Donna Adrian Gaines (December 31, 1948 – May 17, 2012), known by her stage name, Donna Summer, was an American singer, songwriter, and painter. She gained prominence during the disco era of the late 1970s.
In the 70s, Donna Summer had the title “Queen of Disco”. She certainly was responsible for many disco hits and was definitely at the classier end of the Disco spectrum. Although it is true she blazed a trail to electronic dance and techno, this title belied a much great talent under the surface.
It was a time when the music business was shifting from message-oriented soul to feel-good dance grooves.
A lot of people will remember Donna’s classic 1970s recordings;”Love To Love You Baby”, “Last Dance”, “MacArthur Park”, “Heaven Knows”, just to name a few.
With her name on over 30 studio albums and 100’s of singles, Donna sold over 140 million records worldwide, making her one of the world’s best-selling artists of all time. She ranked #24 on Billboard Magazines 50th Anniversary issues “Hot 100 Artists of All Time”.
She has charted 33 Top Ten hits on the combined Billboard Disco/Dance/Dance Club/Play charts over a period of 37 years with 18 reaching the #1 spot solidifying her as the undisputed Queen of Dance.
This woman could not only sing exquisitely; she was also a very talented songwriter and arranger as well. Her records were innovative and topped the charts time after time. Her albums were musical trips with each song leading into the next.
1975 Love To Love You Baby
By 1975, Summer had been away from USA, her homeland, living in Germany for eight years and had participated in several musical theatre shows.
She was a complete unknown in USA, her home country, when she suggested the lyric “Love to Love You Baby” to producer Giorgio Moroder in 1975. He turned the lyric into a full disco song and asked Summer to record it. The lyrics were somewhat explicit and at first Summer said she would only record it as a demo to give to someone else.
But her erotic moans on the track impressed Moroder so much that he persuaded her to release it as her own song, and “Love to Love You Baby” became a moderate hit in the Netherlands.
In a 1976 interview, Summer claimed that she had been asked about the process of recording the song: “Everyone’s asking, ‘Were you alone in the studio?’ Yes, I was alone in the studio. ‘Did you touch yourself?’ Yes, well, actually I had my hand on my knee. ‘Did you fantasize on anything?’ Yes, on my handsome boyfriend Peter.” – Very cute.
The final recording lasted over sixteen minutes, and contained the sexiest “simulated” orgasms ever found on vinyl. According to the BBC, the song contained 23 “orgasms”
1977 / I Feel Love / I Remember Yesterday album /
Producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte‘s innovative production of this disco-style song, recorded with an entirely synthesized backing track, utilizing a Moog synthesizer, spawned imitators in the disco genre, and was influential in the development of Techno.
Moroder went to work on the song with Bellotte in his Musicland studio in Munich. “We wanted to conclude with a futuristic song,” he said, “and I decided that it had to be done with a synthesizer.” Atypically of disco tracks in this era, Moroder composed the backing track and bass line before composing the melody. He introduced a degree of variety by altering the song’s key at regular intervals and layering in Summer’s repetitive and synthesized vocals.
1978 / Last Dance /
Peaked at #3 on the Hot 100 in Billboard magazine, “Last Dance” became Summer’s third US Top Ten hit after “Love to Love You Baby” and “I Feel Love” and almost matched the #2 hit “Love to Love You Baby” as Summer’s best-charting single (at that time).
“Last Dance” also afforded Summer a #5 R&B chart hit and was #1 on Billboard’s Hot Disco Action Chart for six weeks eventually being ranked as the #1 Disco hit for the year 1978. Certified gold for sales of a million units in the US.
“Last Dance” won an Academy Award, and a Golden Globe for Best Original Song that same year. It won Favourite Disco Single at the American Music Awards and Donna won Favourite Female Disco Artist. She would also win the Grammy Awards for Best R & B Vocal Performance Female for the song.
1978 / MacArthur Park /
When you see this LIVE performance, how can you not respect the raw talent of Donna Summer, her vocal range, her stage presence, the whole package?
1979 /Heaven Knows / from Live and More album /
On the single version released by Summer (credited as Donna Summer with Brooklyn Dreams), singer Joe “Bean” Esposito sings second lead to Summer, while Summer and the group provide backing vocals.
On the version that appears on Brooklyn Dreams’ 1979 album, Sleepless Nights, it is Esposito who sings the lead vocal with Summer singing second lead, with Summer and the group provide backing vocals.
1979 / Dim All The Lights / VH1 Presents Live and More
Taken from her Bad Girls album and produced by her longtime collaborator Giorgio Moroder with Pete Bellotte, the track combines Summer’s trademark disco beats with a more soulful/pop sound.
1980 / The Wanderer / from the album Tue Wanderer / Geffen Records
This marked a huge break from the “disco” type of music of the previous decade. Listen to the versatility in her voice.
On the Opera Show / Medley of her hits & an Interview /
She even sounded fantastic with just a piano accompaniment.
1974 / The Hostage
1977 / I Love You
1977 / Love’s Unkind
1979 / Hot Stuff
1979 / Bad Girls
1979 / No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) – see video below
1980 / The Wanderer
1980 /On The Radio
1980 / She Works Hard For The Money
Donna Summer Albums
1974 Lady Of The Night
1975 Love To Love You Baby
1976 A Love Trilogy
1976 Four Seasons Of Love
1976 Live and More
1977 I Remember Yesterday
1977 Once Upon A Time
1979 On The Radio – Greatest Hits
1979 Bad Girls
1980 The Wanderer
1980 Walk Away
1983 She Works Hard For Her Money
1984 Cats Without Claws
1985 The Summer Collection
1987 All Systems Go
1987 The Dance Collection – 12 Inch
1989 Another Place And Time
1991 Mistaken Identity
1992 Donna Summer
1993 The Donna Summer Anthology
1994 Endless Summer
1994 Christmas Spirit
1996 I’m A Rainbow
1999 Live and More Encore
2003 The Journey
2003 20th Century Masters
2003 The Ultimate Collection
2013 I Feel Love – The Collection
2013 Love To Love You Donna
Donna Summer was born Donna Adrian Gaines on New Years Eve December 31, 1948, to a large family in Boston, Massachusetts. Her father, Andrew Gaines, was a butcher and her mother, Mary Gaines, was a schoolteacher.
From nearly the moment she learned how to talk, Donna sang ceaselessly. “From the time she was little, that’s all she really did,” her mother recalled. “She literally lived to sing … She used to go through the house singing, singing. She sang for breakfast and for lunch and for supper.”
From the age of 8 Donna sang in church choirs and her big debut performance came one a Sunday when she was 10; a singer scheduled to perform at her church did not show up. The priest, who knew Donna’s fondness for singing, invited her to perform instead. To everyone’s surprise, the voice that bellowed out of this little person that morning was overwhelmingly powerful and beautiful.
Donna went to Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Boston, where she starred in school musicals and was very popular.
While influenced by the counterculture of the 1960s, she became the front singer of a psychedelic rock band named Crow.
In 1967, at the age of 18, just weeks before before high school graduation, Donna moved to New York and began singing with a hard rock band called Crow. She then auditioned for a role in the Broadway musical Hair. She did not get the part, but when Hair opened in Munich, Germany, she was cast as Sheila.
Donna learned to speak fluent German within a few months, and after Hair finished its run, she decided to remain in Munich, winning parts in other highly-acclaimed shows such as “Showboat,” “Godspell,” and “Porgy and Bess”, as well as performing with the Viennese Folk Opera.
In 1971 Donna released her first single, a cover of the Jaynett’s girl group classic, “Sally Go Round The Roses“.
In the 1970s, a singer and composer, Giorgio Moroder, living in Germany built the Musicland recording studio, located in Munich. It soon hosted legends such as the Rolling Stones, Led Zepplin and Queen, all of whom worked with Moroder.
It was here, in the 1970s, that Moroder met Donna Summer and a new breed of music was born.
Donna worked at that time singing studio backup vocals and recording demo tapes. It was there that she met producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, and a new breed of music was born.
Thanks to the worldwide hits “I feel love” and “Love to love you baby,” the first all-synthesized pieces of music in history, electronic music went mainstream.
Moroder, in particular, would become very instrumental in establishing the solid synthesized background grooves to Donna’s songs. As well as being a fine producer, he specialized in working with music synthesizers, which were used to lay down the rhythms behind the songs, such as bass line and drums.
It was in Munich in 1974 when Summer recorded her first solo album, Lady of the Night, written by Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte and produced by Bellotte.
It scored major European recognition with her first hit single “The Hostage” which became very big in the Netherlands, France and Belgium but failed to crack the American market.
That same year, Summer married German singer Helmuth Sommer. She adopted an anglicized version of his last name as her stage name, which she kept even after the couple divorced in 1976.
In 1975, Summer co-wrote and recorded a demo version of a seductive disco track called “Love to Love You Baby,” initially intending it for another artist. Moroder and Bellotte liked Summer’s demo version so much that they decided to make it her song instead. The final version of the song was extended to an unprecedented 17 minutes in length, filling the whole side of a vinyl LP.
The long version was released in the United States, and featured Summer’s tantalizingly soft vocals and sensual moaning—sounds so suggestive, in fact, that many radio stations initially refused to play the song. Nevertheless, the path-breaking disco track became an overnight sensation, and an international hit.
It skyrocketed to #2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and this success heralded Summer’s triumphant return to the United States as a key figure of the then-emerging disco genre.
Building on the success of “Love to Love You Baby,” Summer released two more albums in 1976: A Love Trilogy and , both of which had huge positive impact.
In 1977, Summer released a concept album, I Remember Yesterday, with Moroder expanding the music’s stylistic range by adding more synthesizer. “I Feel Love,” one of the tracks from the album, went to #6 on the Pop chart and #9 on the R&B chart.
Moroder saw the potential of the new electronic instruments that were then becoming more widely available and programmed them all to stun…
Just listen to Moroder’s work with the Modular Moog bass line that underpins the whole track and the groundbreaking breakdown at about 3 minutes into “I Feel Love ”
That same year, Summer released another concept album, Once Upon a Time, which was a Cinderella fairy tale.
The following year, Summer scored her first #1 hit, a cover of Jimmy Webb’s “MacArthur Park.” That same year, she also appeared in the disco film Thank God It’s Friday.
Summer’s 1978 live album, entitled Live and More, became her first to reach No. 1 on the Billboard album charts and likewise featured her first No. 1 single in “MacArthur Park.”
It was 1979 when Donna achieved the biggest commercial success of her career with the Casablanca album Bad Girls, which instantly spawned two No. 1 singles, “Bad Girls” and “Hot Stuff,” making Summer the first female artist to score three No. 1 songs in a single calendar year.
Singing with Barbra Steisand
Now, in 1979 Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand were two of the biggest singing stars on the business. Their music played across the globe. Summer was with Casablanca Records and Streisand with Columbia.
But despite their stature and the layers of execs behind their careers, getting the two women to duet together on the chart-topping single “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)” happened in one whirlwind week, according to Summer’s longtime friend, songwriter Bruce Roberts.
Roberts and his songwriting partner on the single, Paul Jabara, had just co-written “The Main Event” for Streisand. Roberts had known Summer since the mid-’70s, when the singer was living in L.A.’s Nichols Canyon. “We said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fabulous to write a song for Barbra and Donna?’ We wrote the song in literally 10 minutes,” Roberts tells The Hollywood Reporter. “And [Streisand’s son] Jason Gould, who is now a very close friend, was a fan of Donna’s.”
The two called up Streisand and before they knew it were driving over to the singer’s house in the Malibu Colony with Summer.
“Paul and I just trapped them in a room and played the song for them, and before any of the business people could try and stop it, it was too late. They loved it and started singing it,” says Roberts, who has also written songs for the likes of Cher, Elton John, Celine Dion, k.d. lang, Whitney Houston, Alice Cooper and Dolly Parton.
Within a few days, the two singers were in the studio. “Barbra was not as comfortable in the genre of disco or dance music, so I first went in and sang Barbra’s part as a guide vocal. It was finished overnight. It was just finished so quickly. Before any of the lawyers could stop it, it was out as a record. They didn’t know what hit them,” says Roberts. The song — about sending a lover packing because he “turns out to be like every other man” — went on to spend two weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100.
New Decade, New Label
Summer had made her name the previous decade as the most successful female artist of the disco genre, releasing a vast selection of hit singles and albums on Casablanca Records. During this period however, she felt that Casablanca had exploited her and made her portray a sexually orientated image (“The First Lady of Love”) with which she never felt comfortable. The label had also taken over other elements of Summer’s personal life, to the point where she felt she had no control over her life or career.
By 1980, banners reading “disco sucks” were seen everywhere and disco records became flops. Summer decided to leave the disco sound behind.
Summer’s longtime songwriting friend, Bruce Roberts recalls that in 1980 he introduced her to music mogul David Geffen, who was wanting to sign her as his first artist on his new Geffen Records label.
“We took her out to meet David at this restaurant on Melrose and had a lovely dinner and we told her that David was the best thing in the music business, which he is and always will be because he respects creative talent. We told her he was a good guy, and she signed with him.”
Very soon after that deal, the Geffen label released Donna’s “The Wanderer” album, the title track of which reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and the album certified gold.
This album was co-written and produced by Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, who had produced the vast majority of Summer’s hits since their partnership with her began in 1974.
The production for The Wanderer was rushed; Geffen wanted to get new product out because of Casablanca’s plans to release Walk Away , as Donna’s Greatest Hits Collection.
Casablanca predictably countered by releasing more singles off Donna’s 1979 “Bad Girls” album such as the song “Walk Away” and a similarly named hits compilation to compete, but by then, the New Wave sound was dominating the airwaves.
Her former publicist Michael Levine said Christian faith was increasingly important to Donna as she got older. “She was very committed to God, spirituality, and religion,” Levine is quoted as saying. “Her passion in her life, besides music, was God, spirituality and religion.”
The sudden end of her disco-era fame knocked her sideways, and Summer, who had already been suffering from headaches, insomnia and ulcers, was prescribed antidepressants, and developed what she described in a 1981 interview as ‘a very heavy’ dependence.
Summer was “born again” in 1983 following a few family tragedies and personal trials.
Returning to straight dance music in 1983, Summer collaborated with writers and producers such as Quincy Jones, Michael Omartian and England’s dance-pop production compound Stock Aitken Waterman.
She produced a steady stream of hits such as “State of Independence,” featuring Michael Jackson on backing vocals.
Donna scored her biggest hit of the 1980s decade with “She Works Hard for the Money.” This song (which was based on her feelings upon encountering a sleeping bathroom attendant at a restaurant) has become something of a feminist anthem and one of her most-played songs of all-time.
By the late 1980s, Donna’s popularity began to wane and she achieved only one more Top 10 hit during the 80s decade, 1989’s “This Time I Know It’s For Real” off the album Another Place in Time.
Summer released only two albums during the 1990s, Mistaken Identity (1991) and Christmas Songs (1994), neither of which made much of an impact.
In 1994, she released “Endless Summer,” a greatest hits retrospective containing a new song, “Melody of Love,” which became Billboard’s #1 Dance Record of the Year.
Also in the 90s, Donna released the critically acclaimed gem “Christmas Spirit,” a collection of he original songs and holiday standards recorded with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra: Christmas Spirit
Summer spent the ’90s continuing to tour, performing to sold-out audiences worldwide. In 1997, when the new “Best Dance Recording” Category was created at the Grammy Awards, Donna Summer was the first winner with her fifth career Grammy award for “Carry On.”
In 1999, Sony/Epic Records released “VH1 Presents Donna Summer: Live & More – Encore!,” an album and DVD of Summer’s critically acclaimed VH1 broadcast taped at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom.
The show premiered on VH1 as one of the network’s highest rated shows to date and featured live performances of Summer’s top hits.
In 2003, Random House published her autobiography, ”Ordinary Girl: The Journey” co-authored with Marc Eliot.
Donna describes how she almost committed suicide by jumping out of a hotel window. She wrote, “I was Christian my whole life, but I didn’t really execute it – I didn’t live it. And I came back to realizing that without it I couldn’t get through this stuff I had to go through. I needed something that grounded me and it had to be really strong.”
In 2005, Donna Summer and & Joss Stone did a stunning version of an Otis Redding song for VH1 Save The Music – Try A Little Tenderness
In 2008, celebrating four decades of milestones, Summer added another accomplishment to her list with the success of her new album “Crayons.”
The album debuted at #17 on the Billboard Top 200 Chart making it Summer’s highest debuting album ever. It also debuted at #5 on the Billboard R&B chart – another personal best.
“Crayons” was Summer’s first album of all new studio material in 17 years, and is her highest charting album since “She Works Hard For The Money” in 1983.
The album spawned three #1 Dance hits “I’m A Fire,” “Stamp Your Feet” and “Fame (The Game).”
Summer married singer-songwriter Bruce Sudano in 1980, and they had two children.
A Brilliant, yet somewhat overlooked Songwriter and Innovator
Today, as Bruce Roberts sees it,
“people don’t give her enough credit for being such a brilliant writer and changing pop music which she did. Electronic dance music is based on what she did when she started. All her riffs she did with producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, it’s based on all that. She really started a whole genre of music — going into the studio and singing ‘Love to Love You’ in a couple of takes. She would sing everything in a couple of takes; that was brilliance of it. She was always called the Queen of Disco, but it was so much broader than that. She could sing in so many different kinds of voices, so many different ranges, in loud beautiful aggressive tones and soft quiet tones. She could control it in any range she was singing in, which is very rare. I wrote her last No. 1 Billboard record with her, a song called ‘To Paris With Love,’ and we just did it in my house. She literally got in front of my mike, I played a couple of chords, and she sang for an hour. This music flowed out of her like a waterfall.“
Her Paintings as A Visual Artist
During her recording years, the multi-talented Summer also branched out into painting, holding several exhibitions per year and enjoying both critical acclaim and commercial success.
Her work has been shown at exhibitions worldwide including Steven Spielberg’s “Starbright Foundation Tour of Japan” and The Whitney Museum as well as a prestigious engagement at Sotheby’s in New York. She sold over 1.7 million dollars in original art – with her highest piece going for $150,000.
Before she died, Summer was in the midst of recording some dance tracks with Bruce Roberts and had been planning to record an album with legendary producer David Foster, with whom she had been performing recently. “She wasn’t thinking about her legacy,” he says.
David Foster, Donna Summer & Seal – Unbreak My Heart / Crazy / On The Radio / Last Dance
Summer died on May 17, 2012 at age 63, at her home in Naples, Florida after a years-long battle with cancer.
Known as the “Queen of Disco,” Summer will be remembered as perhaps the greatest singer in disco history. But she was so much more: a vocalist of incredible range and power whose voice was equally at home in German-language show tunes, racy disco dance tracks and powerful gospel ballads.
Not long before her death, she said that her foremost life aspiration was not related her singing. “What I aspire to in my life, truly, is to be loving,” she said. “And I don’t always achieve that, but that’s my aspiration.”
In her obituary in The Times, Summer was described as the “undisputed queen of the Seventies disco boom” who reached the status of “one of the world’s leading female singers.” Moroder described Summer’s work with him on the song “I Feel Love” as “really the start of electronic dance” music.
Donna Summer was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame on April 18, 2013 in Los Angeles. By: Brian Edwards (II)
A Prolific Songwriter and Collaborator
(An alphabetical list of all songs written / co-written by Donna Summers appears at the end of this article.)
Donna Summer has been given credit as a powerful vocalist, yet a lot of people did not know about her great song writing talent. She has co-written eight of her top 10 hit songs, co-writing a total of 12 Billboard Hot 100 Hit Singles.
These are songs she co-wrote:
1975 With Giorgio Moroder & Pete Bellotte:
“Love To Love You”, which hit #2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts
1976 With Michael Omartian:
“Unconditional Love” (featuring Musical Youth), which hit #43 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts
1976 With Giorgio Moroder, Pete Bellotte:
Spring Affair, which hit #58 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts
1976 With Bruce Sudano, Michael Omartian
“Love Has a Mind of Its Own” (with Matthew Ward), which hit #70 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts
1976 With Michael Omartian, Bruce Sudano
“Supernatural Love”, which hit #75 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts
1977 With Giorgio Moroder, Pete Bellotte:
“I Feel Love”, which hit #6 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts
1979 With Eddie Hokenson, Bruce Sudano, Joe “Bean” Esposito:
“Bad Girls”, which hit #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1979 and became a classic dance hit.
1979 With Giorgio Moroder, Pete Bellotte:
“Heaven Knows”, which hit #4 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts
1980 With Giorgio Moroder:
“The Wanderer”, which hit #3 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts
1980 With Giorgio Moroder:
“On the Radio”, which hit #5 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts
1980 With Michael Omartian:
“She Works Hard for the Money”, which hit #3 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts
1989 With the legendary songwriting and production team of Stock, Aitken & Waterman:
This Time I Know It’s for Real” #7 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts
Further Reference Information
– IMDb Mini Biography By: Brian Edwards (II)
The Ultimate Collection of Donna Summer Albums (thanks to Google)
Songs written by Donna Summer
All Systems Go (song)
Any Way at All
Back in Love Again (Donna Summer song)
Bad Girls (Donna Summer song)
Dim All the Lights
Down Deep Inside
Dream-A-Lot’s Theme (I Will Live for Love)
Eyes (Donna Summer song)
Fairy Tale High
Fame (The Game)
He’s a Rebel (Donna Summer song)
Heaven Knows (Donna Summer song)
I Feel Love
I Got Your Love
I Love You (Donna Summer song)
I Remember Yesterday (song)
I’m a Fire
If You Walkin’ Alone
It’s Only Love (Donna Summer song)
Last Dance/The Hustle/On the Radio
Love Has a Mind of Its Own
Love Is the Healer
Love to Love You Baby (song)
Melody of Love (Wanna Be Loved)
Naughty Girl (Beyoncé song)
Never Lose Your Sense of Humor
On the Radio (Donna Summer song)
Once Upon a Time (Donna Summer song)
Only the Fool Survives
Our Love (Donna Summer song)
Rumour Has It (Donna Summer song)
She Works Hard for the Money
Stamp Your Feet
Starting Over Again
Stop, Look and Listen (song)
This Time I Know It’s for Real
To Paris with Love (song)
Try Me, I Know We Can Make It
Unconditional Love (Donna Summer song)
The Wanderer (Donna Summer song)
When Love Cries
Work That Magic
You’re So Beautiful