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February 27, 1996
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Former disco queen Donna Summer embarking on yearlong greatest-hits tour

By Melissa Ruggieri
Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

It was 1979. The disco craze was beginning to wane, but ``Hot Stuff,'' ``Bad Girls'' and ``No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)'' still pulsed over the airwaves. This was Donna Summer's year of glory, with five Top 5 smashes solidifying her image as ``The Queen of Disco.''

Nearly two decades later, and without a hit since 1989's ``This Time I Know It's For Real,'' Summer could have called it quits and simply watched the royalty checks roll in. But that wouldn't be very productive for someone who spent her life onstage, both in Broadway theaters and concert halls.

Now living in Nashville with her husband and writing partner, Bruce Sudano, and her three children, aged 13, 14 and 22, Summer's storied career affords her the luxury of calling the shots. She's embarking on a yearlong greatest-hits tour not only because she ``got bored,'' but also, she says from her home, ``I figured if there's still a market out there for me, it could be a wonderful thing for my bank account!''

With last year's resurgence of '70s pop culture, what better time for Summer to reclaim some visibility? Along with the Bee Gees and the Village People, Summer's silky dance tunes provided the soundtrack for a decade of frivolity. Yet unlike some of the more disposable acts, Summer managed to escape the '70s with her dignity - and popularity - intact.

``The '70s were a transitional time when people were having kids at a young age, and those kids - who are now in their 20s - go out and dance, and this stuff is in their memory banks. They hear it and they say, `God, I remember that - wow!' They don't attach a negative memory to it ... like the people who grew up with it do,'' Summer says, laughing.

While she still chuckles about the indulgences of the '70s with slight embarrassment, Summer realizes that her rise to stardom had as much to do with the culture of the time as it did her songs. The fragmented state that the music industry has sunk into over the years is not only disheartening, she says, but unnecessary.

``There's no way I'd want to be a new artist out there today. There's so many categories and boundaries, and I feel sorry for performers trying to break ground now,'' Summer says. ``There's hip-hop, house music, pop, AC. It's like, guys, wake up, it's music - M-U-S-I-C. There shouldn't be those boundaries. It's like segregation.''

Summer, 47 (``and lookin' good,'' she purrs), dispels rumors that she's trading in her dancing shoes to become a country diva, since she and Sudano moved to Tennessee from Connecticut seven years ago.

``Nope, no plans to record a country album in the near future,'' Summer says. ``Although, there's never been a black female country artist, so I'd sure be a novelty.''

The couple did, however, write the title track to country chanteuse Reba McEntire's cover album last year, ``Starting Over''; and Summer recently recorded a duet with Liza Minnelli, remaking the Linda Davis/McEntire vocal catfight, ``Does He Love You?'' The song is included on Minnelli's March album, ``Gently.''

Aside from her musical offerings, Summer also has dabbled in painting for the past 15 years. Earlier this year, her collection, ``Driven by the Music,'' was exhibited at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center - but don't expect her to turn this hobby into a profession anytime soon.

``It's kind of hard to paint sometimes,'' Summer says. ``But when I get some blocks of time, I paint like an insane person. It's just something I need to do. If no one ever buys a painting, I could care less.''

Summer's early career as a gospel singer created a strong foundation of faith, and, with the death of her mother, Mary Ellen Gaines, last September, her reliance on her spirituality has strengthened. At this point in her life, God, Summer says, is ``probably looking down and saying, `You go, girl, and don't look back!' I've had a lot of misfortune in my life the past few years. I've been tried and tested. But I truly have a love for people. This life that I live is a gift.''

� 1996, Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. Distributed by Knight-Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
AP-NY-02-22-96 0614EST

 

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