Summer, Donna (originally, Gaines, La-Donna)

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Summer, Donna (originally, Gaines, La-Donna)

Summer, Donna (originally, Gaines, La-Donna), the biggest and most enduring female recording star to emerge from the disco scene of the late 1970s; b. Boston, Dec. 31, 1948. Donna Summer scored one of the first disco hits with the erotic “Love to Love You Baby” in late1975 and became disco’s most recognized and popular solo artist. Ably supported by European songwriter-producers Pete Bellotte and Giorgio Moroder, Summer diversified into funk and synthesizer-dominated pop, and blossomed as a songwriter with 1979’s Bad Girl album, which eventually sold more than six million copies. Switching to Geffen Records in 1980 for several equivocal rock-oriented albums, Summer scored her biggest later success with the 1983 album She Works Hard for the Money.

Donna Summer grew up in Dorcester, Mass., and began singing in a church choir as a child. She worked sessions and recorded demonstration records as a teenager, and quit school two months short of high school graduation to join the otherwise all-white group Crow, debuting with them at Boston’s Psychedelic Supermarket in 1967. Later in the year she won a role in the Munich, Germany, production of Hair and moved to Europe. She performed in the musical for over a year, then joined the Vienna Folk Opera in 1969, performing in productions of Porgy and Bess and Showboat. In Germany she appeared in Godspell and The Me Nobody Knows and worked sessions for producer-songwriters Pete Bellotte and Giorgio Moroder. From 1973 to 1975 Summer recorded for the team’s Oasis Records, scoring European hits with “Hostage” and “Lady of the Night.” In 1975 Moroder brought her recording of “Je T’Aime” to Neil Bogart of Casablanca Records. The song was rerecorded in a 17-minute version with the sound of Summer’s simulated orgasms surrounded by electronic keyboards and a disco-style rhythm as “Love to Love You Baby.” The song was picked up by N.Y. discos and became a smash American pop and R&B hit in an abbreviated four-minute version.

Summer returned to the United States in late 1975 and toured the country in early 1976 in support of her second album, Love Trilogy, which solidified her popularity with the disco crowd. Later in the year she recorded the concept love album Four Seasons of Love, which produced major R&B and minor pop hits with “Spring Affair” and “Winter Melody.” Scoring a near-smash pop and R&B hit with the synthesizer-dominated “I Feel Love” from I Remember Yesterday, Summer appeared in the 1978 disco-comedy movie Thank God It’s Friday and contributed four songs to the soundtrack album, including the smash crossover hit “Last Dance,” essentially her last disco hit.

The two-record set Live and More compiled live and studio recordings, including a top pop and near-smash R&B hit version of Jimmy Webb’s “MacArthur Park” and the crossover smash “Heaven Knows”, recorded with Brooklyn Dreams. The album remained on the album charts for more than a year and expanded Summer’s popularity into the pop mainstream. Donna Summer began exploring funk with her masterful Bad Girls album in 1979. The album produced the top pop and smash R&B hit “Hot Stuff,” the top pop and R&B hit title track, and the pop smash “Dim All the Lights.” Before year’s end she scored a top pop hit in duet with Barbra Streisand on “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough),” and the anthology set On the Radio yielded a crossover smash with the title song.

In 1980 Donna Summer switched to Geffen Records and married Bruce Sudano of Brooklyn Dreams, with whom she wrote Dolly Parton’s top country hit “Starting Over Again.” Pete Bellotte and Giorgio Moroder produced her debut for the label, The Wanderer. The decidedly rock-oriented album yielded a pop smash with the title song and moderate pop hits with “Cold Love” and “Who Do You Think You’re Foolin’.” The album also revealed her born-again Christianity with songs such as “I Believe in Jesus.” However, subsequent albums for Geffen sold progressively less well and all were later deleted by the label. Her next album, Donna Summer, produced by Quincy Jones, includes the smash crossover hit “Love Is In Control” and the moderate pop hits “The Woman in Me” and “State of Independence,” the latter recorded with an all-star choir that included Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Dionne Warwick, and Stevie Wonder.

Summer’s social conscious came to the fore with the title song to 1983’s She Works Hard for the Money, recorded for Mercury Records as part of her legal settlement with Casablanca Records; the song became a smash crossover hit. The album also yielded a near-smash R&B hit with “Unconditional Love.” Brenda Russell’s “Dinner with Gershwin” became a near-smash R&B hit from 1987’s All Systems Go, her first album in three years and her final album for Geffen Records. In 1989 Donna Summer moved to Atlantic Records, where she soon had a near-smash pop hit with “This Time I Know It’s for Real,” but subsequent recordings have fared far less well.


Love to Love You Baby (1975); A Love Trilogy (1976); Four Seasons of Love (1976); I Remember Yesterday (1977); The Deep (soundtrack; 1977); Once Upon a Time (1977); Live and More (1978); Bad Girls (1979); On the Radio—Greatest Hits, Vols. 1 and 2 (1979); Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 (1980); Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (1980); Walk Away—Collector’s Edition (The Best of 1977-1980) (1980); The Dance Collection (1987); The Wanderer (1980); D. S.(1982); Cats without Claws (1984); All Systems Go (1987); Anthology (1993); She Works Hard for the Money (1983); The Summer Collection (1985); Endless Summer: Donna (1994); Another Place and Time (1989); Mistaken Identity (1991).


J. Haskins, D. S.: An Unauthorized Biography (Boston, 1983).

—Brock Helander