RICK de YAMPERT
Nashville, TN 37203
When disco swept the land in the late 1970s, singer Donna Summer ruled.
The Queen of Disco, many called her as they giddily genuflected - OK, boogied
- to the dance-inducing might of such Summer hits as Last Dance, Love to
Love You Baby and I Feel Love.
So when the music peaked and all those Disco Is Dead bumper stickers popped
up, when jokers, still to this day, parody John Travolta's Saturday Night
Fever moves and mock his white suit .... Well, we know how touchy queens
Off with such jokers' heads, right, Donna?
"I don't usually hear them," Summer says of those disco jokes and disco disses.
"People don't tell them to me," she adds, laughing.
In any event Summer, who performs Saturday as part of a benefit concert at
Tennessee Performing Arts Center, isn't the scornful queen. Call her the
ex-queen who abdicated her disco throne gracefully.
Even during the mirror-ball era, the singer was branching into rock and pop,
the occasional Bruce Springsteen cover and more adventurous stuff. More recently,
she recorded with The Nashville Symphony.
Besides, music critics and many fans who would have body-slammed the Bee
Gees in a heartbeat agreed: Donna Summer's disco was no joking matter. Check
out all the ratings stars her records get in The Rolling Stone Album Guide.
"I think disco gets dumped on for a lot of reasons, and rightfully so in
terms of fashion and a lot of things," Summer says. She's talking by phone
from her home in Nashville, where she and her family have lived for the past
She has just hopped off her walking machine and taken some cleansing herbs.
Her voice is as spry as robins darting through the sky on the first day of
"We were pretty radically funny at that point," Summer, 49, says of her disco
days. "The kids see it, and we look like clowns. But it was a fun time. I
think that was the essence of what was going on at the time."
Even without the outlandish clothes, Summer may be hot stuff again. She won
a Grammy this year for best dance recording for a remix of her song Carry
On. Her song Hot Stuff, a No. 1 hit in 1979, is featured in the upcoming
new movie spoof Mafia!.
And she's working on a semi-autobiographical, Broadway-style musical, to
be titled Ordinary Girl.
It's actually a "conthearto," she says, playfully sing-saying the word like
an Italian countess. The term was coined to describe the show, which is both
"concert and theater."
She'll perform Saturday at a star-studded concert at TPAC to benefit the
VH-1 Save the Music Foundation. The 8 p.m. bill also will include Peter Frampton,
Gino Vannelli, Delbert McClinton, Tony Rich, Bryan White, David Pack (formerly
of the pop-soul group Ambrosia), host Gary Chapman and others.
The conthearto "has been a long haul, I can tell you that, baby," Summer
says. The show was slated to open this fall in England but now is being planned
for a U.S. debut next spring.
"It keeps getting bigger than we thought," says Summer, who's co-writing
the script as well as 20 - yes, 20 - songs for the show. "Between that and
getting the basic script down, its like, `Aaarrrgggg!' Who said I wanted
to do this?
"I have such empathy for Paul Simon," she adds, referring to his recent Broadway
musical The Capeman.
Does the fact that Simon's foray onto Broadway was a flop create any ...
"Fear?" Summer says, finishing the sentence, her voice packed with mock horror.
"Oh but yes, yes, yes!"
The show's songs will range "from some twentyish-sounding music to very Broadway
types of music to dance music." The script calls for a concert within the
show, during which Summer will perform her classic hits and even take requests
from the audience.
"Hopefully, people will want to come and hear the songs as well as come to
see me do the show," she says.
The stage isn't unfamiliar turf for Summer. The Boston-born singer got her
start performing in European productions of Hair, Porgy and Bess, and Godspell
while still in her late teens. In Germany she met producers Giorgio Moroder
and Pete Bellotte. The threesome crafted several European dance hits before
their Love To Love You Baby helped launch the disco era in 1975.
Plans call for the conthearto to spawn a new album, which will include songs
from the show as well as remakes of some of her hits, re-recorded the way
they'll be performed on stage.
For Saturday's Save the Music benefit, she'll likely perform Last Dance,
Bad Girls, Hot Stuff "and maybe one of the songs from the show," she says.
"It's time for Donna Summer to metamorphosize herself," Summer says cheerfully.
"I've been that old woman too long. It's time for me to show people who I
"I've been there and done that, and now it's time to move on to the next
chapter of my life."
Yamaha Presents: Save the Music, a concert to benefit VH1's Save the Music
Foundation, will be at 8 p.m. Saturday at Tennessee Performing Arts Center,
505 Deaderick St. The lineup: host Gary Chapman plus Donna Summer, Peter
Frampton, Delbert McClinton, David Pack (formerly of Ambrosia), Bryan White,
Tony Rich, Gino Vannelli, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Anita Cochran, Wendy Moten,
The Clark Family Experience and others. Tickets: $100 Gold Circle Seating
(includes reception, silent auction and premier concert seating), $23 general
admission through Ticketmaster (255-9600).