), known by the stage name Donna Summer, was an American singer/songwriter who gained prominence during the disco era of the 1970s. She had a mezzo-soprano vocal range, and was a five-time Grammy Award winner. Summer was the first artist to have three consecutive double albums reach number one on the US Billboard chart, and she also charted four number-one singles in the United States within a 13-month period.
Summer died on May 17, 2012. AP reports that she died in the morning at her home in Key West, Florida at age 63 following a battle with cancer.
Early life and careerDonna Summer was born on New Year's Eve 1948 in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. She 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 a member of Big Brother and the Holding Company, and 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. She joined the psychedelic rock group the Crow as lead singer, but 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, but 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, where she learned to speak German fluently, she participated in the musicals Ich Bin Ich (the German version of The Me Nobody Knows), Godspell and Show Boat. After settling in Munich, she began performing in several ensembles including the Viennese Folk Opera and also sang as a member of the pop group FamilyTree (created by the German music producer Guenter "Yogi" Lauke). She joined the group in 1973 and toured with them 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 her affair with German artist (and future live-in boyfriend) Peter Mühldorfer, she divorced Helmuth but kept his last name, anglicising it to "Summer". She also worked on an album with keyboardist/producer Veit Marvos in 1972, providing backing vocals on his Ariola records release Nice To See You (where she was credited under the pseudonym Gayn Pierre). Several single releases over the years have included a young Donna performing with the group, even though she often denied ever singing on any of the Marvos releases. The name "Gayn Pierre" was also used by Donna while performing in Godspell with Helmuth Sommer during 1972.
1970sWhile singing background for the hit-making 1970s trio Three Dog Night, Summer met producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte. She eventually signed a deal with the European label Groovy Records and issued her first album, Lady of the Night, in 1974. The album was not released in America, but found some limited European success on the strength of the song "The Hostage", which reached number one in Belgium and number two in the Netherlands.
In 1975, Summer approached Moroder with an idea for a song she and Bellotte were working on for another singer. She had come up with the lyric "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 Moroder turn off the lights while they sat on a sofa with him inducing her moans and groans. After hearing playback of the song, Moroder felt Summer's version should actually be released. Although some radio stations refused to play it due to its suggestive style, "Love to Love You" found chart success in several European countries, and made the Top 5 in the United Kingdom.
The song was then sent to Casablanca Records president Neil Bogart in hopes of getting an American release. Bogart informed Summer and Moroder he would release the song (now called "Love to Love You Baby") but requested that Moroder produce a longer version for discothèques. Moroder, Bellotte, and Summer returned with a 17 minute version and Casablanca signed Summer and released the single in November 1975. The shorter version of the single was promoted to radio stations whilst clubs regularly played the 17 minute version (the longer version would also appear on the album). Casablanca became one of the first record labels to popularize the 12" single format. 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 due to Summer's moans and groans and some American 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 the US and number one in the UK. Another concept album, also released in 1977, was Once Upon a Time, a double album 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 Jimmy Webb ballad, "MacArthur Park", which became her first US number one 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 romantically involved 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, titled "Last Dance", reached number three on the 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 became dependent on prescription drugs for several years.
In 1979, Summer performed at the world-televised Music for UNICEF Concert, joining contemporaries such as 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 discoSummer began work on her next project with Moroder and Bellotte, Bad Girls, an album that had been in production for nearly two years. Summer based the whole concept on prostitution (revisiting the theme for 1974's 'Lady Of The Night'), even dressing as a hooker herself on the cover art. The album became a huge success, spawning the number one hits "Hot Stuff" and Bad Girls, and the number two "Dim All the Lights". With MacArthur Park, Hot Stuff, Bad Girls, and the Barbra Streisand duet "No More Tears (Enough is Enough)", 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, the first time the category was included. That year, Summer played eight sold-out nights at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles.
Summer released her first (international) 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, selling over a million copies in the U.S. alone. Donna summer will be missed
1980sAfter the release of the greatest hits album, Summer wanted to branch out into other musical styles in addition to disco, which 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 new label started by David Geffen.
Summer's first release on Geffen Records was The Wanderer, which 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 album achieved gold status in the US, and the title track (released as the first single) peaked at #3 in the US, though subsequent singles were only moderate hits.
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, 1982's Donna Summer. The album had taken a lengthy six months to record. The album's first single, "Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger)", became an American top ten hit on the Hot 100, followed by more moderate hits "State of Independence"(#41 pop) and "The Woman In Me"(#33 pop). 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 contract 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 would provide Summer with a Grammy nomination. The album also featured the reggae-flavored UK Top 20 hit "Unconditional Love", which featured the British 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. The album itself was certified gold.
In late 1984, with her obligation to Polygram complete, 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 and 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. It did include a moderate hit in "There Goes My Baby", which peaked at #21.
ControversyIn the mid 1980s, Summer was embroiled in a controversy. She had allegedly made anti-gay remarks regarding the then-relatively new disease, AIDS, which as a result had a significantly negative impact on her career and saw thousands of her records being returned to her record company by angered fans. Summer, by this time a born-again Christian, was alleged to have said that AIDS was a punishment from God for the immoral lifestyles of homosexuals. However, she denied that she had ever made any such comment and, in a letter to the AIDS campaign group ACT UP in 1989, she said that it was "a terrible misunderstanding. I was unknowingly protected by those around me from the bad press and hate letters ... If I have caused you pain, forgive me." She went on to apologize for the delay in refuting the rumours and closed her letter with quotes from Chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians from the Bible.
Also in 1989, Summer told The Advocate magazine that "A couple of the people I write with are gay, and they have been ever since I met them. What people want to do with their bodies is their personal preference.". A couple of years later she filed a lawsuit against New York magazine when it reprinted the rumours as fact just as she was about to release her album Mistaken Identity in 1991. According to a Biography television program dedicated to Summer in which she participated in 1995, the lawsuit was settled out of court though neither side was able to divulge any details.
European successIn 1987, Summer returned with the album All Systems Go, which did not sell well, becoming her second consecutive album not to achieve gold status. It featured the single "Dinner with Gershwin" (written by Brenda Russell), which was only a minor US hit, though it peaked at #13 in the UK. The album's title track, "All Systems Go", was released only in the UK where it peaked at #54.
For Summer's next album, Geffen Records hired the British hit production team of Stock Aitken Waterman (or SAW), who had enjoyed incredible 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. The album was released in Europe in March 1989 on Warner Bros. Records, which had been Summer's label 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, prompting the Warner Bros. subsidiary company Atlantic Records to sign Summer in the US and pick up the album for a North American release soon after. The single peaked at #7 on the Hot 100 in the US, and became her twelfth gold single there. It was also Summer's final Top 40 hit on the American pop charts, though 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).
1990sIn 1990, a new compilation, The Best of Donna Summer, was released on Warner Bros. Records. It featured some of Summer's biggest hits from the 1970s and 1980s. The album achieved Gold status in the UK, where "State of Independence" had been re-released to promote it.
In 1991, Summer released the new jack swing style album Mistaken Identity. It did not sell well, but 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 34 songs, totalling over two and a half hours of music. 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",and a stiring rendition of Amy Grant's "Breath Of Heaven", 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 compilation album entitled "Endless Summer: Greatest Hits", containing 18 songs which were mainly the radio versions heard at the time of their release (as opposed to the Anthology album the year before which contained many longer versions of the songs).
During this time, Summer was offered a guest role on the sitcom Family Matters as Steve Urkel's (Jaleel White) Aunt Oona. She made a second appearance 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. 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" which reached number one on the Billboard Dance Charts.
2000sSummer continued to score top ten hits on Billboard's Dance Chart in the new millennium. In 2000, she also appeared on the third annual Divas special, dedicated to Diana Ross, though Summer sang her own material for the show. 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.
In 2008, Summer released her first studio album of fully original material in 17 years, entitled Crayons. Released on the Sony BMG label Burgundy Records, it peaked at #17 on the US Top 200 Album Chart (her highest placing on the chart since 1983), and achieved modest international success. 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", 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 Casablanca Records founder, Neil Bogart.
On December 11, 2009, Summer performed at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway, in honor of United States President Barack Obama. She was backed by the Norwegian Radio Orchestra.
2010sIn 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, Summer appeared in the PBS Television Special Hitman Returns: David Foster and Friends. In it, Summer performed with Seal on a medley of the songs "Unbreak My Heart / Crazy / On the Radio", before Summer closed the show with "Last Dance".
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.
On June 6, 2011, Summer was a guest judge on the show, Platinum Hit in week two titled, Dance Floor Royalty. Platinum Hit is a reality competition series on Bravo launched in 2011 in which 12 singer-songwriters compete through innovative songwriting challenges that will test their creativity, patience and drive. Every episode features a different topic from a dance track to a love ballad, that require the contestants to write and perform lyrics from a multiple of genres, for a cash prize of $100,000, a publishing deal with songwriting collective The Writing Camp, and a recording deal with RCA/Jive label.
In July 2011, Summer was working at Paramount Recording Studios in Los Angeles with her nephew, the rapper and producer O'Mega Red. Together they worked on a track entitled "Angel".
Later years and deathOn May 17, 2012, Summer died at the age of 63 after a battle with cancer. Summer is survived by her husband Bruce Sudano, their daughters Brooklyn and Amanda, as well as her daughter Mimi from her previous marriage.
Summer was one of seven children born and raised in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood, living on the first floor of a three-decker home. Following her move to Austria in 1971, she met and fell in love with actor Helmuth Sommer while the two were acting in Godspell. In 1973, the couple married and that year Summer gave birth to her first child, daughter Mimi Sommer. However, the marriage crumbled and by 1975, they had formally divorced. Summer took her husband's last name, translated to English, as her stage name. After her divorce, she moved into her Los Angeles house with lover Peter Mühldorfer, a respected surrealist painter. As her fame increased, Mühldorfer resented all the press and public attention and it drove a wedge between them. She has stated that he became violent and with the help of Casablanca Records mogul Neil Bogart he was eventually forced to return to Germany after his visa was revoked.
In 1978, while working on the hit track, "Heaven Knows" which featured Brooklyn Dreams member Joe "Bean" Esposito on vocals, Summer met fellow member Bruce Sudano. Within a few months, Summer and Sudano became an item. The couple married on July 16, 1980. A year later, Summer gave birth to another daughter (her first child with Sudano), Brooklyn Sudano, named after Sudano's group. A year after that, Summer and Sudano had their second child, Amanda.
Summer had often talked about her early successful years as a period of confusion and anxiety. By mid-1977, struggling with the media's crowning her "the first lady of love", she began suffering from depression and anxiety attacks. Summer wrote in her memoirs that she attempted suicide several times. Her rapid rise to success combined with some serious regrets about mistakes in her personal life. During this time, she self-medicated on prescription medication, resulting in an addiction. Following a nervous breakdown at her home in 1979, Summer went to a local church with her sister Dara and declared herself a born-again Christian. Summer then decided that from then on, she would no longer perform the song that had won her international fame and recognition, "Love to Love You Baby". A quarter of a century later, however, she began performing the song again live. As recently as 2011, she even re-recorded the track, complete with racy sighs and moans, for the "Loverdose" fragrance advertisement by Diesel.
In 1994, Summer and her family moved from Los Angeles to Nashville, where she took time out from show business to focus on painting, a hobby she began in 1985. In 1995, Summer's mother died.