SAN DIEGO, May 17, 2012 – Donna Summer, the voice of the disco era that put millions of people on the dance floor in the 1970s and 1980s, died today after a long battle with cancer at age 63.
According to Summer’s family in a statement released today announcing her death, they “are at peace celebrating her extraordinary life and her continued legacy.”
Summer, who was born LaDonna Gaines, died in Florida, where according to TMZ.com she was working on music for a new album.
Summer was one of seven children, daughter of a Boston butcher and a teacher. She grew up listening to gospel greats like Mahalia Jackson but also singers like Janis Joplin. She dropped out of high school just shy of graduation, moved to Germany where she landed a role in a production of the musical “Hair.” It was there in 1977 studio producer Giorgio Moroder found her to sing on a demo of a song he’d just written, “Love to Love You Baby.” The song was a smash and a star was born.
“I knew I would be great,” said Summer in a 1979 Newsweek interview. “People bagged me as incapable of singing anything but “Love to Love You Baby.” But I was totally aware I had more going for me.”
Summer was a five-time Grammy Award winner who was swept to fame on the disco wave of the 1970s. Her first big hit was the sultry “Love to Love You Baby” in 1975, which she co-wrote. She also co-wrote many of her other big hits including “She Works Hard for Her Money.” Her sound was a mix of genres and helped her earn Grammy Awards in the dance, rock, R&B and inspirational categories.
Summers’ numerous gold and platinum albums include “Bad Girls,” “On the Radio Volume I & II.” She had Billboard number one hits with “Hot Stuff and a disco-infused remake of “MacArthur Park.”
Summer’s most recent album “Crayons” was released in 2008. That same year, she performed on “American Idol” with the top female contestants, which has become a modern validation of an artist’s lasting influence.
Donna Summer’s title as the “Queen of Disco” was well earned. She was one of the few disco era performers to enjoy a lasting and meaningful career beyond a few hits, perhaps rivaled only by the Bee Gees. Summer possessed true vocal talent, backed up by her songwriting skills. She was also smart about working with talented collaborators including her original producer Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte who helped bring her the best material.
Summer also had a live presence that eclipsed her contemporaries. She was sultry, assured, and never held back, which embodied the very best the disco era had to offer. It made her the ultimate disco diva with star power backed by true musical talent.
Among the diverse artists who cite Donna Summer as a major musical influence: Beyoncé, Dr. Dre, Timbaland and Ne-Yo; even progressive rocker Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree. Jenninfer Lopez sampled Summer’s “On the Radio” for her recent version of the hit.
Summer said in 1979 that she hoped she wouldn’t die with disco. “I’d like to have as much validity as Streisand and Aretha Franklin,” she said. Summer achieved this and beyond with a unique influence on a genre that was all her own. It is doubtful that we would have had a Madonna, or a Janet Jackson, Jody Watley, Mariah Carey or even a Whitney Houston without Summer leading the way.
Summer is survived by her husband Bruce Sudano of 32 years, three daughters and four grandchildren.
Enjoy this excellent live performance of “Hot Stuff” from The Dinah Shore Show in 1977.
Newsweek and Associated Press contributed to this story.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. Read more Media Migraine in the Communities at The Washington Times. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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