WASHINGTON, May 17, 2012 - Hot summers in DC during the 1980s frame my earliest memory of LaDonna Adrian Gaines, stage name Donna Summer.
It was a time before MTV defined successful artists, before computers and video games were ubiquitous and captured the spare time and attention of young kids, and before children spent most of their time glued to their mobile devices, texting away. On some days when we weren’t in day camp, and my parents were away at work, my baby sister and I were confined to our hi-rise apartment building, forbidden from going outside until our parents came home and forced to find ways to keep ourselves busy.
When we weren’t pretending to be secretaries during pretend play, playing with our Cabbage Patch dolls or catching up on Kaptain Kangaroo, the Great Space Coaster or The Electric company on television, we were going though our dad’s extensive LP collection.
One of our favorites was Donna Summer’s Bad Girls album. The cardboard album sleeve that held the 11 inch disc was ratty and tattered from us pulling the record out so much to spin it on our RCA turntable. We had no clue that she was singing about call girls in the title song, though as a tween, I kind of knew “bad girls” couldn’t have been up to anything good.
Actually, Summer was inspired to pen the song after one of her assistants told her about being mistaken as a prostitute by a police officer. Those were the days of innocence for us. I knew all the words to “Dim all the Nights” and grooved to “Last Dance”.
I was totally aloof to the fact that those songs and her previous hits like “I feel Love” and “Love to Love You, baby” had already made Summer a bonafide star in the disco era. We didn’t know what “sexy” was and that, as a part of the female liberation movement, Summer was encapsulating sensuality in her racy songs and selling millions of records in the process.
It was the infectious dance beat of her music that we loved and appreciated. We’d grab our brush and sing along to Hot Stuff, a song that would eventually earn Summer her second Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance, the first time that category was included in the awards show.
And for a couple of urban kids growing up in the DC inner city, seeing a beautiful cocoa-colored woman in Afrocentric braids rock out on American Bandstand or Soul Train and achieve such cross-over success was inspiring. Not that my sister or I could sing or aspired to, but it was still a wonderful affirmation to know that it was possible.
Time passed and I eventually grew to love many other artists beyond those in my parents’ album collection, and after her 1983 hit She works hard for the money, I stopped tracking Summer’s career even after she became a born again Christian, quit making racy music, married twice and had three daughters.
Between 1975 and 2008, the multi-platinum album selling singer recorded 19 number 1 dance hits, a record she shares with Madonna, and Summer remains the only artist to have three consecutive double-LPs rise to the top spot on the albums chart with “Live and More,” “Bad Girls” and “On the Radio: Greatest Hits: Volumes I and II.”
She remains among the top 3 top selling dance artists.
Many today, reliving nostalgic memories of her music, and who hadn’t read her autobiography, may also not have known that Summer suffered from depression and anxiety, battled pain medication addiction, had suffered from a nervous breakdown and had tried to jump from a window to her death before her housekeeper knocked on her door forcing Summer to thwart her plans and eventually reconsider ending her life.
It was one of several suicide attempts, she revealed to Entertainment Tonight’s Mary Hart while promoting her 2008 album Crayons.
“It sort of snuck up on me,” the former Disco Queen told Hart. “I had my daughter, and during that period my marriage broke up, and I was alone. I was staying up at night, and I would go out and work, and I was up with her and maybe getting two or three hours of sleep a day — it was scary. I just couldn’t deal with another minute of it. I was on my way out the window and got caught in the curtain. The maid opened the door at exactly that time. Thank God that lady came because I would be gone today.”
Ironically, Summer’s current housekeeper found her dead today at her Englewood, Florida home after succumbing to her battle with cancer. She was 63.
Though the Queen of Disco has had her “last dance”, her music will no doubt survive her legacy and live on.
Read more Politics of Raising Children in The Communities at the Washington Times. Follow Jeneba Ghatt at @JenebaSpeaks. Her work can also be read at JenebaSpeaks and Politic365. She also co-hosts a Blog Talk Radio show called Right of Black which tackles current events and politics from a perspective not often seen in the mainstream media.
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