The Donna Summer Tribute Site

LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth

April 10, 1998 Listen to the Music -
Catching Up with Donna Summer

by Jeffrey L. Newman

Nobody was more surprised than Donna Summer when she won a Grammy Award last month for best dance artist, a newly added Grammy category. The one-time queen of disco, who had previously won four of the statuettes, was certain she didn’t stand a chance of winning a fifth award for the updated remix of her 1992 Giorgio Moroder-collaborated track, "Carry On," on Interhit Records. In fact, she didn’t attend the ceremony or stay at home and watch it on television.

"To win a Grammy for dance after all these years seemed impossible," says the 48-year old singer from her Nashville, Tennessee home. "It really caught me off guard."

Things are musically in synch these days for Summer. She is currently putting the finishing touches on the musical she has been writing for two years, "Ordinary Girl." It is the autobiographical story of her life, from her early days as disco’s number one diva through the time she rediscovered her belief in God.

Co-written with her husband, Summer expects to take the musical on the road beginning this summer. She’s already secured enough financial backing for the first leg of it. And she hopes to bring it to Broadway by the end of the year or the beginning of 1999.

The new musical will feature several of the songs that made her famous, as well as new Summer-penned tunes. "It’ll be more like a ‘West Side Story’ in terms of the type of songs, as well as comical ‘Funny girl’ type songs," she says.

Her current career high is far different from the musical roller coaster ride she’s been on for the last decade and a half. The singer suffered a career backlash nearly two decades ago when, shortly after becoming a born-again Christian, she was accused of making anti-gay comments. (She says she became born again after gaining an addiction to prescription pills and other drugs and was on the verge of suicide.)

As the rumor has it, a reporter who had a run-in with the singer came back from one of her concerts and wrote that the singer remarked that AIDS was God’s punishment against gays. Despite Summer’s vocal and emphatic denial of making the remarks, an anti-Donna Summer campaign emerged rapidly and the one- time gay icon had lost her foothold with the community that made her a star. "It’s not logical, whether I was Christian, Buddhist or whatever, that I would have said anything like that. It had a damaging effect on my career for some time. But I don’t let it embitter me. I looked at it as an experience to learn from and go on from," she says. "It wasn’t fair. Lives were destroyed over it. But it’s life. You can’t live there and you have to move on." But after more than 15 years, the singer says she’s tired of defending herself. "If I had been a criminal, I would have been found guilty, sentenced and served my time by now. I’ve paid dearly for a crime I didn’t commit," she says. "I don’t look at people by their sexual orientation. I don’t judge people because they are gay or straight. My love for people is based on my compassion as a person."

Still, despite the uproar, she has continued to stand by the gay and AIDS community, performing at pride events and fundraisers.

"I have a lot of friends who have been affected by AIDS, including people in my family. One of my cousin’s kids died of AIDS, as well as people in my extended family," says Summer, who recently performed at a benefit for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a New York City-based AIDS organization. " I’ve lost so many great friends that I can’t even take out pictures and look at them because it’s so painful and so difficult."

Born on New Year’s Eve in Boston as Adrian Donna Gaines, she changed her name to Donna Summer after joining a local band named Crow. In the mid-1970s, Summer scored with the single "Love To Love You Baby," a top five hit in the U.S. and the U.K. Her 17-minute version of the classic is a disco treasure. Seven more top 10 singles followed, including, "I Feel Love," and "MacArthur Park," her first number one hit, "Bad Girls," "The Wanderer" and "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)," with Barbra Streisand.

In 1989, the diva returned to the top of the charts with the gay-tinged Stock- Aitken-Waterman single "This Time I Know It’s For Real." Two recent retrospectives were also successful.

As for her future recording career, Summer says she is in transition. She has parted ways with her record company and has yet to sign with a new one, although she is currently in negotiations with one of her former labels to record and release the cast recording for her new show.

"There comes a point when you get tired of doing what everyone else wants you to do. They want you to make a record the way they think it should be made. I want to make the kinds of records now the way I want to make them," she says. "I’d rather be doing my own thing than be stuck with a company that doesn’t support me. Until I find the relationship that I’m looking for, I don’t want to be signed to a label. I have to at least try once to do the record I want to do."


Jeffrey L. Newman is a New York-based music writer and can be reached in care of LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, or via e-mail at
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 8, No. 3, April 10, 1998.
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