LaDonna Adrian Gaines (December 31, 1948 – May 17, 2012), known professionally as Donna Summer, was an American singer, songwriter, and actress. She gained prominence during the disco era of the 1970s and became known as the "Queen of Disco", while her music gained a global following.
Summer was one of seven children raised by devout Christian parents. She sang in church, and in her teens joined a funk group called The Crow, so named because Donna was the only black member of the group. At eighteen, Gaines left home and school to audition for a role in the cast of the Broadway musical, Hair (1968). Unsuccessful in getting the part in the Broadway show (Melba Moore got the role), she was offered the European Tour when the show moved to Germany, where Summer also performed in the German versions of several musicals including Godspell and Show Boat. She settled in Munich and also performed with the Viennese Folk Opera and the pop band Munich Machine.
In 1971, Gaines released a single in Europe entitled "Sally Go 'Round The Roses", her first solo recording. The single was unsuccessful, however, and she had to wait until 1974 to launch a solo career. Gaines married Austrian actor Helmuth Sommer ("Summer" is an Anglicization of his last name) in 1972 and gave birth to daughter Mimi the following year. Summer did various musical jobs in studios and theaters for several years, including the pop group FamilyTree from 1974-75.
After her divorce from Sommer, she married her second husband, American musician Bruce Sudano, in 1980. They have two daughters named Brooklyn and Amanda. Sudano was a member of the '70s groups Alive N Kickin' and The Brooklyn Dreams.
While singing back-up for groups such as Three Dog Night, she met producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte. With these producers, Summer signed a contract in the Netherlands and issued her first album, Lady of the Night, which included the European hit, "The Hostage". The single made #1 in France and Belgium, and #2 in the Netherlands. Its follow-up, the title track of the album, also gained some degree of European success.
In the summer of 1975, Summer approached Moroder and Bellotte with an idea for a song. She had come up with the lyric "Love to love you, baby" as the possible title for the song. Moroder was interested in developing the new disco sound that was becoming increasingly popular, and used Summer's lyric to develop the song into a disco track. He had the idea that she should moan and groan orgasmically, but Summer was reticent. Eventually she agreed to record the song as a demo. She has stated that she was not completely sure of some of the lyrics, and parts of the song were improvised during the recording. Donna later stated on a VH-1 "Behind The Music" program that she pictured herself as Marilyn Monroe acting out the part of someone in sexual ecstasy. Moroder was so astounded with Summer's orgasmic vocals that he insisted she release the single herself. The song, titled "Love to Love You", was released to modest success in Europe. When it reached America and the hands of Casablanca president Neil Bogart, however, he was so ecstatic over the demo that he asked Moroder to produce a twenty-minute version of the song. Summer, Moroder and producer Pete Bellotte cut a seventeen-minute version, renamed it "Love to Love You Baby", and Casablanca signed Summer and issued it as a single in November 1975. Casablanca distributed Summer's work in the US while other labels distributed it in different nations during this period.
"Love to Love You Baby" was Summer's first big hit in America, reaching #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in early 1976 and becoming her first Number-One Hot Dance Club Play chart hit. The album (side one of which was completely taken up with the full-length version of the title track) was also released in late 1975 and was soon certified Gold for sales of over 500,000 US copies. The song was branded "graphic" by some music critics and was even banned by some radio stations for its explicit content. Time magazine reported that 22 orgasms were simulated in the making of the song, and some of the music press dubbed Summer "the first lady of love." Two successful, Gold-selling concept albums followed: A Love Trilogy which featured the single "Could It Be Magic" and Four Seasons Of Love which featured the uptempo "Spring Affair" as well as the ballad "Winter Melody" which was a top 30 hit in the UK - the first of Donna's singles to be aired on Radio 1 and a hit on the US R&B charts.
The 1977 album I Remember Yesterday, another concept album, found the Summer/Moroder/Bellotte team combining the Disco sound with musical elements of the past, present and future. The song representing the future, "I Feel Love" became a landmark recording, giving Donna another Pop and R&B hit reaching #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and number one in the UK. "I Feel Love" earned her a second US Gold Single as well. The song's use of electronic sounds was revolutionary and popularized synthesizers in dance, rock, and the burgeoning new wave.
Summer released another album in 1977, Once Upon A Time, a concept album telling a modern-day Cinderella "rags to riches" story through the means of electronica. The album contained three top forty hits Fairy Tale High, Rumour Has It and I Love You.
In 1978 Summer acted in the film Thank God It's Friday and released the single "Last Dance" which became her third US million-selling single. Written by the late Paul Jabara — who also co-wrote "It's Raining Men", "The Main Event (Fight)" and "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)" — the song became another major hit for Summer, reaching #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and resulting in her first Grammy win. Jabara took home the Oscar after the song was nominated for Song Of The Year. Summer also recorded a side-long version of Serge Gainsbourg's "Je T'Aime (Moi Non Plus)" which was very similar in style to "Love to Love You, Baby", initially shelved and later released as a part of the Thank God It's Friday soundtrack.
That same year, Summer released her first live album, Live and More. This was Summer's first #1 album as well as her first to reach the million-selling Platinum mark. It included her first #1 American Pop single, a cover of the Jimmy Webb-penned "MacArthur Park" - another Gold-certified US 45 - originally made famous by the late actor/singer Richard Harris. The studio part of the album included the tracks "One Of A Kind" and "Heaven Knows" which also featured vocals by Joe "Bean" Esposito of the Brooklyn Dreams (group member Bruce Sudano would later become romantically involved with Summer). "Heaven Knows" became another Gold US Record and another Top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.
Summer was a guest artist on Kiss bassist Gene Simmons's 1978 eponymous solo album.
In 1979, Summer released the landmark double-album Bad Girls. Unusual for a disco album, it mixed Rock, Funk, Blues and Soul into electronic beats. It yielded three consecutive million-selling singles: the #1 hits "Hot Stuff" and "Bad Girls", and the #2 hit "Dim All The Lights". "Bad Girls" also became Summer's first #1 song on Billboard's R&B singles chart. With US record sales at an all-time apex in 1979, Summer had a straight run of five US Gold singles (three of which went on to Platinum status) that year alone. "Hot Stuff" won Summer a second Grammy, for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance (interestingly, the Grammys had a Best Disco Recording Award only once, in 1980, won by Gloria Gaynor for her I Will Survive single). Bad Girls became Summer's second #1 album and the most successful album of her entire career - eventually selling over two million copies in the US. Summer and Bruce Sudano grew closer during the making of this album and became engaged. During this period, Summer had two songs in the top three of Billboard's Hot 100 during the same week, with "Bad Girls" and "Hot Stuff". Just a few months later, she accomplished the same feat again, with "No More Tears" and "Dim All the Lights". During the summer of 1979, she played eight sold-out nights at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles.
Summer's first compilation album, On The Radio: Greatest Hits Volumes 1 & 2, was a global smash and her third straight #1 US album - also going on to sell over two million copies in the US alone. With this, Summer became the first artist to have three consecutive US number-one double-albums. The album also contained two new tracks - "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)", the Platinum-selling #1 duet with Barbra Streisand, and the Grammy-nominated Top Five Gold hit "On the Radio", a song written for the film Foxes. The Streisand-Summer duet was her fourth and final #1 Pop hit in the U.S - and her fourth #1 single in thirteen months. Afterwards, disagreements between Summer and Casablanca Records led to her exit from the label in 1980. Summer was offered a lucrative deal by David Geffen and became the first artist to be signed to his new Geffen label in 1980.
Summer's first Geffen release, 1980's The Wanderer, was something of a departure, in some ways closer to a rock/new wave affair. The title track, and accompanying singles "Cold Love" and "Who Do You Think You're Foolin'?" saw Summer attempting to reach the same audience dominated by contemporaries like Blondie and Pat Benatar. The title track was another million-selling hit, reaching #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and earning her yet another Gold single in the States. The album peaked at #13 on the US album charts and earned a Gold album certification in the US. Her next album, I'm a Rainbow, a new wave - oriented double album which also featured elements of Soul, R&B, period British techno-pop and even synth-based Disco, was shelved by Geffen (although two of the tracks would surface during the 1980s on the Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Flashdance film soundtracks). Reluctantly, Summer left Moroder after seven years of collaboration, and began work with Quincy Jones.
In 1982 Geffen released the Gold-certified, self-titled Donna Summer, and the new production from Quincy Jones was again in the Top 10 of the Pop, R&B, and Dance charts with the Grammy-nominated "Love Is In Control (Finger On The Trigger)". A second single, "State of Independence", on which Michael Jackson sang background along with a veritable "who's who" of the music world, became a sizable international hit but a minor hit in the US. One more single from the album followed, "The Woman In Me", later recorded by Ann Wilson & Nancy Wilson of the rock group Heart. It peaked at #33 on the Hot 100 and #30 on the R&B chart.
In 1983 Summer scored her biggest triumph since Bad Girls with the release of the album, She Works Hard for the Money. The title track became one of her most played songs. The Grammy-nominated hit also became a pro-feminist anthem and was a staple on MTV, making her the first black woman to have a video air in heavy rotation on the channel. The single was also Summer's biggest-ever R&B hit (#1 for three weeks) and had frequent play on BET. It was released on PolyGram's Mercury Records to settle a legal dispute following PolyGram's absorption of Casablanca. It was Summer's 6th LP in a row to feature a Billboard Top Ten Hit. A second single from the She Works Hard For The Money album, the reggae-flavored "Unconditional Love" featured vocals by British band Musical Youth and outsold the first single in the UK, but stopped short of the US Top 40.
The next few years saw Summer's popularity decline. 1984's Cats Without Claws peaked at #40 on Billboard's Album Chart, while 1987's All Systems Go stalled at #122 on the chart with no major hits. The first single, Dinner with Gershwin, was a sizable international hit as well as being a Top Ten US R&B hit. However, it was not enough to heal the difficult relationship with David Geffen. Summer left Geffen Records in 1988 to sign with Atlantic Records when he refused to release her next album.
Summer rebounded again in 1989 with the album Another Place and Time, a collaboration with British top dance-pop songwriting and production team Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman known as Stock Aitken Waterman. "This Time I Know It's For Real" became Summer's fourteenth Top 10 Billboard Pop hit in the US and returned to her to Gold-single status. It was also a Top 10 hit in the UK, and a huge success on Adult Contemporary radio, holding at #2 for four weeks. Another track, "I Don't Wanna Get Hurt", became another UK Top 10 hit. The follow-up single, "Love's About To Change My Heart", reached the UK Top 20 and became a US Dance chart hit, but stalled at #85 on the Billboard Pop chart. The album itself peaked at #17 in the UK, and peaked at #53 in the US. The plan was that Donna would record a second album with Stock, Aitken and Waterman but they fell out and the album was never recorded.
In 1991, she released the album Mistaken Identity, which incorporated New Jack Swing and Urban Contemporary into her music. The album was not a commercial success and sold less than 50,000 copies, failing to even appear on the Billboard Album Chart (though it reached #97 on the R&B Albums chart). However, Summer did score a top twenty R&B hit with "When Love Cries".
The following year, Summer received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The year also saw her collaborate with Giorgio Moroder for the first time in over a decade with the song "Carry On". First featured on his Forever Dancing album, the following year the track would be featured on the double album The Donna Summer Anthology. This compilation also featured two exclusive remixes from the unreleased I'm a Rainbow album recorded back in 1981.
In 1993, she participated in the Edith Piaf: Tribute album, with her cover for the song"La Vie En Rose".
A gospel-influenced Christmas album entitled Christmas Spirit in 1994 became Summer's first full-length album in over three years, and a new compilation entitled Endless Summer (both released by PolyGram) also contained new tracks, including "Melody of Love (Wanna Be Loved)", which became the year's # 1 Billboard hit on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart.
In 1995, a remix of "I Feel Love" (with newly recorded vocals) became a hit again in the UK, reaching #8 there and #9 on "Billboard's Dance Club Play" chart. The following year she would score another Top 20 hit there with a new remix of "State of Independence". In 1996, Summer's album I'm a Rainbow was finally released by Polygram's Mercury Records after a 15 year delay.
In 1994 and 1997 she played the role of "Aunt Oona from Altoona" on the TV series Family Matters. She also sang "Last Dance" in her first episode.
1996 saw Summer collaborating in several others artists' projects:
"Does He Love You?" - a duet with Liza Minnelli for Minnelli's album Gently; "Whenever There Is Love" duet with Bruce Roberts for the Daylight OST (also recording a version in Spanish); "From A Distance" with Nanci Griffith And Raul Malo for the "One Voice" project; and "Someday" for the CD Mouse House Remixes (Song From Disney's The Hunchback Of Notre Dame OST).
In 1998, Summer was the first artist to receive a Grammy award for Best Dance Recording for her 1992 collaboration with Giorgio Moroder, "Carry On", after the song was remixed and released as a single. In 1999, Summer starred in a televised live concert on the VH1 network entitled Donna Summer - Live and More Encore. The special earned the network their highest ratings of the year, second only to their annual Divas concert. Performing a string of her classics and new singles, she also sang "Dim All the Lights" as a tribute to Rod Stewart. Summer acknowledges that she wrote the song for Stewart but recorded it herself. She also performed an updated version of "No More Tears" with Australian pop diva Tina Arena. A live CD of the special (on the Epic label) and DVD of the special were released, returning the singer back to the U.S. albums chart, selling close to half a million copies in the USA. Summer scored two # 1 dance hits that year with "I Will Go with You (Con te partirò)" and "Love Is the Healer" (both found as new studio tracks on the live album). She also collaborated with the song "My Prayer For You" in the project Sing Me To Sleep, Mommy. During that year, Summer recorded the theme song for Pokémon: The Movie 2000, entitled "The Power of One". Around this time, Summer also recorded the song "Dreamcatcher" for the Naturally Native Original Soundtrack. In 2000, she continued collaborating with other artists in different albums: for the project Child of the Promise she delivered "When the Dream Never Dies" and the duet with Crystal Lewis, "I Cannot Be Silent". For The Mercy Project album, she recorded the song "Take Heart" and for Darwin Hobbs' Vertical CD, she duetted "When I Look Up".
In 2003, a greatest-hits compilation called The Journey was released, which reached the UK Top 10 the following year. Here she included new tracks like "That's The Way", "Dream A Lots Theme (I Will Live For Love)" and also a new track, "You're So Beautiful", in remixed form.
On September 20, 2004, Summer was among the first artists to be inducted into the newly formed Dance Music Hall of Fame in New York City. She was inducted in two categories, Artist Inductees (alongside fellow disco legends The Bee Gees and Barry White), and Record Inductees for her classic hit "I Feel Love". Summer added to her achievements in October 2004 when she performed "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch at Game 2 of the 2004 World Series at Boston's Fenway Park.
In 2008 Summer released, Crayons, on Sony BMG imprint Burgundy Records. Remixes of the track "I'm A Fire" reached #1 on the U.S. Dance Chart, as did the first official single, "Stamp Your Feet", which was released in April, 2008. The tracks became Summer's 19th and 20th #1 Billboard singles of her career and her 28th and 29th Top Ten Billboard singles. In January 2009, "Fame" (The Game) reached #1 on Billboard's Hot Dance Club Play chart making this her 21st #1 Billboard single and 30th Top Ten Billboard single. "It's Only Love" also became a Top 20 hit on the Hot Dance Club Play chart in late 2008.
The album Crayons debuted at #17, making this her all-time highest debut on the US Album Chart and her highest charting album since She Works Hard For The Money reached #9 twenty-five years earlier.
In August 2010, Donna released her the single "To Paris With Love" on iTunes and most other sites where music can be legally downloaded. The song "To Paris With Love" became her first #1 hit of the 2010's when it topped the Hot Dance Club Songs. In late 2010, it was mentioned Donna intends to record two upcoming albums, an album of Covers and "an all out Dance album."
On May 17, 2012, Summer died after a long battle with cancer. The state of the new album she was working on just prior to her death is unknown regarding how many tracks had complete final vocals, how many tracks had only guide or scratch vocals and how many had no vocals at all.
2) Jason Forrest makes music under the moniker ‘Donna Summer’. He has released records in the US, the UK, and Japan. He has been featured in periodicals such as The Wire, XLR8R, Crash, Muzik, The Village Voice, Go mag, Grooves, De:Bug, and Vice. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply.