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 didnt 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 didnt 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 discos 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. Shes 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. "Itll 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 shes 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
Gods punishment against gays. Despite Summers 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. "Its 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 dont let it embitter me. I
looked at it as an experience to learn from and go on from," she says. "It
wasnt fair. Lives were destroyed over it. But its life. You
cant live there and you have to move on." But after more than 15 years,
the singer says shes tired of defending herself. "If I had been a criminal,
I would have been found guilty, sentenced and served my time by now. Ive
paid dearly for a crime I didnt commit," she says. "I dont look
at people by their sexual orientation. I dont judge people because
they are gay or straight. My love for people is based on my compassion as
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 cousins kids died of AIDS, as well as people
in my extended family," says Summer, who recently performed at a benefit
for the Gay Mens Health Crisis, a New York City-based AIDS organization.
" Ive lost so many great friends that I cant even take out pictures
and look at them because its so painful and so difficult."
Born on New Years 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 Its 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. "Id rather be doing my own thing than be stuck with a company
that doesnt support me. Until I find the relationship that Im
looking for, I dont want to be signed to a label. I have to at least
try once to do the record I want to do."