Music Reviews & News
February 27, 1996
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
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.''