The only superstar performer the disco era of the '70s and '80s produced.
In a world of "one-hit wonders1", Summer, in collaboration with record producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte consistently produced
noteworthy recordings that earned awards including five Grammy2 wins and myriad
more nominations. She is the only artist to date to hit number one on the
Billboard music charts for three double albums in a row. Her
work output, spanning over thirty years, is evidence of her ability to change
with the times and produce viable product that sells in the highly-competitive
popular music market. Actress, singer, composer and lyricist; from sex-kitten to born-again Christian, her list of
successes in the entertainment business has only been eclipsed by a handful of
Donna Summer at-a-glance:
- Last Dance won an Academy Award3 for best song from a motion
picture in 1978. (Summer performed the song, but the award went to the
songwriter, Paul Jabara) It also earned a Golden Globe Award.
- She was the only artist ever to guest host Dick Clark's "American
Bandstand" television show.
- Summer was the first female artist to earn three number one singles in a
single year (1979).
- In total, so far, she's earned 11 gold albums and three platinum
albums (two of which went double platinum). Additionally, she has produced
twelve gold singles and two platinum singles.4
- Of her fourteen top-10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, four reached
the number one slot.
- She picked up three American Music Awards in 1979 for Favorite Female
Vocal Pop or Rock, Favorite Single Pop or Rock (Bad Girls), and Favorite
Female Vocalist for Soul Music.
- She was the first artist to sign with Geffen Records, owned by (now)
entertainment mega-mogul David Geffen.
- In 1980 she received the NAACP Image Award.
- In 1992 she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
- She is currently eligible for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.
Her given name is listed differently in a few sources. Variations include LaDonna Andrea Gaines,
Donna Andrea Gaines, and Donna Adrian Gaines.
She was born on December 31, 1948 in Boston, Massachusetts.
Her career began in 1968, when she left home to pursue an acting career in
Germany. Sources for this article are silent about whether she
studied the German language or learned it through immersion.
Regardless, she managed to master the language well enough to earn parts in
musicals including Hair and Godspell. She can be heard on the German
original cast albums for these shows.
Summer's runaway hit-machine consisted of herself and record producers Giorgio
Moroder and Peter Bellote. Controversy still exists as to whether or not
Summer rode Moroder's coat-tails to success, or if the case was the other way
around. Her fan base during the early part of her career consisted
predominately of gay disco-goers, as well as other habitués of the dance clubs
of the day.
The single "Love To Love You Baby" (from the album of the same name,
Casablanca, 1975) elevated Summer to international renown not only in the dance
music genre, but crossed-over and became popular with rock-and-roll and pop
audiences worldwide, as well. The song, paired with the album's suggestive cover art, also firmly established Summer's status as an international "sex-kitten." "Love To Love You" combined a pulsing dance
beat and simple lyrics sung well by Summer. More importantly, the song contained
moaning, groaning and other sexually-suggestive noises made by the singer, a
phenomenon previously heard only on X-rated novelty albums (also called
After "Love To Love You," the Summer/Moroder/Bellote team came up with plenty
more pioneering material, e.g., "Last Dance", Hot Stuff", "On The Radio" and
"She Works Hard For The Money." Additional to the popular singles, they produced
two significant "concept albums," "Four Seasons of Love" (Casablanca, 1976)
and "I Remember Yesterday" (Casablanca, 1977). "Yesterday" produced the
first track in history to contain a background which was executed totally
electronically, with a synthesizer5, rather than instruments, the hypnotic "I
Feel Love" with its Spartan, repetitive lyric but addictively danceable
bass-line. "I Feel Love" has been re-mixed many times and is to this
day sampled for use on rap, R&B and trance cuts by contemporary artists.
By the mid-1980s, Summer's star was shining as brightly as ever, with myriad
innovative live performances under her belt, additional to her impressive
recording accomplishments. She shocked her gay fan-base by abruptly
ceasing recording (the exact date is controversial) and announcing that she'd
become a devout "Born-Again" Christian. Gay and heterosexual club-goers
alike were shocked with her announcement at a Florida fund-raiser, "I love you
all, just not the way you are now." Gays considered it a slap in the face,
after they'd formed the fan-base which founded her career.
Recently, Summer renewed her support of her gay fan base. In 2003 Donna
performed at the annual White Tie & Tiara Ball to benefit the Elton John AIDS
Foundation. A more recent sold-out concert at Carnegie hall for GMHC (Gay
Men's Health Crisis) raised $400,000 for the charity.
Summer is an accomplished painter. Her artwork has sold for thousands
She was married briefly in the early 70s to Helmut Sommer, with whom she had
one child - Mimi Sommer. She is now grandmother to Mimi's children.
In 1980 she married songwriter Bruce Sudano with whom she had two
children, Brooklyn and Amanda Grace Sudano.
Donna Summer died on May 17, 2012 at one of her homes in Naples, Florida. The cause was cancer, according to a publicist. At this time, only Madonna equals her 18 number one dance music hits.
Footnotes (key to music-industry jargon):
- One-Hit Wonder: Performer who achieves rapid fame
when their single becomes popular, and fails to achieve popularity in the
- Grammy: Short for "Gramophone," the first sound
recording device. The awards bestowed each year for recording excellence
by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
- Academy Award: (also known as "Oscar"). The
awards bestowed each year for excellence in contribution to a motion picture
by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
- Gold Album: a recording which sells at least 500,000
copies. Platinum Album: a recording which sells at least a million
copies. Double Platinum Album: a recording which sells at least
two million copies. Record sales are tracked by the RIAA.
- Synthesizer: Invented by scientist Robert Moog,
an electronic device which uses transistors or integrated circuits to
synthesize musical notes.