In ORDINARY GIRL: THE JOURNEY (Villard Books, a division of Random House; October 14, 2003; $24.95) legendary singer-songwriter Donna Summer candidly recounts her extraordinary journey from singing in a Boston church to her European coming-of-age in the late 1960's to her unexpected reign as Queen of Disco – as well as the tragedy and spiritual rebirth that followed. On September 30, 2003, Universal music released The Journey: The Very Best Of Donna Summer, which also looks back at her extraordinary career.
Born LaDonna Adrian Gaines on New Year's Eve, December 31, 1948 into a loving family in Boston, Summer had a difficult childhood that consisted of low self-esteem and two near-death experiences. After nearly drowning in 1956, she became endued with a new sense of
creativity, and unexpectedly (after the church soloist fell ill) began singing in her local church. Summer knew then what her destiny would be, and decided to pursue singing as her life's work.
At age nineteen, while living the life of an artist in the burgeoning folk-rock Greenwich Village scene and performing with her rock band, Summer was approached by an RCA scout and offered a contract. But once again fate intervened: after a chance meeting with Bertrand Castelli, Summer was offered a role in the German production of "Hair," which she accepted, much to her father's chagrin.
Life in Munich provided Summer with a personal liberation from her straight-laced, churchgoing upbringing, and she was a shy, ordinary girl who was suddenly feeling the jolt of the sexual revolution. Her European coming-of-age allowed Summer to blossom into a completely independent person, absorbing new culture while experiencing her first taste of fame as a model and stage star. In 1972 Summer married a fellow actor from Vienna, and had her first child in 1973. She began to suffer from depression, and the marriage began to fall apart. After leaving her husband, Summer's next relationship with a man named Gunther did nothing to assuage her insecurities; in fact, she became a victim of domestic violence. But Summer continued to work, and after hearing of a producer who was looking for new voices, she arranged a meeting. And thus began her incredible collaboration with Giorgio Moroder.
In 1975 Summer had been playing around with a song idea. She discussed the title with Moroder, and a day later was ready to lay down the track for "Love To Love You Baby." The
song became a huge hit in America and Summer was on her way to promote the album when she nearly died from a severe heart condition. After recovering, Summer packed her bags and left Europe to move back to the States, her star on the rise with the world's' premiere disco hit on the top of the charts.
With gold records under her belt, Summer became a headliner and opened for some of the biggest music acts in the world, and toured extensively. Unfortunately the image of "real-life sex goddess" concocted by Casablanca Records made Summer ill at ease, and as her fame grew, her insecurities returned. Summer began to feel her life slip out of control. The pressure came to a boiling point in 1976 when Summer, depressed and feeling alone, decided to commit suicide. While preparing to leap out of her hotel window, Summer's leg got caught on a curtain and a maid came into the room, jolting her back to reality. After meeting with a psychiatrist and trying medication to control her depression, Summer knew she had to take control of her own life and get in touch with her inner self.
Relocating to Los Angeles in 1977, Summer had another hit with the Academy Award winning "Last Dance," and won her first Grammy Award the following year. At this
time her personal life took yet another dramatic turn; Gunther was back and once again Summer became a victim of domestic violence, until his arrest and deportation ended their relationship. Summer had met and become friends with future husband Bruce Sudano at this time, and was still controlled with Svengali-like influence by Casablanca Records' Neil Bogart. She was now officially "The Queen of Disco."
Summer was still writing songs, and pitched the idea of "Bad Girls" to Bogart, who felt the song would be perfect for Cher. Two years later, the label released the song and it climbed to the top of the charts, becoming the biggest hit of her career. But life at Casablanca wasn't sunny – Summer felt betrayed by Bogart after the early launch of "Enough Is Enough" (which knocked "Dim All The Lights" out of going to the number one Billboard spot) and decided she wanted out of the company. Her personal life brightened with her 1980 marriage to Sudano, and her new contract with Geffen Records, but Bogart died of cancer and it was the end of an era.
Summer's relationship with Geffen turned sour after the success of "She Works Hard For The Money" (inspired by a sleeping bathroom attendant at Chasen's Restaurant) and in 1979 she experienced a spiritual rebirth, with her faith tested by several family tragedies. At the peak of her career, Summer shifted her priorities to God and her family, and began expressing herself through yet another medium, painting. After years of living in Los Angeles and Connecticut, Summer settled her family in Nashville, home of a new music scene. Summer is still writing songs (while currently planning a Broadway musical of her life) and performing, but at heart she is as she began – an ordinary girl.