Donna Summer (born LaDonna Adrian Gaines December 31, 1948) is an American singer and songwriter who gained prominence during the disco era of music, earning the title "The Queen of Disco".
Summer was trained as a gospel singer before her introduction to the music industry and has always been known for her "powerhouse" vocal delivery. Though she is most notable for her disco hits, Summer's repertoire has expanded to include contemporary R&B, rock, pop, and gospel. Summer is one of the most successful recording artists of the 1970s and was the first artist to have three consecutive double albums hit number one on the Billboard charts. She also became the first female artist to have four number-one singles in a thirteen-month period. Summer's website claims that she has sold more than 130 million records worldwide.
Early life and career
Born in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, Summer was one of seven children raised by devout Christian parents. She sang in church, and in her teens joined a psychedelic rock group called The Crow, so named because Summer 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. 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, Summer released a single in Europe titled "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. Summer married Austrian actor Helmuth Sommer ("Summer" is an Anglicization of his last name) that same year 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 to 1975.
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 1970s groups Alive N Kickin' and The Brooklyn Dreams.
Early success and notoriety
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 number one in France and Belgium, and number two 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 sound that was becoming increasingly popular (which later would become known as Disco), and used Summer's lyric to develop the song. He had the idea that she should moan and groan orgasmically, but Summer was reluctant. 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. Summer later stated on a VH1 "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 to the hands of Casablanca president Neil Bogart, 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 number two on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in early 1976 and becoming her first Number-One Hot Dance Club Play chart hit. The single was quickly certified Gold with 1,000,000 copies in the US. 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 Summer'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 Summer another Pop and R&B hit reaching number 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 a double 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.
Continued success in music
In 1978 Summer acted in the film Thank God It's Friday and released the single "Last Dance". The song brought Summer her third Gold US million-selling single, reaching number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and resulting in her first Grammy win. Written by the late Paul Jabara?who also co-wrote "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)"?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, another double album Live and More. This was Summer's first number-one album as well as her first to reach sales of two million, reaching double platinum status. It included her first number-one American Pop single, a cover of the Jimmy Webb-penned "MacArthur Park" - another Gold-certified US single - 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 Million seller in the US and another top-5 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 reaching number four.
Summer was a guest artist on KISS bassist Gene Simmons's 1978 eponymous solo album, on the track "Burning Up With Fever".
Bad Girls and the break from disco
In 1979, Summer released the landmark double album Bad Girls. Unusual for a disco album, it mixed rock, funk, blues and soul to electronic beats. It yielded two consecutive singles reaching Platinum status with sales of two million each: the number-one one hits "Hot Stuff" and "Bad Girls". The number-two hit "Dim All The Lights" would go Gold as another million seller. "Bad Girls" also became Summer's first number-one song on Billboard's R&B singles chart. With U.S. record sales at an all-time apex in 1979, Summer had a run of five straight U.S. Gold singles (three of which went on to Platinum status) that year alone. The single "Hot Stuff" won Summer a second Grammy, winning the first ever award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. (Interestingly, the Grammys had a Best Disco Recording Award only once, in 1980, won by Gloria Gaynor for "I Will Survive".)
Bad Girls became Summer's second number-one double album and the most successful album of her entire career, eventually selling over three million copies in the U.S. 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 (Enough Is Enough)" 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 number-one U.S. double album, also going on to sell over two million copies in the U.S. With this, Summer became the first artist to have three consecutive U.S. number-one double albums. The album also contained two new tracks ? "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)", the Platinum-selling number-one duet with Barbra Streisand, and the Grammy-nominated Top-5 U.S. Gold hit "On the Radio", a song written for the film Foxes. The Streisand-Summer duet was her fourth and final number-one pop hit in the U.S. ? and her fourth number-one single in thirteen months.
Disagreements between Summer and Casablanca Records led to her exit from the label in 1980. Summer was offered a very 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 US million-selling hit, reaching number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and earning her yet another Gold single in the United States. The album peaked at number 13 on the US album charts and earned a Gold album certification in the US. Her next album, I'm a Rainbow, a double album featuring elements of Soul, R&B, British techno-pop and even synthesizer-based Disco, was shelved by Geffen (although two of the tracks would resurface 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, just missing the US Top 40. One more single from the album followed, "The Woman In Me", which was later recorded by Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson of the rock group Heart. It peaked at number 33 on the Hot 100 and number 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 (number 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 sixth 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. It outsold the first single in the UK, but stopped short of the US Top 40, though it reached number 9 on the US Billboard R&B Chart
The next few years saw Summer's popularity amongst the younger record-buying market decline as the recordings of other singers such as Irene Cara, Laura Branigan and the emerging Madonna eclipsed her. 1984's Cats Without Claws peaked at number 40 on Billboard's Album Chart, releasing singles like a cover of The Drifters' There Goes My Baby and Supernatural Love. 1987's All Systems Go stalled at number 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 now difficult relationship with David Geffen. Summer left Geffen Records in 1988 to sign with Atlantic Records when he refused to release her next album.
In the early 1980s, rumors began circulating that Summer had allegedly made anti-gay comments regarding the AIDS epidemic as being a punishment from God for homosexuality. The fallout from the alleged quote had a significant negative impact on Summer's career, which saw thousands of her records being returned to her record company by angered fans. However, Summer denied making any such remarks and many years later she filed a lawsuit against New York magazine when it reprinted the rumors as fact, just as Summer was about to release her latest album "Mistaken Identity" in 1991. . According to an A&E Biography program in which Summer participated in 1995, the lawsuit was settled out of court with neither side discussing details of the settlement.
Apparently, after a 1983 concert in Atlantic City, Summer was talking to the fans, as she liked to do at this first-comeback point in her career. A man with AIDS asked her to pray for him, because he knew of her born-again Christian beliefs, and she said she would be delighted. Someone else piped up that she was being hypocritical. At that point, all accounts get fuzzy and overblown, but every witness says that the heated situation deteriorated, with many outraged patrons shouting as they left the auditorium. In more than one account, Summer said that AIDS appeared in the gay community because of its reckless lifestyle... but did not say that AIDS was God's punishment. She and the gay fan prayed together, she asked him to turn his life to Christ, and she embraced him. (a fairly courageous act at a time that most people would have run screaming from the room to get away from someone with HIV.
?D.L. Groover, OutSmart magazine
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 her to Gold-single selling status. It was also a Top 5 hit in the UK, and a huge success on Adult Contemporary radio, holding at number two 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 Top 5 Dance Chart hit, but stalled at number 85 on the Billboard Pop chart. The album itself peaked at number 17 in the UK, and peaked at number 53 in the US. There were plans for a second album with Stock, Aitken and Waterman, but disagreements between Summer and the producers led to the project being abandoned.
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 in the US, failing to even appear on the Billboard Album Chart (though it reached number 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: Title track "I'm a Rainbow" and "Dont Cry for me Argentina".
In 1993, she participated in the ?dith Piaf: Tribute album, with her cover for the song "La Vie En Rose".
A gospel-influenced Christmas album titled Christmas Spirit in 1994 became Summer's first Christmas album and her first full-length album in over three years, and a new compilation titled Endless Summer (both released by PolyGram) also contained two new tracks, "Melody of Love (Wanna Be Loved)" and "Anyway at all". The single "Melody of Love (Wanna Be Loved)" hit number one on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart and eventually became number one on the 1995 "Hot Dance Music/Club Play" Year end charts..
In 1995, a remix of "I Feel Love" (with newly recorded vocals) became a hit again in the UK, reaching number 8 there and number 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 television 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 Soundtrack (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 1997. In 1999, Summer starred in a televised live concert on the VH1 network titled 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 later kept the song and 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 were released, returning the singer to the U.S. albums chart, Reaching number 43 and selling just under half a million copies in the USA. Summer scored two number-one dance hits that year with "I Will Go with You (Con te partir?)" 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" for the project Sing Me To Sleep, Mommy. During that year, Summer recorded the theme song for Pok?mon: The Movie 2000, titled "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's 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 three new tracks: "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 eventually reaching the US Top 5 on Hot Dance Music/Club Playchart.
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 2005, Summer returned once again to the US Top 5 Hot Dance/Club Play charts with the single "I Got your Love" reaching number 4.
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 number-one Billboard singles of her career and her 28th and 29th Top Ten Billboard singles. In January 2009, "Fame" (The Game) reached number one on Billboard's Hot Dance Club Play chart making this her 21st number-one Billboard single and 30th Top Ten Billboard single.
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 had reached number 9 twenty-five years earlier. The Adult Contemporary single "Sand on my Feet" would eventually reach number 30 on that chart in the Fall of 2008.
Awards and recognition
Summer has received five Grammy Awards.
Summer placed a Top Forty hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in every year from 1976 ("Love to Love You Baby") to 1984 ("There Goes My Baby").
Summer is the first female artist to have four number-one singles in a 13-month period, and the first female artist to have five Billboard Hot 100 Top Ten hits in a calendar year.
Summer was the first artist to score three consecutive number-one double albums.
Summer was twice honored by the Dance Music Hall of Fame; once with her induction as a recording artist and again with the induction for her influential single "I Feel Love".
Summer's music career has landed her as the eighth most successful female recording artist in history according to Billboard.
Summer's career span of Billboard number-one Disco/Club Play hits spans from 1975's "Love to Love You Baby" through 2009's "Fame (The Game)".
Summer has been named as a nominee for 2010 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Cover versions by other artists
Summer's recording of "I Feel Love" is one of the most sampled recordings. The song was sampled by Madonna, Whitney Houston, Bette Midler, Diana Ross, Moloko, Britney Spears, Robbie Williams, Mylo, David Guetta, Stuart Price, Moby and many more. "I Feel Love" was recorded by classical pop musician Vanessa-Mae for her 1998 album Storm. Even Italian company Gucci used a special version of it in his "Flora" perfume advertising, filmed by Chris Cunningham .
Summer's "Love to Love You Baby" was also sampled by Beyonc? Knowles "Naughty Girl"
"I Feel Love" has been covered onstage by Madonna, the Red Hot Chili Peppers' John Frusciante, Kylie Minogue, Blondie, Basement Jaxx, and Finnish progressive rock band Kingston Wall. Venus Hum with Blue Man Group also performed this song with Japanese singer Kumi Koda for their album The Complex, and in 2006, Tracy Bonham stood in for Hum on the Blue Man Group tour, performing the song. Bronski Beat and Marc Almond released the track as a duet with an added bridge section and titled it "I Feel Love/Johnny Remember Me", reaching number 3 in the UK charts in April 1985. In 1992 U.K. alterna-pop group Curve recorded a version for the NME's 40th anniversary compilation Ruby Trax, which became an instant underground classic. Madonna's production team sampled this for her 2006 Confessions Tour and album, Confessions On A Dance Floor. "Future Lovers" contains a sample of "I Feel Love". Kylie Minogue's team also sampled this for her 2002 KylieFever. Kylie performed "Light Years" which contains elements of "I Feel Love".
Summer's "Starting Over Again" was a number one hit on the Hot Country Songs chart for Dolly Parton in 1980. Reba McEntire named her 1995 album after the song, and her version hit number 17 on the country singles chart in 1996.
Summer's "On the Radio" was covered by country artist Emmylou Harris for her 1983 album White Shoes. British singer and actress Martine McCutcheon recorded a version that reached number 7 in the UK charts in February 2001.
Summer's "Sunset People" was covered by E.G. Daily on her Wild Child album (1985).
Summer's "Dim All the Lights" was a Top 40 Dance hit for Laura Branigan in 1995, appearing on her The Best of Branigan album.
Summer's "Last Dance" and "On the Radio" were covered by Tejano/pop singer Selena, most famously at one of her last shows at the Houston Astrodome, on February 26, 1995.
Summer's "All Through the Night" was covered in 1982 by KC and The Sunshine Band on their Painter album, and in 1995 by supermodel Naomi Campbell for her album Baby Woman, featuring Luther Vandross on backing vocals.
Summer's "Bad Girls" was recorded by British Jazz and US pop singer Juliet Roberts in 1998, and again in 2000 by Cheryl Chase for the Nick film Rugrats in Paris: The Movie.
Summer's "Love Is in Control" was covered by pop singer Sheena Easton on her 2000 disco album Fabulous.
In 1985 Dusty Springfield reached number 83 on the UK charts with a cover of "Sometimes like Butterflies".
Summer's "Heaven Knows" was recorded by Faith Evans for inclusion on the soundtrack for the film, The Fighting Temptations.
Summer's "The Woman In Me" was recorded by Heart in the early 1990s.
Summer's "She Works Hard For The Money" was often performed by Millie Jackson during her mid-1980s concerts. "She Works Hard For The Money" was covered by Kris Allen during an American Idol Season 8 episode and recorded by Allen for the American Idol Season 8 CD.
Summer's "Last Dance" and "She Works Hard For The Money" are often included in concerts given by Mary Wilson.