In Memoriam: Donna Summer

Donna Summer was more than just the undisputed Queen of Disco. During the late 1970s and early '80s, Summer racked up a string of timeless hits ("Bad Girls," "Hot Stuff" and a groovified cover of "MacArthur Park" among them) and released three No. 1 double albums in a row, a feat no other artist has repeated.

Trained in the church, Donna Summer had a strong, amazingly expressive voice that could handle anything thrown its way. Like her Amazonian beauty, Summer’s singing style was passionate and powerful, sensual without seeming smutty. Raised in Boston, she first broke through in Europe and ended up moving to Germany, where she married and transitioned over to studio work and a successful recording career. When she began collaborating with Italian producer Giorgio Moroder, her career really took off.

Disco had its roots in Philly soul and American R&B, which Summer and Moroder combined with a starker, supremely European sound. Moroder provided the Kraftwerk-style, synthesized backings while Summer kept the songs grounded and human. Their first international hit "Love to Love You Baby" took Serge Gainsbourg’s once shocking "Je t'aime... moi non plus" and backed it with Barry White-style sophistication. When Moroder expanded the tune in a then-new "extended dance remix," the electronic sub-genre now known as house music was essentially born. Next up was the even more brilliant, completely synthesized "I Feel Love," which blindsided David Bowie and Brian Eno when they were working on their celebrated Berlin Trilogy; Donna Summer had put out the perfect mix of future Europe/classic American avant-garde rock they were working on. Change its title to "I Feel Nothing" and you get the electronic sounds of the 1980s—and today.

From there, Donna Summer went from career high to career high. Even her acting turn in the notorious disco turkey Thank God It's Friday contained the No. 1 hit "Last Dance," which went on to win both a Grammy and an Oscar. When the disco fad reached its end, Summer bounced back strong with the 1983 female empowerment anthem "She Works Hard for the Money," before making the transition into the adult contemporary market.

Donna Summer made a number of comebacks over the years, to varying degrees of success. When she passed away from cancer at a still-youthful 63, her sound and style could be heard everywhere from Madonna to Lady Gaga and countless producers and indie electropop acts who may not even realize how much she influenced them. Donna Summer got there first. Plus, she was one hell of a singer. Visit Summer’s Google Play artist page for a taste of her sensational career. – Nick Dedina, Google Play


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