known by her stage name, Donna Summer, is an American singer/songwriter who gained prominence during the disco era of the 1970s. Summer is a five time Grammy winner and was the first artist to have three consecutive double albums reach number one on the US Billboard chart. She also charted four number-one singles in the US within a thirteen-month period.
Early life and careerBorn on New Year's Eve 1948 in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, Summer was one of seven children raised by devout Christian parents. Influenced by Mahalia Jackson, Summer began singing in the church at a young age. In her teens, she formed several musical groups including one with her sister and a cousin, imitating Motown girl groups such as The Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas in Boston.
In the late 1960s, Summer was influenced by Janis Joplin after listening to her albums as member of Big Brother and the Holding Company, and joined the psychedelic rock group the Crow as lead singer. Beforehand, Summer dropped out of school convinced that music was her way out of Boston, where she had always felt herself to be an outsider, even among her own family who ridiculed her for her voice and her looks. The group was short-lived, as they split upon their arrival in New York. In 1968, Summer auditioned for a role in the Broadway musical, Hair. She lost the part of Sheila to Melba Moore. When the musical moved to Europe, Summer was offered the role. She took it and moved to Germany for several years. While in Germany, she participated in the musicals Godspell and Show Boat. After settling in Munich, she began performing in several ensembles including the Viennese Folk Opera and even sang as a member of the pop group FamilyTree – "invented" and created by the German music producer Guenter "Yogi" Lauke & the Munich Machine. She came to the group in 1973 and toured with the 11-people pop group throughout Europe. She also sang as a studio session singer and in theaters. In 1971, while still using her birth name Donna Gaines, she released her first single, a cover of "Sally Go 'Round the Roses", though it was not a hit. In 1972, she married Austrian actor Helmuth Sommer and gave birth to their daughter Mimi Sommer in 1973. Citing marital problems caused by his frequent absences, she divorced him but kept his last name, changing the "o" to a "u".
In 1975, Summer approached Moroder with an idea for a song he and Bellotte were working on for another singer. She had come up with the lyrics "love to love you, baby". Moroder was interested in developing the new sound that was becoming popular and used Summer's lyric to develop the song. Moroder persuaded Summer to record what was to be a demo track for another performer. She later said that she had thought of how the song might sound if Marilyn Monroe had sung it and began cooing the lyrics. To get into the mood of recording the song, she requested the producers turn off the lights while she sat on a sofa inducing moans and groans. After hearing playback of the song, Moroder felt Summer's seductive version should actually be distributed. Released as "Love to Love You" in Europe, some radios stations refused to play it, but the song found modest chart success in several countries there.
The song was then sent to America and arrived in the office of Casablanca Records president Neil Bogart in hopes of getting a US release. Casablanca was known around the industry for throwing lavish parties. At one of these parties, Bogart, still undecided about releasing the song, had the DJ play "Love To Love You" so he could gauge the reaction of people on the dancefloor. The crowd took to the song (which was less than five minutes) so strongly that they kept asking for it to be played over and over consecutively so they could continue dancing in the same groove. Soon after that night, Bogart informed Summer and Moroder he would release the song but requested that Moroder produce a longer version, about 15 to 20 minutes in length. Moroder, Bellotte, and Summer returned with a 17 minute version that included a soulful chorus and an instrumental break where Summer invoked even more moans. Bogart stated the name would be slightly changed to "Love to Love You Baby" for the American release. Casablanca signed Summer and it released the single in November 1975. The shorter version of the single was promoted to radio stations while clubs received the 17 minute version (the 17 minute version would also appear on the album). When Casablanca released the 17 minute version as a single, it became one of the first record companies to help make popular a format that would later be known as the 12 inch. By early 1976, "Love To Love You Baby" had reached #2 on the US Billboard Hot 100, while the parent album of the same name sold over a million copies. The song generated controversy for Summer's moans and groans and some US radio stations, like several in Europe, refused to play it. Time magazine would report that 22 orgasms were simulated in the making of the song. Other upcoming singles included "Try Me, I Know We can Make It", US #80; "Could It Be Magic", US #52; "Spring Affair", US #58; and "Winter Melody", US #43. The subsequent albums Love Trilogy and Four Seasons of Love both went gold in the US.
In 1977, Summer released the concept album I Remember Yesterday. This album included her second top ten single, "I Feel Love", which reached number six in America and number one in the UK. These Hot 100 entries on the singles chart would help get Summer deemed in the press as "The First Lady of Love", a title which she was not totally comfortable with.
Another concept album, also released in 1977, was the double album, Once Upon a Time, which told of a modern-day Cinderella "rags to riches" story through the elements of orchestral disco and ballads. This album would also attain gold status. In 1978, Summer released her version of the Richard Harris ballad, "MacArthur Park", which became her first number one US hit. The song was featured on Summer's first live album, Live and More, which also became her first album to hit number one on the US Billboard 200 chart, and went platinum selling over a million copies. Other studio tracks included the top ten hit, "Heaven Knows", which featured the group Brooklyn Dreams accompanying her on background and Joe "Bean" Esposito singing alongside her on the verses. Summer would later be involved romantically with Brooklyn Dreams singer Bruce Sudano and the couple married two years after the song's release. Also in 1978, Summer acted in the film, Thank God It's Friday, playing a singer determined to perform at a hot disco club. The film met modest success, but a song from the film, entitled "Last Dance", reached number three on the US Hot 100 and resulted in Summer winning her first Grammy Award. Its writer, Paul Jabara, won an Academy Award for the composition. Despite her musical success, Summer was struggling with anxiety and depression and fell into a prescription drug addiction for several years.
In 1979, Summer was a performer on the world-televised Music for UNICEF Concert. The United Nations organization Unicef had declared 1979 as the Year of the Child. Summer joined contemporaries like Abba, Olivia Newton-John, the Bee Gees, Andy Gibb, Rod Stewart, John Denver, Earth, Wind and Fire, Rita Coolidge and Kris Kristofferson for an hour's TV special that raised funds and awareness for the world's children. Artists donated royalties of certain songs, some in perpetuity, to benefit the cause.
Bad Girls and the break from discoFollowing her recovery from prescription drug addiction, Summer worked on her next album with Moroder and Bellotte. The result was Bad Girls, an album that had been in production for nearly two years. Summer based the concept of the album on a prostitute, as was made clear in the lyrics. The album became a success, spawning the number one hits "Hot Stuff" and Bad Girls, and the number two ballad "Dim All the Lights" With MacArthur Park, Hot Stuff, Bad Girls, and the Barbra Streisand duet "No More Tears (Enough is Enough)", which appeared on Streisand's album, Summer achieved four number-one hits within a thirteen month period. Those aforementioned songs, along with Heaven Knows, Last Dance, Dim All The Lights, and On the Radio (from her upcoming double-album) would give her eight US Top 5 singles within a two year period. "Hot Stuff" later won her a second Grammy in the Best Female Rock Vocal Performance, which was the first time that category was ever brought to the award's show. That year, Summer played eight sold-out nights at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles.
Summer released her first greatest hits set in 1979, a double-album entitled On The Radio: Greatest Hits Volumes 1 & 2. The album reached number one in the US, becoming her third consecutive number one album. A new song from the compilation, "On the Radio", reached the US top five. After the release of the greatest hits album, Summer wanted to branch out and record other formats in addition to disco. This led to tensions between her and Casablanca Records. Sensing that they could no longer come to terms, Summer and the label parted ways in 1980, and she signed with Geffen Records, the label started by David Geffen. Summer's first release on Geffen Records was The Wanderer; it replaced the disco sound of Summer's previous releases with more of the burgeoning new wave sound and elements of rock, such as the material being recorded at this time by Pat Benatar. The first single, the title track, became a hit and peaked at #3 in the US, subsequent singles were moderate hits. The album achieved gold status in the US, but met limited success on the UK charts.
Summer's projected second Geffen release, entitled I'm a Rainbow, was shelved by Geffen Records (though two of the album's songs would surface in soundtracks of the 1980s films Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Flashdance). Summer reluctantly parted company with Moroder after seven years working together as Geffen had recruited Quincy Jones to produce her next album. The result was the 1982 album Donna Summer. The album had taken a lengthy six months to record. The album's first single, the dance-funky "Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger)", became an American top ten hit on the Hot 100. The next singles, "State of Independence"(#41 pop) and "The Woman In Me"(#33 pop), were moderate hits. Problems then increased between Summer and Geffen Records after they were notified by Polygram Records, the parent company of Summer's former label Casablanca, that she needed to deliver them one more album to fulfill her agreement with them. Summer delivered the album "She Works Hard for the Money" and Polygram released it on its Mercury imprint in 1983. The title song became a hit reaching number three on the US Hot 100, and Summer would receive a Grammy nomination for this song. The album also featured the reggae-flavored top 20 UK hit "Unconditional Love", which featured the group Musical Youth who were riding high from the success of their single "Pass the Dutchie". The third US single, "Love Has A Mind of Its Own", reached the top forty of the Billboard R&B chart. With the album She Works Hard For the Money being certified gold, spawning a US and a European hit, and receiving a Grammy nomination for the title song, David Geffen was reportedly upset that the album was a success but had not been released by his label, with whom Summer was currently contracted.
In late 1984, with no more albums due to Polygram, Summer returned on Geffen Records with her next release. Geffen, wanting to keep the momentum going, enlisted She Works Hard For the Money's producer Michael Omartian to produce Cats Without Claws. The album, however, was not as successful as She Works Hard For the Money or The Wanderer. It included a moderate hit in "There Goes My Baby", which just missed the US Top 20, peaking at #21. But the album failed to attain gold status of 500,000 copies sold in the US, becoming her first album since her 1974 debut not to do so.
Summer experienced success in the 1980s with several hit singles and gold albums, but she was mainly seen as a disco artist from the 70s, along with acts such as Gloria Gaynor, the Bee Gees, and KC and the Sunshine Band. In the 1980s, other acts began to make their impression on the music charts. The New Wave sounds of the Second British Invasion was very high profile, which included Culture Club, Wham, and the Eurythmics among others. Laura Branigan found success in a dance power-belt singing style reminiscent of Summer. Established American Soul singers like Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, and Chaka Kahn experienced pop chart success in this period, and new American singers such as Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, and Whitney Houston had redirected the tastes of the record-buying public in the 1980s.
Later career and current workIn 1987, Summer returned with the album All Systems Go, which did not sell well, becoming her second consecutive album not to go gold. It featured the minor US hit of Brenda Russell's composition "Dinner with Gershwin". The song, however, became a UK hit. The title song, "All Systems Go", was a UK only release, and it became a minor hit in that country. For Summer's next release, Geffen Records hired and paired the artist with the hit production team of Stock Aitken Waterman. SAW as they were also known, had experienced very strong success by writing and producing for such acts as Kylie Minogue, Dead Or Alive, Bananarama, and Rick Astley among others. However, Geffen decided not to release the album, entitled Another Place and Time, and Summer and Geffen Records parted ways in 1988.
Another Place and Time was released in Europe on Warner Bros. Records, which had been Summer's label of release in Europe since 1982. The single "This Time I Know It's For Real" had become a top ten hit in several countries in Europe, sparking Warner Bros. sister company under WEA, Atlantic Records, to sign Summer in the US and pick up the album for a North American release in 1989. Atlantic, too, had great success with the single as it peaked at #7 on the Hot 100 in America. The single was certified gold, becoming her twelfth gold single in the US. It became Summer's final top forty hit on the American pop charts. She scored two more UK hits from the album, "I Don't Wanna Get Hurt" (UK #7) and "Love's About To Change My Heart" (UK #20).
In 1991, Summer released the new jack swing-driven album Mistaken Identity. It did not sell strongly, but it did contain the #18 R&B hit "When Love Cries".
In 1993, Polygram Records released an extended greatest hits collection entitled "The Donna Summer Anthology". It included over two and a half hours of music from 34 songs. It not only included songs from the Polygram-owned labels of Casablanca and Mercury, but also material from Atlantic and Geffen Records as well.
In 1994, Summer return with a new album on Mercury/Polygram, a gospel-influenced Christmas album entitled Christmas Spirit. It included classic Christmas songs such as "O Holy Night", "Joy To The World", and "O Come All Ye Faithful" as well as some original songs.
Some of Summer's dance releases including "Carry On" (her first collaboration with Moroder in a decade) and "Melody of Love (Wanna Be Loved)" charted on the US Dance Chart, with "Melody of Love" reaching number one on that chart and also reaching number 21 on the UK Singles Chart
Also in 1994, Polygram would release yet another Summer album (Polygram's third Summer album within a two year period); a collection called "Endless Summer: Greatest Hits". The differences between this greatest hits album and the Anthology collection would be that this package contained 18 songs, while Anthology contained 34; and the songs here were mainly the radio versions heard at the time of their release, while Anthology contained somewhat longer versions of the songs.
While touring, Summer found work as an actor guest-starring on the sitcom Family Matters as Steve Urkel's (Jaleel White) Aunt Oona in 1994 and again in 1997. In 1998, Summer received a Grammy Award for Best Dance Recording, being the first to do so, after a remixed version of her 1992 collaboration with Giorgio Moroder, "Carry On", was released in 1997. In 1999, Summer taped a live television special for VH1 titled Donna Summer – Live and More Encore, producing the second highest ratings that year for the network, after their annual Divas special. (Incidentally, Donna appeared the next year on the third annual concert, honoring Diana Ross and singing her own hits.) A CD of the event was released by Epic Records and featured two studio recordings, "I Will Go with You (Con te partirò)" and "Love Is the Healer". Summer scored top ten hits on Billboard's Dance Chart in the beginning of the new millennium. In 2004, Summer was inducted to the Dance Music Hall of Fame alongside The Bee Gees and Barry Gibb as an artist. Her classic song, "I Feel Love", was also inducted that night. Also, that year, she became one of the first acts, as both an Artist Inductee and a Record Inductee (for 1977’s “I Feel Love”) into the Dance Music Hall of Fame in New York City. It is estimated that Donna Summer has sold more than 130 million albums and singles worldwide and It was commented on her interview with David Letterman and others.
In 2008, Summer released her first studio album of original music in 14 years entitled Crayons, which brought her American success, peaking at #17 on the US Top 200 Album Chart, and modest international success. The album was released on the Sony BMG label Burgundy Records. The songs "I'm A Fire", "Stamp Your Feet", and "Fame (The Game)" reached number one on the US Billboard Dance Chart. The ballad "Sand on My Feet" was released to adult contemporary stations and reached number thirty on that chart.
While commenting on the album, Summer said, “I wanted this album to have a lot of different directions on it. I did not want it to be any one baby. I just wanted it to be a sampler of flavors and influences from all over the world. There’s a touch of this, a little smidgeon of that, a dash of something else…like when you’re cooking.”
On the song “The Queen Is Back,” Donna Summer reveals her wry and witty self-awareness of her musical legacy and her public persona. “I’m making fun of myself,” she admits. “There’s irony, it’s poking fun at the idea of being called a queen. That’s a title that has followed me, followed me, and followed me. We were sitting and writing and that title kept popping up in my mind and I’m thinking, ‘Am I supposed to write this? Is this too arrogant to write?’ But people call me ‘the queen,’ so I guess it's ok to refer to myself as what everybody else refers to me as. We started writing the song and thought it was kind of cute and funny.”
Summer wrote “The Queen Is Back” and “Mr. Music” with J.R. Rotem and Evan Bogart, the son of Neil Bogart, Casablanca Records founder. Neil Bogart died from cancer at the age of 39. He signed Summer to his Casablanca Records label in 1975 and released what would be most of her biggest albums and singles during the 70s decade. “I adored him and would have given up everything for him to be alive,” says Summer, remembering a time backstage long ago “when the nail person didn’t show up and Neil got on his knees and did my toenails. In many ways he was my mentor and I didn’t get to say goodbye to him.” When Summer met Evan Bogart, she was struck by his uncanny resemblance to his father. “It’s almost like they chiseled him out of his father,” Summer observed. “I’m in the studio looking at him and I get tears in my eyes, he has no idea why. I just wanted to hug him because it’s like I’m seeing someone I haven’t seen since his father passed away. It’s almost like Neil is looking at me through him. Evan and I hit it off immediately; there was a synergy that happened really quickly.”
On December 11, 2009, Summer performed at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway, in honor of US President Barack Obama. She was backed by the Norwegian Radio Orchestra.
In August 2010, she released the single "To Paris With Love", co-written with Bruce Roberts and produced by Peter Stengaard. In October 2010, the single reached #1 on the US Billboard Dance Chart. Also that month Donna taped and closed the show for the PBS Special "David Foster and Friends". Highlights include a duet with Seal: a medley with the songs "Unbreak My Heart / Crazy / On the Radio.".
On July 29, 2010, Summer gave an interview with allvoices.com where she was asked if she would consider doing an album of standards. She replied:
- "I actually am, probably in September. I will begin work on a standards album. I will probably do an all-out dance album and a standards album. I'm gonna do both, and we will release them however were gonna release them. We are not sure which is going first."
On October 16, 2010, she performed at a benefit concert at the Phoenix Symphony.
- 1974: Lady of the Night
- 1975: Love to Love You Baby
- 1976: A Love Trilogy
- 1976: Four Seasons of Love
- 1977: I Remember Yesterday
- 1977: Once Upon a Time
- 1979: Bad Girls
- 1980: The Wanderer
- 1981: I'm a Rainbow
- 1982: Donna Summer
- 1983: She Works Hard for the Money
- 1984: Cats Without Claws
- 1987: All Systems Go
- 1989: Another Place and Time
- 1991: Mistaken Identity
- 1994: Christmas Spirit
- 2008: Crayons