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 other performers.

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 "party records").

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 of dollars.

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.

SOURCES:


http://www.donna-tribute.com/disc.htm
http://www.disco-disco.com/artists/donna.html
http://www.askmen.com/men/business_politics/54_david_geffen.html
http://www.discomusic.com

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/18/arts/music/donna-summer-queen-of-disco-dies-at-63.html

Footnotes (key to music-industry jargon):

  1. One-Hit Wonder:  Performer who achieves rapid fame when their single becomes popular, and fails to achieve popularity in the future.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Synthesizer:   Invented by scientist Robert Moog, an electronic device which uses transistors or integrated circuits to synthesize musical notes.

 

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