems Go, and Summer left Geffen for Warner Bros. for the 1989 release of Another Place and Time, which held the top ten hit single “This Time I Know It’s For Real”.  Mistaken Identity in 1991, was followed by Christmas Spirit on Polygram Records in 1994.  After a 17 year hiatus, Donna returned with Sony Records for 2008’s album, Crayons.  Nearly coming full circle, Summer wrote the tracks “The Queen is Back” and “Mr. Music” with J.R. Rotem and Evan Bogart, the son of Casablanca Records founder, Neil Bogart.  Her last single was “To Paris With Love”, in 2010, which reached #1 on the US Billboard Dance Chart.

A statement from the Recording Academy said she “had a dynamic voice and unique musical style that helped define the dance music genre in the ’70s.”  Academy President, Neil Portnow, continued praising Summer, calling her “an artist who crossed many musical genres, as evidenced by her Grammy wins in the R&B, rock, inspirational and dance categories.  Her talent was a true gift to the music industry, and our thoughts and sympathies are with her family, friends and fans throughout the world during this difficult time.”  Donna Summer had said she never liked to be categorized, calling herself an instrument that makes particular sounds for whatever was to come out for that color.  In a statement released by her publicist, duet partner in “No More Tears”, Barbra Streisand said, “I was shocked to hear about Donna.  She was so vital the last time I saw her a few months ago. I loved doing the duet with her. She had an amazing voice and was so talented.”  Twitter, the social medium that has become a platform for unofficial statements, had celebrities expressing their sorrow.  LaToya Jackson wrote “She will be terribly missed. She was truly the #Disco Queen!”  Quincy Jones tweeted, “Rest in Peace dear Donna Summer. Your voice was the heartbeat and soundtrack of a decade.”

The recipient of 5 Grammys, inducted into the Dance Hall of Fame in 2004, nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010, Donna Summer leaves behind a musical legacy.

“…If you think that love isn’t found on the radio, then tune right in, you may find the love you lost…”

Advertisements