Donna Summer Tribute
Many were shocked to hear of this news, as Summer was very intent on keeping her health issues secret, in order to maintain that all focus was aimed on her upcoming new album which is still in the production stages.
Born LaDonna Adrian Gaines on 31st December 1948 in Boston, Massachusetts, Summer has been credited as the first crossover artist in pop music history. Being an African American performer, she thrived in a genre that appealed to minorities which included the denizens of the New York nightlife scene. In which African American, Latino, and gay culture thrived in its own unique mix.
Donna humbly began her life as a singer in her local gospel choir, later going on to become a member of local band ‘Crow’ in her teenage years. Following on from this was her decision to move to New York, in order to pursue a career on Broadway. Aged 18, she would go on to appear in shows such as popular stage hit ‘Hippie’, however it was her decision to work overseas in Europe which would play a pivotal role in launching her career. After appearing in many German and Austrian stages, it was here in the UK that she would meet fellow performer and 1st husband Helmut Sommer, thus birthing her renowned stage name ‘Donna Summer’.
After encounters with the likes of producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte , alongside American music exec Neil Bogart in the early 70’s, Summers’ career and reign as disco queen would begin. Donna Summer produced infamous hits such as "Love to Love You Baby," a song inspired by sexy, French hit from 1959, "Je T'Aime...Moi Non Plus”. With Summer’s new disco sound achieving great success - despite little airplay - her music would then spur the creation of the music industry journal Billboard’s disco chart in 1975, in which Summer soon began consistently topping, alongside the R&B and pop charts. Other hits such as "I Feel Love," released in mid-1977 - a single from successful LP 'I Remember Yesterday', - would go on to show Summer as the pioneer she would become. This was the first hit to use what became known as the "galloping bass line," a pounding, 140-beat-per-minute rhythm created by a drum machine. Such production techniques were rapidly adopted as a standard in disco music. Summer would also be remembered as the first female recording artist to successfully incorporate synthesizers into her work.
Her list of hits would only continue to grow once signing to Geffen Records, where her label mates would consist of a young Elton John. Hits such as ‘Hot Stuff’ have served as backdrops to numerous memorable scenes in pop culture, earning her an array of awards ranging from Grammys to Oscar nominations. She has also worked with a who’s who list of many ground breaking artists in their own rights, from the late Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones and her successful duet with Barbara Streisand.
Although achieving many feats in the industry, her career would also suffer controversy in the early 80’s. She was a born-again Christian, following her marriage to Brooklyn Dreams musician Bruce Sudano (with whom she has two daughters Brooklyn and Amanda). Her new found religion would go on to steer her away from her disco roots and into a new musical direction, seen in her debut album on Geffen, The Wanderer, reflecting this new found spirituality. Unfortunately, although managing to chart well in the albums division, this failed to achieve the ground breaking success of its predecessors in terms of singles. The Wanderer would also see the end of her working relationship with long time producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte. Under the settlement terms of her lawsuit against her previous label Casablanca Records, Summer was required to record one more album for the label. The title track of the album ‘She Works Hard for the Money,’ would give her another classic, climbing to No. 3 on the U.S. charts in 1983.
Life for Summer continued to take an interesting turn after numerous battles with Geffen Records for her release. It is in this time she would begin exploring life as a painter after moving her young family to Arkansas in 94’. This new creative outlet spawned large, Expressionist-style canvases, many of which sold for several thousands of dollars. However despite this new venture, her career as a singer would continue, leading to her move to sign with Epic Records. This career move would go on to achieve further success with many best-selling anthologies, VH1 Presents Donna Summer: Live & More--Encore!
Although Donna Summer leaves behind her many adoring fans and loved ones; it is her celebrated legacy of musical greatness, which will stand as a true testament to her reign as the true cross-over queen of Disco!
R.I.P. Donna Summer
Words by: Ebony Reid