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Donna Summer

Donna Summer (born LaDonna Adrian Gaines December 31, 1948) is an American singer-songwriter and musician who gained prominence during the disco era of music.

Summer was trained as a gospel singer prior to her introduction in the music industry, as were many then-contemporary music artists. However, Summer's notable songwriting capabilities, in addition to her collaborations with producer-songwriters Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, were able to set her apart from rivals in the industry.

Though she is most notable for her disco hits, Summer's repertoire has expanded to include contemporary R&B, rock, mainstream pop, and even gospel. Summer is one of the most successful female recording artists of the 1970s and 1980s, and still holds the record for having three consecutive double albums hit #1 on the Billboard charts. She also became the first female artist to have four number-one singles in a twelve-month period. According to her official MySpace page, Summer has sold over 130 million records worldwide


Early life and career

Born in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, she 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. 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.

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 #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 raw techno and 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 electronic disco.

Continued success in music

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, Donna released her first live album, Live and More. It knocked Linda Ronstadt's triple Platinum 'Living In The USA' out of the #1 position on Billboard's Album Chart. 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 also a guest artist on Kiss bassist Gene Simmons's 1978 eponymous solo album.

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 into electronic beats. It yielded three consecutive million-selling singles: the back-to-back #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 Grammies 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 - going Multi-Platinum 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 multi-platinum. With this, Summer became the first artist to have three consecutive number-one double-albums. The album also contained two new tracks - "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)", a 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 12 months. Afterwards, disagreements between Summer and Casablanca Records led to her exit from the label in 1980. Summer was given a lucrative offer by David Geffen and became the first artist to be signed to his new Geffen label in 1980.

The Wanderer and She Works Hard for the Money

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 following few years were an interesting time for Summer. She continued to branch out, exploring new musical styles, while other singers like Laura Branigan, Irene Cara, and Madonna would experience commercial success performing in a very similar style to Summer's earlier work. Unfortunately, Summer's subsequent Geffen releases did not fare as well. 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 LP; ironically, it would become another hit release.

In the early 80's rumors began circulating that Donna had allegedly made anti-gay comments regarding the AIDS epidemic as punishment for homosexuality. Summer denied making such remarks, and finally filed a lawsuit against New York magazine for its reporting of the rumors in a concert review. According to an A&E Biography program which Donna participated, the lawsuit was settled out of court with neither side admitting guilt. Summer denies making them.

Later career

Summer briefly regained her hit luster again in 1989 with Another Place and Time, an album-length 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 huge success on Adult Contemporary radio, holding at #2 for four weeks. Another track, "I Don't Wanna Get Hurt", was a Top Ten UK hit. The follow-up US single, "Love's About To Change My Heart", became a Dance chart hit but stalled at #85 on the Pop chart. In 1991, she released the album Mistaken Identity, which incorporated New Jack Swing and Urban Contemporary into her music. The album was not a success and sold less than 50,000 copies, failing to even appear on the Billboard Album Chart (it barely scraped into the R&B Albums chart at #97). Summer scored a top twenty R&B hit with "When Love Cries" but her days of mainstream success in the United States seemed behind her. However, 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.

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 re-release of "I Feel Love" (with newly recorded vocals) as a dance remix, became a hit again in the UK, reaching #8 there. The following year she would score another Top 20 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 Family Matters. She also sang "Last Dance" in Oona's first episode.

In 1995, she also participated in the Edith Piaf: Tribute album, with her cover for the song"La Vie En Rose".

1996 saw Donna collaborating in several others artists' projects:

"Does He Love You?" duet with Liza Minnelli for Liza's album Gently; "Whenever There Is Love" duet with Bruce Roberts for the Daylight OST (recording also 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 in 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 a remixed version.

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 May of 2008, Summer released her first album of new material in 17 years, Crayons, on Sony BMG imprint Burgundy Records. Remixes of the track "I'm A Fire" reached #1 on the U.S. Dance Chart.

The first official single, "Stamp Your Feet", was released in April, 2008. Crayons debuted at a lofty #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.

Summer is the first artist ever to have a #1 Billboard Dance hit in each of the past four decades. "I'm A Fire" and "Stamp Your Feet" are Donna Summer's 19th and 20th #1 Billboard singles of her career and her 28th and 29th Top Ten Billboard singles.

Awards and recognition

  • Summer is the recipient of 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 #1 singles in a 12-month period, and the first female artist to have five Billboard Hot 100 Top Ten hits in a calendar year.
  • Summer became the first and only artist to score three consecutive number-one double albums, and to have three number-one pop singles in the same year.
  • Summer is the first artist to have two singles in the top three slots of the Billboard Hot 100 at the same time, and accomplished this feat twice.
  • 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 #1 Disco/Club Play hits spans from 1975's "Love to Love You Baby" through 2008's "Stamp Your Feet".

Cover versions by other artists

Summer's recording of "I Feel Love" is one of the most sampled recordings in music history. The song has been 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.


For a detailed listing of albums and singles, see: Donna Summer discography.


See also

External links and sources

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