Donna Summer, the famous disco diva, received attention Tuesday night (April 3) for a talent often overshadowed by her vocal and stage abilities.
"It's an honor to be recognized as a songwriter rather than a singer," she told a capacity crowd of more than 2,000 at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Summer appeared as part of the Legendary Songwriters Acoustic Concert, the marquee event of the Nashville Songwriters Association International's ninth annual Tin Pan South, a weeklong celebration of songwriters and songwriting. The four-hour show also featured Gordon Lightfoot, Ray Parker Jr., Andrew Gold, Sharon Vaughn and host Merle Kilgore.
Summer explained that she co-wrote "Starting Over Again" -- a hit for Dolly Parton in 1980 and for Reba McEntire in 1996 -- with her husband, Bruce Sudano, when he was inspired to write about his parent's divorce. Admitting that she still finds the song tough to sing, emotionally, Summer performed it Wednesday accompanied by Sudano on piano. She rounded out her set with a new song and with disco staples "On the Radio," "She Works Hard for the Money" and "Dim All the Lights" (a song she chickened out on pitching to Rod Stewart before she was a star).
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Her fellow songwriters grimaced in sympathy and recognition as Donna Summer told a sad tale of writing a song for Rod Stewart, then losing her nerve.
Scheduled to meet the rock star to discuss a duet, she wrote a song she thought was perfect for the occasion. At the meeting, she chickened out.
``I was afraid to give it to him,'' Summer said Tuesday night on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium during the centerpiece concert of the annual Tin Pan South festival celebrating songwriters.
The song was ``Dim All the Lights,'' which Summer recorded herself and then took to No. 2 on the pop charts in 1979. On the Ryman stage she began it as the torch ballad she originally envisioned - even approximating Stewart's scratchy voice.
Then her piano player sped the tempo. The floorboards of the 109-year-old hall where Hank Williams and Patsy Cline once sang on the Grand Ole Opry took a pounding from a few thousand feet keeping a disco beat.
I experienced yet another incredible evening in Donna's presence at the Tin Pan South event here in Nashville last night. All of the artists were incredible. The audience loved them. But Donna rocked the house! Here is my account:
As soon as she walked out on that stage, her eyes light up and she gazed up at the audience with such appreciation and then she began to tell the stories of On The Radio and Hard for the Money (she joked, "Hardly No Money"!). She and Mike worked their magic and the audience loved it. Then Bruce came out and played a song that they had written together that Reba McIntire eventually recorded. It was an incredible ballad that I believe is called On Their Own or something like that. The final song was a ballad that I have no idea what it was called. It was about 7 minutes long and is pretty new. It's so new that she had to read the lyrics posted on a music stand in front of her. She hadn't memorized the words yet. If they ever release it, you guys will melt your CD players on this one! This song stunned the audience. Picture her alone in a spotlight, hands clenched pleadingly on the mic stand, with soft piano in the background (of which, the volume was perfectly mixed to accommodate Donna and that beautiful venue...). She belted it out during the parts that you wanted her to. The words were so powerful that you found yourself going, "yeah, oh yeah! Sing it Baby!" and she would get louder and louder and then as you felt yourself getting tears in your eyes, she would lower down to such a soft whisper that we were all leaning forward hanging on her very note. I took a moment to look around at the other artists backstage (Ray Parker Jr. - "Ghostbusters" and Gordon Lightfoot) and their jaws had dropped so far down to the ground you could have parked a Mack truck in their mouths! You could hear a pin drop in the audience. I smiled and drank in every drop of the moment I could and turned to look back at her on that stage and wiped the tears away. It was one of the most incredible performances I had ever seen. At the end of this masterpiece of a performance, she humbly bowed at the audience who rose to their feet and paid her with thunderous applause and
shrieks of joy. It was incredible to say the least. Afterwards, it was evident that this experience uplifted her and renewed her spirit to get back out there and bring joy to the people who come to see her. She was the only one who I saw get a standing ovation. It was reminiscent of Divas 2000. Just incredible...
I wish I could remember the name of the last song she did... Something like Starlight Dream or something like that! It had some lyrics in it like "I did it all for love...". It would be something that you might hear in a musical such as CATS or A Chorus Line... you know, one of the really powerful love songs!
Goodness, how could I forget to mention...
DONNA LOOKED FABULOUS! Seriously, she looks like she's in great shape... even better than she was during the '99 tour!
She had on these sexy tight black pants with a little flare at the boot, high heeled boots on and a black double-breasted suit top (almost tuxedo top). She was stunning and get this... She wore her real hair! It's a sultry auburn/brownish color and the length is about down to her middle to lower back. After the show, we went to say goodbye to her in her dressing room. She seemed so exhilarated and her face was lit up like a Christmas tree! Glowing... She met Olivia for the first time and said, "Olivia?! I thought you guys had a boy?!". That's our Donna... Brooklyn and Amanda were both there... radiant as usual! Cathy, you might be right about the last song being from Ordinary Girl. It's so new, that she doesn't even remember all the words yet. It was such a beautiful song!!!!!!!!!
*editor's note: Christine is married to Mike Hanna, Donna's musical director.