ABRAMS: She is the singer whose music defined an era. Donna Summer, the uncontested queen of disco, five Grammys, three consecutive number one platinum albums.
Although she had a difficult childhood, Summer began singing in Boston church choirs at the age of 10. Whoo. While still in her teens—look at that picture—she performed in musicals in Germany. That‘s where she was discovered by a producer who helped her shape her singing style and create disco‘s music sound.
She returned to America as a star, with megahits like “Bad Girls,” “Love to Love You, Baby,” “Hot Stuff,” “Dim All the Lights,” and “On the Radio (UNINTELLIGIBLE),” Donna Summer‘s career was extraordinary. She even wrote many of the songs she recorded.
While she worked hard for the money, she lived through adversity and even near-death experiences, domestic violence, attempted suicide at the height of her fame. And while disco has faded, Donna Summer has not taken the last dance.
She shares her life in her new autobiography, “Ordinary Girl: The Journey.” And accompanying the book, a new CD entitled “The Journey: The Very Best of Donna Summer.”
Donna Summer joins us from Burbank, California.
Thanks a lot for coming on the program. Real pleasure to get to talk to you.
DONNA SUMMER, SINGER: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
ABRAMS: And a premature happy birthday...
SUMMER: Thank you.
ABRAMS: ... to you. She was born on New Year‘s Day.
So, all right, question, why did you write the book?
SUMMER: Because I felt that I could be a mentor to people who are approaching getting into the business, and there are a lot of kids out there that have a lot of misconceptions about being in the business. And I just I felt like my life was probably a good example of what not to do in some cases.
ABRAMS: I was really surprised to see, in the portion in your book where you write about, you‘re at the height of your fame, everything is going great, and you are trying to kill yourself.
SUMMER: Well, I think people don‘t realize the immense amount of pressure there is in being famous. And fame is its own animal.
ABRAMS: And what was it that—about the fame that made it so difficult for you?
SUMMER: The loss of self, I think, in all of it.
ABRAMS: What do you mean by that?
SUMMER: Well, I think you lose a lot of yourself in the process. And you take on this other persona that isn‘t really who you are. And I think trying to consolidate the two people into one person doesn‘t always work, and you become somehow fragmented in the process.
ABRAMS: All right. I have to ask you a very important question.
ABRAMS: Will disco be back? Because I‘m a big fan of disco.
SUMMER: Good. Good, good.
ABRAMS: All right? You know, I have, you know, I get—made fun of it a lot. I get razzed. I like disco.
ABRAMS: Is it going to be back?
SUMMER: Well, I think, you know, I think it never really left. I think it was just in hiding.
SUMMER: So—yes, it‘s coming back.
ABRAMS: And will you really think it will be sort of as popular as it was in the late ‘70s, for example?
SUMMER: Well, I don‘t know if it will be as popular as it was when it was new, because when things are new, you know, it‘s always different. But I think it will remain a part of our, you know, our culture in that sense.
ABRAMS: You got a favorite song of all the hit songs that you had?
SUMMER: It‘s probably “Last Dance.”
ABRAMS: You know, I was just going to tell a story about “Last Dance.” And I want to tell it to you, all right?
ABRAMS: I went to a camp, all right? And at my camp, at the end of the camp social, they would always play—excuse me—“Last Dance.” So we would know, if we were down in the bunks, like, smooching with a girl, that we had to come up the minute “Last Dance” played.
So for me, every time I hear “Last Dance,” I think about needing to get back up from my bunk. What do you think of that?
SUMMER: Well, that‘s—I think that‘s pretty funny. That‘s pretty funny.
ABRAMS: But it really did become—it became a defining song. It seemed for a period there, any time you went to any event where they had a sort of organized series of songs, “Last Dance” was always the one they ended on to say, This is the end of the event.
SUMMER: Yes, it‘s time to go home. I think even still, I mean, I—a lot of people tell me that they still end a lot of club sessions with “Last Dance,” and bar mitzvahs and weddings. And so I feel like I‘m part of popular culture at this point.
ABRAMS: Did you ever think to yourself, I‘m going to create music for bar mitzvahs?
SUMMER: No, but I‘m glad that I did.
ABRAMS: Yes? All right. Let me get back to a little bit more about your life, now that I have gotten all the stuff I wanted to talk about out of the way.
The, the sort of—the sort of sexy image that you had, you were troubled by that, you write in your book.
SUMMER: Yes, I was very troubled by it, because I felt it was very one-sided and very shallow and not really a representation of who I was or am as a person. So I had a hard time with that.
ABRAMS: And you also talk about in the ‘80s going through a major change in your life.
SUMMER: In the ‘80s, I went through spiritual conversion or restoration, one could say, and I got back on track with my life. I sort of took control of my life and gave my life to God, and He took control of me, and together, my life changed for the better. And a lot of the darkness and the depression that I was suffering with prior to that kind of subsided.
ABRAMS: Are you performing on your—is it on your birthday, day before your birthday, Dick Clark‘s Rockin‘ New Year‘s Eve?
SUMMER: New Year‘s Eve. Yes, I think we‘re doing it this year. And again, we‘ll be singing, probably, “Last Dance.” I don‘t know if I‘m supposed to say this, but I‘m saying it. And my new song that I have out called “You‘re So Beautiful.”
ABRAMS: Donna Summer, a real pleasure to...
ABRAMS: ... have you on the program. Thanks a lot.
ABRAMS: And again, the book is called “Ordinary Girl: The Journey.”