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LIKE the King of Pop or the Queen of Soul, Donna Summer was bestowed a title fitting of musical royalty—the Queen of Disco. Yet unlike Michael Jackson or Aretha Franklin, it was a designation she wasn't comfortable embracing.
"I grew up on rock 'n' roll”, Summer once said when explaining her reluctance to claim the title.
Indeed, as disco boomed then crashed in a single decade in the 1970s, Summer, the beautiful voice and face of the genre with pulsating hits like "I Feel Love," ''Love to Love You Baby" and "Last Dance," would continue to make hits incorporating the rock roots she so loved. One of her biggest hits, "She Works Hard for the Money," came in the early 1980s and relied on a smoldering guitar solo as well as Summer's booming voice.
Yet, it was with her disco anthems that she would have the most impact in music, and it's how she was remembered on Thursday, May 17 as news spread of her death at age 63.
Summer was said to have died of cancer in Naples, Florida, Her family, it was gathered released a statement saying they "are at peace celebrating her extraordinary life and her continued legacy."
Luminaries from Aretha Franklin to Dolly Parton and Barbra Streisand mourned the loss, as did President Barack Obama, who said he and Michelle were saddened to hear of the passing of the five-time Grammy winner. "Her voice was unforgettable, and the music industry has lost a legend far too soon," he was quoted to have said. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to Donna's family and her dedicated fans."
It had been decades since that brief, flashy moment when Summer was every inch the Disco Queen.
Her glittery gowns and long eyelashes; her luxurious hair and glossy, open lips; her sultry vocals; her bedroom moans and sighs–she was as much a part of the culture as disco balls, polyester, platform shoes and the music's pulsing, pounding rhythms.
Summer's music gave voice to, not only a musical revolution, but a cultural one — a time when sex, race, fashion and drugs were being explored and exploited with freedom like never before in the United States.
Her rise was inseparable from disco's itself, though she remained popular for years after the genre she helped invent had died. She won a Grammy for best rock vocal performance for "Hot Stuff," a fiery guitar-based song that represented her shift from disco to more rock-based sounds, and created another kind of anthem with "She Works Hard for the Money," this time for women's rights movenent.
Summer may not have liked the title Disco Queen and later became a born-again Christian, but many remembered her best for her early years, starting with the sinful "Love to Love You Baby."Released in 1976, a breakthrough hit for Summer and for disco, it was a legend of studio ecstasy and the genre's ultimate sexual anthem.
Summer, whose real name was LaDonna Adrian Gaines, was born in 1948 in Boston. She was raised on gospel music and became the soloist in her church choir by age 10.
"There was no question I would be a singer, I just always knew. I had credit in my neighborhood, people would lend me money and tell me to pay it back when I got famous," Summer said in a 1989 interview with The Associated Press
The disco queen left school in 1960 to pursue her music career and landed a role in the Broadway musical Hair when it moved to Germany. She lived in Germany for several years and learned to speak German fluently.
A marriage to Helmuth Sommer didn't last, but the singer did hold on to her ex-husband's last name, changing it to "Summer."
Despite being involved in a number of groups in Europe, Summer's first hit in the United States did not happen until 1976 with the release of 'Love to Love You Baby'.
Her first Number One hit in the United States came just two years later with the release of her album, "Live and More".
Summer's success came as the 1970s disco sound was gaining popularity, and her star rose with it. She became an icon of the era. But unlike some other disco stars, Summer's success carried into the 1980s and into pop rock. Her 1983 hit, ’She Works Hard for the Money’ an anthem of the women's rights movement.
Summer went on to be nominated for twelve Grammy Awards, winning five. She was also an accomplished painter who sold over $1 million worth of original artwork during her life.
In 2010, she was nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but was ultimately not chosen.
Elton John said in a statement that Summer was more than the Queen of Disco. "Her records sound as good today as they ever did. That she has never been inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame is a total disgrace, especially when I see the second-rate talent that has been inducted," he said.
The disco queen later became a born-again Christian and was accused of making anti-gay comments in relation to the AIDS epidemic — a particular problem for a woman who was and remains a gay icon. Summer denied making the comments, but became the target of a boycott.
Religion played an important role in her later life, said Michael Levine, who briefly worked as her publicist.
"Her passion in her life, besides music, was God, spirituality and religion. She held a bible study class at her home every week," he said.
Summer released her last album, "Crayons," in 2008. It was her first full studio album in 17 years. She also performed on "American Idol" that year with its top female contestants.
Donna Summer was on Wednesday 23 laid to rest at Nashville after a pivate funeral.
Summer is survived by her husband, singer and producer, Bruce Sudano, and three daughters, Brooklyn, Amanda and her daughter from her previous marriage, Mimi.Share