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
In 1980, Donna became the first artist to sign with the newly formed Geffen
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:
Won Best R&B Vocal Performance Female for Last Dance
Nominated for Best Pop Vocal Female for MacArthur Park
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
Nominated for Best Disco Recording for Bad Girls
Nominated for Best Pop Vocal Female for On The Radio
Nominated for Best Rock Vocal Performance Female for Cold Love
Nominated for Best Inspirational Performance for I Believe In Jesus
Nominated for Best Rock Vocal Performance Female for Protection
Nominated for Best R&B Vocal Performance Female for Love Is In
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.
Won Best Inspirational Performance for Forgive Me
Won Best Dance Recording for Carry On
Nominated for Best Dance Recording for I Will Go With You
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
Donna was the first female artist to have three number one singles in one
She was the only artist to date to have three number one double albums in
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
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
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
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
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
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
...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
- Pete Waterman, Attitude,
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
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
- Kenneth Carroll, The Washington Post
She's got this incredible kind of zest for what she does, and she
loves to sing.
- Joyce Bogart-Trabulus, A&E's
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
- 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
- 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
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