The Donna Summer story...

Once upon a time, a young girl stood in front of the parishioners in a Boston church. She opened her mouth to sing, and a huge voice came out - moving the congregation to tears. At that moment the girl heard the voice of God tell her, "You're gonna be famous." From that time on, the girl knew that she was destined for greatness. That girl grew up to become Donna Summer.

Most people know about her hits. Great songs like "Last Dance", Hot Stuff", "On The Radio" and "She Works Hard For The Money." What most people don't know is that Donna started off as Donna Gaines in a rock band called The Crow. And that when the band broke up, she left school to be in the German production of the the musical Hair. Once in Germany, there was no stopping Donna. She was active in musical theater, playing in such shows as Showboat, Porgy And Bess, and The Me Nobody Knows, and in 1971 she cut her first solo record, "Sally Go 'Round The Roses"

By 1974, and now going by the name Donna Summer, she was doing a great deal of session work which brought her into contact with producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte. Together they recorded "The Hostage", a song which became Donna's first hit in Europe. An album and a few more European hits followed. Then in 1975, Donna recorded "Love To Love You Baby", the song that finally brought her success in America. The rest is history. Since then she has racked up fourteen top ten hits, four number one singles, three platinum albums, five Grammy awards and twelve other Grammy nominations. She is the first female artist to have three number one solo singles in one year ("MacArthur Park", "Hot Stuff" and "Bad Girls") and she is the only artist to have three number one double albums in a row (Live And More, Bad Girls, and On The Radio). Over the years Donna has proven herself to be a consummate artist and songwriter - she has written or co-written many of her hits, and is currently writing a musical based on her life story. Most recently she has done a benefit performance for GMHC at Carnegie Hall that raised over $400,000 for that organization. She  also inked a multi-album deal with Epic Records and her first release for her new label was a live CD recorded at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom. This concert was videotaped and became the highest rated concert special for a solo artist that VH1 ever broadcast. In 2007, she signed a new deal with Burgundy Records (an imprint of Sony/BMG) and in 2008 she released her first album of all newly written and recorded material in 17 years. The album is called Crayons and with it came the number one dance single, I'm A Fire  - making Donna the only artist to ever have a number one dance single in every decade since the 70s. Over three decades after her first success, Donna was poised to start a whole new chapter in her career -  showing the world that the Queen was indeed back. But unfortunately, that was not meant to be. She passed away on May 17, 2012 from cancer. In 2013 she will be posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame - a long overdue official recognition of her incredible musical legacy.

 

Some personal info...

Donna Adrian Gaines was born on December 31, 1948 in Boston MA to Andrew and Mary Gaines.

She is the third of seven children. (One boy and six girls - imagine the fights over that bathroom!  LOL)

She was married briefly in the early 70s to Helmut Sommer, with whom she had one child - Mimi Sommer.

She was married to songwriter Bruce Sudano with whom she has two children, Brooklyn and Amanda Grace Sudano. They married on July 16, 1980 and remained together the rest of Dnna's life.

Over the years Donna maintained homes in Los Angeles, Connecticut and New York, but most recently she and her family had homes in Tennessee, Florida and Los Angeles.

Donna passed away on May 17, 2012 from lung cancer. She was laid to rest near her Nashville home. AT the time of her death she was survived by her husband Bruce, 3 married daughters and 4 grandchildren.

Some career info...

In 1968 Donna left home to join the German production of Hair.

In 1974 Donna had her first European hit with The Hostage.

In 1975 Donna had her first American hit with Love To Love You Baby.

Donna wrote or co-wrote a significant number of her hits and album tracks.

In 1980, Donna became the first artist to sign with the newly formed Geffen records.

Donna was also an accomplished painter whose works sell for thousands and thousands of dollars.

Donna wrote several musicals including the much anticipated, Ordinary Girl - an autobiographical story. At this time, none of Donna's musicals has been publicly performed (outside of a few songs performed as part of her regular concerts.) There were plans before Donna passed away to bring Ordinary Girl to Broadway.

Donna has released her autobiography called: Ordinary Girl: The Journey.

Notable achievements...

Grammy Awards:

1978

Won Best R&B Vocal Performance Female for Last Dance

Nominated for Best Pop Vocal Female for MacArthur Park

1979

Won Best Rock Vocal Performance Female for Hot Stuff

Nominated for Album Of The Year for Bad Girls

Nominated for Best Pop Vocal Female for Bad Girls

Nominated for Best R&B Vocal Performance Female for Dim All The Lights

Nominated for Best Disco Recording for Bad Girls

1980

Nominated for Best Pop Vocal Female for On The Radio

1981

Nominated for Best Rock Vocal Performance Female for Cold Love

Nominated for Best Inspirational Performance for I Believe In Jesus

1982

Nominated for Best Rock Vocal Performance Female for Protection

Nominated for Best R&B Vocal Performance Female for Love Is In Control

1983

Won Best Inspirational Performance for He's A Rebel.

Nominated for Best Pop Vocal Female for She Works Hard For The Money

Nominated for Album Of The Year for the soundtrack to Flashdance.

1984

Won Best Inspirational Performance for Forgive Me

1997

Won Best Dance Recording for Carry On

1999

Nominated for Best Dance Recording for I Will Go With You

Other achievements:

Last Dance won an Academy Award for best Song from a Motion Picture in 1978. (Note, while Donna sang the song - the award went to the songwriter, Paul Jabara) It also earned a Golden Globe Award.

Donna was the only artist ever to guest host Dick Clark's American Bandstand.

Donna was the first female artist to have three number one singles in one year.

She was the only artist to date to have three number one double albums in a row.

To date, Donna  racked up 11 gold albums and 3 platinum albums (2 of which went double platinum). Additionally, she has has 12 gold singles and 2 platinum singles. (Check out www.riaa.com for a complete list of certifications.)

Donna had 14 top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 and 4 of those reached number 1.

She picked up 3 American Music Awards in 1979 for Favorite Female Vocal Pop or Rock, Favorite Single Pop or Rock (Bad Girls), and Favorite Female Vocalist for Soul Music.

In 1980 Donna received the NAACP Image Award.

In 1992 Donna was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Her most recent CD, Live & More Encore yielded back to back number 1 dance hits and was certified gold in Spain.

In 2008, she became the only artist to have a number 1 dance hit in every decade since the 1970s.

In 2013 she was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame - an honor that would have made her so proud. Previously she had been nominated for the classes of 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012.


Donna Summer with award

Humanitarian works...

Over the years Donna has quietly contributed her time and money to various organizations. What follows is a list of just a few who have benefited from Donna's generosity:
 

  • Music For UNICEF for whom she donated the proceeds of Mimi's Song.

  • Youth With a Mission which helps children with AIDS.

  • Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang which helps terminally ill children.

  • Music Cares which is an organization with contributes to AIDS research.

  • AMPHAR-AIDS for whom she did an art exhibition in a gay nightclub called Time Square.

  • The Neil Bogart Memorial Fund for Cancer & AIDS for whom she has a special memorial set aside for her mother.

  • The Gay Men's Health Crisis for whom she did a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall and raised over $400,000.

  • T. J. Martell Foundation for whom she contributed a song for a compilation Christmas album.

  • Dance=Life for whom she contributed a song for a compilation album.

  • Another appearance at Carnegie Hall with Barry Manilow in his benefit for the Gay Men's Health Crisis.

  • VH1's Save the Music Foundation. 

  • Juvenile Diabetes Foundation in Chicago (the concert plus auctions held that night raised over $1.4 million).

  • Several  concerts in 2000 to benefit local hospitals.

  • National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance for whom she contributed a song for The Best Of The Summer Concert Series Volume 1 CD.

  • The For All Kids Foundation for whom she donated one song on Another Rosie Christmas.

  • Race To Erase MS for whom she did benefit concert in 2 consecutive years with other artists (part of which was televised on VH1), several public service announcements (which aired on VH1), and she donated a song to their 2001 CD, Keeping The Dream Alive.

  • In 2003 Donna performed at the annual White Tie & Tiara Ball to benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

What people have said...

I love Donna Summer because her voice makes me smile, makes me cry, makes me dream, makes me dance, makes me feel better, makes me FEEL... do I need to say it?... LOVE. :-)

-Sebastiano Lionti (webmaster of Donna Summertime), 4/2008

...For a producer to get goosebumps, that's saying something. Donna could do that. Get Donna to sing the times-table and you'd go 'Fucking hell!' Unbelievable.

- Pete Waterman, Attitude, 12/2001

I know that Donna Summer is one of those voices of life who will always - she will always be able to sing. If it's not disco, it's real music, real songs. She can really really sing.

-Patti Labelle, VH1's Say It Loud 10/2001

[Donna's] music is timeless. Even when I see her in concert now. The overture begins and her initial note soars, until this day I am in total awe. Her voice ages like fine wine, it gets better with time. It brings me back to when I first saw her perform, my very first time.

-Taihisha, Donna Summer Friends 1/2001

She's like Barbra Streisand and Aretha Franklin. There are some voices that are just there and don't go away.

- Giorgio Moroder, VH1's 100 Greatest Dance Songs 10/2000

She is the picture of exuberance here, once again affirming why she remains an unmatchable vocalist in the mind of anyone who has ever tripped the club fantastic.

- Larry Flick, Billboard 3/1/97

In a genre in which talent was rarely a prerequisite, Donna Summer emerged as disco's only truly talented female vocalist. Her crisp delivery made her an icon of the era and a survivor of disco's swift demise.

- Kenneth Carroll, The Washington Post 8/1/95

She's got this incredible kind of zest for what she does, and she loves to sing.

- Joyce Bogart-Trabulus, A&E's Biography, 1995

She remains in a league of her own, and her voice just gets better with time. It's not easy to continue making music when your career has been so pivotal in the overall shape and direction of a musical genre. Quite frankly, Summer deserves props for bravely stepping before a mike with such daunting standards. 

- Larry Flick, Billboard 10/15/94

She is easily among the most vocal and influential artists the dance community has ever sent into the pop mainstream....[The] Donna Summer Anthology...is testimony to the power she still wields. Listen closely, and you will hear the continued influence her music has on even the most cutting-edge new releases. How many trance jams are direct descendants of "I Feel Love" and "Sunset People?" And let's keep in mind that before Madonna and Erotica there was "Love To Love You Baby" and "Hot Stuff."

- Larry Flick, Billboard 9/25/93

I was amazed with her voice, that she possessed that kind of instrument."

- Keith Diamond, Mistaken Identity press kit 1991

She has got one of the great voices of all time. She survived adversity, adversity being - she's a huge star in a period of time that overnight went away. She's the only star, really, of the disco scene. And that was a terrible stigma....And [she] managed to move on beyond that.

- Dick Clark, Good Morning America 11/7/85

Just listening to her sing a gospel song will just... your whole life will be changed.

- Mary Gaines, 20/20 1979

A final comment by a fan...

I truly hope all of the publicity pays off. Disco being declared "dead" was an assault on both the gay and black communities. Disco music was devalued by the dominant, white, heterosexual male, heavy metal/country western culture. Donna was stigmatized along with all of it. I believe that she is truly one of the most talented and gifted singers/songwriters ever. While she was ostracized by the gay community in the 80's for apparently making anti-gay remarks (which she denies) she did recently perform a benefit concert in New York for the Gay Men's Health Crisis. I hope that will help put some of the ugly rumors to rest. I see Donna's triumphs as triumphs for minorities of all types, whether they be people of color, gay people or people who have voices made to soar with synthesizers (ahh, synthesizers: another devalued gift of music). For that matter, "talented Christian Divas who have a primarily gay audience." Or, "talented Christian Divas who are in their 50's and have a primarily gay audience." (If Cher and Tina can do it, so can Donna, who has much more range and lung power; not to say that Cher's new CD is not a completely awesome piece of dance [read as "disco"] "electronica"). Donna set the stage for techno-synth and electronic music, and the dominant culture is trying to erase her from the history books by ignoring her contributions, devaluing them and devaluing her audience. In 1979, she sold over 4 million copies of a double-album ("Bad Girls", priced at nearly $17.00). At the time, a black-female artist having a multi-platinum-selling album was practically unheard of (let alone having several). She had the first extended play single. She was brilliantly blending her tracks together more than a decade before Janet's "Rhythm Nation" hit the air waves. She "reinvented" herself with every album when Madonna was posing for nude pictures to make a living. Does she, Whitney or Janet ever give her credit? And on and on and on. (Or should I say "Love On And On," which, according to Cathy at the website is in heavy rotation on WKTU in New York--I was fortunate enough to get a pirated copy of the single from Perfect Beat, before they were "told" to stop selling it). The song is a testimony to both how Donna set the stage for today's current dance music as well as a testimony to the fact that she can still do it better than anyone else--SHE HAS THE MAGIC!!!!

So, step aside KISS, your former-fellow Casablanca recording artist is staged for a comeback. And if only a small one, it will be a great victory for all of "us." (How odd that all of the boys who tortured me in school for being gay and for loving Donna Summer could not see the irony in their own worship of a band called "AC/DC.").

When I am done with graduate school, I am going to write a book about this....

- Troy M. Burnett February, 1999

 

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