Supreme Disco Diva Donna Summer passed away today aged just 63. It has been reported that she had battled breast cancer and lung cancer and died at her home in Key west, Florida. She was born LaDonna Adrian Gaines exactly 10 years and one day before me.
In the late 60s Donna auditioned for the part of Sheila in the Broadway production of ‘Hair’ but the part went to Melba Moore. However when the show moved to Europe she was offered the part and moved to Germany. She later went on to appear in the stage versions of ‘Godspell’ and ‘Showboat’.
While in Germany she married an Austrian, Helmuth Sommer in 1972. They divorced later but Donna kept an Anglicised version of her surname. She also learned to speak fluent German. She met influential producer Giorgio Moroder while she was singing backing vocals for Three Dog Night. Her first album came out in 1974 and was titled ‘Lady Of The Night’. A single taken from the album “The Hostage” went to number one in Belgium. Following this Donna worked with Moroder on an idea for a song that eventually became her first major hit, “Love To Love You Baby“. It was eventually released in November 1975 in both the edited 7 inch version and the extended 17 minute 12 inch version. The latter was at the request of Casablanca Records head honcho Neil Bogart. Many radio stations refused to play the song owing to the orgasmic moans it featured. Those noises certainly worked well on my teenage mind!
Donna Summer would be seen by many as a singles artist, but in my opinion she also released some superb albums. In particular the four albums that came out through 1976 to 1977; ‘A Love Trilogy‘, ‘Four Seasons Of Love’, ‘I Remember Yesterday‘ and ‘Once Upon A Time’. Of course the track that epitomizes the peak of her disco success was almost hidden away on ‘I Remember Yesterday’; that track was “I Feel Love“. There is a very strong argument to say that this song was one of the most influential songs ever, certainly of the 70s. Without it there may never have been electro, techno and according to the Fatboy himself (that’ll be Norman Cook) no Acid House either. David Bowie recalled Brian Eno‘s reaction on hearing the song when they were recording in Berlin. Bowie said ‘One day in Berlin … Eno came running in and said, ‘I have heard the sound of the future.’ … he puts on ‘I Feel Love’, by Donna Summer … He said, ‘This is it, look no further. This single is going to change the sound of club music for the next fifteen years.’ Which was more or less right’
Her last big album of the 70s was 1979’s ‘Bad Girls’ which spawned three classic Donna Summer singles; “Hot Stuff”, “Bad Girls” and “Dim All The Lights”. Whilst the 70s was probably where she peaked she did release a few more classics. In the 80s there was “On The Radio”, “State Of Independence” and “She Works Hard For The Money”. Also in the 80s there was the stuff she recorded with Stock, Aitken and Waterman, notably “This Time I Know It’s For Real”. I heard Pete Waterman talking about Donna on Simon Mayo’s Radio 2 show earlier today. He said that she was by far one of the most amazing and talented vocalists he had ever worked with. She scored a few number ones on the US dance charts as late as 2008 and 2010. She also won five Grammys between 1979 and 1998.
She became embroiled in controversy over alleged derogatory comments about gay people and AIDS. However she refuted those claims and publicly apologised. But this should not mar her glittering career. I for one will miss such a great talent and my thoughts go to her family, friends and legions of fans across the world. Donna Summer RIP.