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Donna Summer (born LaDonna Andrea Gaines on December 31 1948) is an American Grammy Award-winning singer best known for a string of dance hits in the 1970s that earned her the title "Queen of Disco" and also as one of the few disco-based artists to have longevity on the charts into the late-1980s. Even though she is one of the best-known artists of the disco era, Summer has covered different genres including R&B, rock, and gospel music, earning her Grammy Awards in those categories. It has been estimated that Summer's album and single sales total more than 120 million, easily making her part of the list of best-selling music artists.
Born in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, Gaines was one of seven children raised by devout Christian parents. Donna sung in church and later joined a rock group as a teenager influenced by the sounds of Janis Joplin. At eighteen, Donna left home and school to join the cast of the Broadway music, "Hair". The show eventually moved to Germany and Donna eventually became a German resident and performed in the German versions of "Godspell" and "Show Boat". Settling in Munich, she participated in the Viennese Folk Opera and other musicals.
In 1971, Gaines released a single in Europe titled "Sally Go 'Round the Roses", her first solo recording. The single was unsuccessful, however, and Summer had to wait until 1974 to launch a solo career. After resettling in Munich, Germany, Gaines married Austrian actor Helmut Sommer ("Summer" is an anglicization of his last name) and did various musical jobs in studios and theaters for several years, including the pop group FamilyTree from 1974-75.
While singing back-up for groups such as Three Dog Night, she met producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte. With these producers, Summer signed a contract in the Netherlands and issued her first album, Lady of the Night, which included the European hit, "The Hostage", which made #1 in France, Belgium, and Holland and #2 in Germany. It's follow-up, the title track of the album, also gained some degree of European success.
In the late summer of 1975, Summer approached Moroder and Bellotte with an idea for a song. She came up with the lyric "Love To Love You Baby" as the possible title for the song. Moroder in particular was interested in developing the new disco sound that was becoming more and more popular and used Summer's idea to develop the song into a disco track. He had the idea that she should moan and groan in an orgasmic way, but Summer was unsure of the idea. Eventually she agreed to record the song as a demo to give to someone else (possibly singer Penny McLean). In recording the song, Summer laid on the floor of a pitch black studio and imagined she was Marilyn Monroe playing the part of someone indulging in sexual activity. She has stated that she was not completely sure of some of the lyrics, and parts of the song were improvised during the recording. Moroder was astounded with Summer's orgasmic vocals and her imaginative moans and groans that he insisted she should release the single herself. Summer reluctanly agreed and the song, titled "Love To Love You", was released. While originally a modest success in Europe, it reached America and the hands of Casablanca president Neil Bogart, who was so ecstatic over the demo that he requested Moroder to produce a twenty-minute version of the song. Summer, Moroder and producer Pete Bellotte cut a seventeen-minute version and with that, renamed it "Love To Love You Baby", and Casablanca signed Summer and issued the single in November 1975. Casablanca distributed Summer's work in the U.S., while other labels distributed it in different nations during this period.
The "Love To Love You Baby" single was Summer's first big hit in America reaching number-two on the pop singles chart in February 1976 and becoming her first number-one dance single. The seventeen-minute version became one of a recurring trend of single song, side-long disco versions, with French disco acts Cerrone, the Alec. R. Costandinos helmed Love And Kisses and many others following suit. The album (side one of which was completely taken up with the full-length version of the title track) was also released in 1975 and was soon certified gold. The song was branded "raunchy" by some rock critics and was even banned by some radio stations for its graphic content. In some areas of the music press, Summer was dubbed "the first lady of love." The two albums that followed - A Love Trilogy and Four Seasons of Love both had a reasonably high sexual/fantasy content though Summer felt uneasy by her image.
The 1977 album I Remember Yesterday, another concept album, showed the Summer/Moroder/Bellotte team combining the disco sound with sounds of the past, present and future. The song representing the future, "I Feel Love" , originally released as a "B" side to the R&B ballad "Can't We Just Sit Down (And Talk It Over)", became a landmark recording, reaching number-six on the US pop chart and number-one in the UK and various other European countries. The song was arguably the first song to use techno and electronic sounds in dance music. A version of I Feel Love released in 1982, with additional overdubs by disco lightman turned synthesist and producer Patrick Cowley, took the eight minute and fifteen second extended version and overlayed new elements, causing an underground sensation. Summer released another album in 1977 called Once Upon a Time, a concept album telling a modern-day "rags to riches" story through the means of electronic disco and was regarded by many fans as some of her best work.
In 1978, Summer acted the film Thank God It's Friday, and released the hit single, "Last Dance". Written by Paul Jabara who also co-wrote "It's Raining Men", the song became another monumental hit for Summer reaching number-three on the Billboard Hot 100 and resulted in her first Grammy win while Jabara took home the Oscar after the song was nominated for Song of the Year. Summer also recorded a side-long version of Serge Gainsbourg's "Je T'Aime (Moi Non Plus)" which was very similar in style to "Love To Love You Baby", initially shelved and later released as a part of the Thank God It's Friday soundtrack.
That same year, she released her first live album, Live and More. A double-album, it was also Summer's first number-one album and included her first number-one American pop single, a cover of the Jimmy Webb-penned "MacArthur Park", originally made famous by Irish singer/actor Richard Harris. The version found on the Live and More album was a longer version and incorporated two other tracks, including "Heaven Knows" which also featured vocals by the Brooklyn Dreams. Group member Bruce Sudano would become romantically involved with Summer, and "Heaven Knows" became another top five hit in the U.S.
In 1979, she released the landmark double album, Bad Girls. Unlike other disco albums, it mixed rock, blues, and soul into electronic disco beats. It yielded three top ten singles and two number-one hits including "Hot Stuff" and "Bad Girls". The former track won Summer a Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. Bad Girls became Summer's second #1 album and her most successful one, selling over seven million copies worldwide. Once again, Summer's music was years ahead of its time, and elements of Bad Girls would surface in the 1980's from such artists as the Eurythmics, New Order, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, Madonna, Bronski Beat, and a slew of other New Wave and techno bands. Several different artists were involved in the writing of Bad Girls including Bruce Sudano, who Summer had worked with the previous year on her "Heaven Knows" single. The two grew closer during the making of this album and became engaged. During this period, Donna Summer became the first woman ever to have two songs on Billboard's top three of the Hot 100 during the same week with "Bad Girls" and "Hot Stuff". Just a few months later, she accomplished the same feat again with "No More Tears" and "Dim All the Lights" both in the top three slots of the Billboard Hot 100 during the same week.
Summer's first main international compilation album, On The Radio: Greatest Hits Volumes 1 & 2, was her third number-one U.S. album. With this, Summer became the first artist to have three consecutive number-one double-albums. The album also contained two new tracks - "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)", a duet with Barbra Streisand, and "On The Radio," a song written for the film Foxes. Both were big hits when released as singles, the former becoming Summer's fourth and final number-one pop hit in the U.S. Afterwards, disagreements and fractions between Summer and Casbalanca Records led to her exit from the label in 1980. Despite early feelings of retirement, Summer was given a lucrative offer by David Geffen and became the first ever artist to be signed to his new Geffen label in 1980.
Summer's first Geffen release, 1980's The Wanderer, was a full-fledged rock/New Wave affair. Though two of the songs were hits on the dance charts, songs like the title track, and the accompanying singles ("Cold Love" and "Who Do You Think You're Foolin'" saw Summer reaching the same audience that contemporaries like Blondie and Pat Benatar were dominating. The album sold relatively well, and the title track became Summer's eleventh top ten single in the U.S.
A second release, I'm a Rainbow, a dance-orientated double album which also featured elements of soul, R&B and even disco, was shelved by Geffen (although two of the tracks would surface during the 1980s on the Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Flashdance film soundtracks) because he believed Summer needed fresh production. Reluctantly, Summer left Moroder after seven years of collaboration together, and released her self-titled 1982 album with production from Quincy Jones, who got her back in the top ten of the pop, R&B, and dance charts with "Love Is In Control (Finger on the Trigger)". A second single, "State of Independence," on which Michael Jackson sang background and Eric Clapton played guitar, and of the main inspirations for "We Are the World", became a sizable international hit (#1 in The Netherlands), followed by another Top 40 Pop & Top 30 R&B hit The Woman In Me.
In 1983, Summer scored her biggest triumph since Bad Girls with the release of the She Works Hard for the Money single and album. The song became a pro-feminist anthem and was a staple on BET and MTV, making her the first black female artist to have a video air in heavy rotation by the latter channel. That album was rejected by Geffen and Summer gave the album to PolyGram to settle her legal dispute with them, which was due from her early years with the Casablanca Records label. Released on PolyGram's Mercury Records, the success of the She Works Hard for the Money album permanently poisoned Summer's relationship with Geffen. PolyGram would also be responsible for releasing The Summer Collection in 1985, which contained some of her disco classics as well as tracks from the She Works Hard for the Money album, and later The Dance Collection in 1987, which showcased Summer's disco songs in the form of their extended remixes. A second single from the She Works Hard for the Money album, the reggae-flavored "Unconditional Love" (which also featured vocals by black British group Musical Youth), was also an early MTV favorite. Her subsequent Geffen releases, however, did not fare as well. 1984's Cats Without Claws and 1987's All Systems Go stalled with only minor hit singles. Summer left Geffen in 1988 to sign with Atlantic Records. Rumours have circulated among fans that as well as the I'm a Rainbow album, Summer had more unreleased material turned down by Geffen during her time with them.
Summer regained her hit luster again in 1989 with her Another Place and Time album. This was a collaboration with England's Top Dance-pop Production Team Stock Aitken Waterman. The album went platinum based on the success of the single, "This Time I Know It's For Real", which became her fourteenth top ten U.S. pop hit. A second single, "I Don't Wanna Get Hurt" was a Top Ten UK hit. In 1991, she released Mistaken Identity, which was an attempt at incorporating new jack swing and urban adult contemporary R&B into her music. The album failed to chart. In 1992, Summer received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This year also saw her collaborate with Giorgio Moroder for the first time in over a decade with the song "Carry On." This was featured on his Forever Dancing album and the following year would be featured on the double compilation album The Donna Summer Anthology. This anthology also featured two exclusive remixes from the unreleased I'm a Rainbow album recorded back in 1981. It would be a while before her next release as she decided to take some time out to spend with her family. 1994 saw Summer release a gospel-influenced Christmas album entitled Christmas Spirit (her first full-length album for over three years) and a new compilation entitled Endless Summer (both albums were released by PolyGram) which also contained a couple of new tracks including "Melody of Love (Wanna Be Loved)", which became a dance hit.
In 1995, a re-release of "I Feel Love" (with newly recorded vocals) as a dance remix, became a hit again in the UK reaching #8 there. The following year she would score a Top 20 there with a new remix of "State of Independence". In 1996, Summer's album I'm a Rainbow was finally released by Polygram's Mercury Records. In 1998, Summer was the first artist to receive a Grammy award for Best Dance Recording for her 1992 collaboration with Giorgio Moroder, "Carry On", after the song was remixed and released as a single. In 1999, Summer starred in a televised live concert on the VH1 network entitled 'Donna Summer - Live and More Encore. The special earned the network their highest ratings of the year, second only to their annual Divas concert. Performing a string of her classics and new singles, she also sung "Dim All the Lights" as a tribute to Rod Stewart. Summer acknowledges that she wrote the song for Stewart but recorded it herself. A CD (on the Epic label) and DVD of the special were released, returning the singer back to the U.S. albums chart. Summer scored two #1 dance hits that year with "I Will Go With You" and "Love Is the Healer" (both found as new studio tracks on the album). During that year, Summer recorded the title track for PokÃ©mon: The Movie 2000 entitled The Power Of One.
In 2003, Donna Summer released a greatest-hits compilation called The Journey, which rocketed into the UK Top 10 in the following year, thanks to her appearance on ITV1 show Discomania - in which she co-presented & sang a number of her hits: a medley of "Hot Stuff" & "Bad Girls", "MacArthur Park", "Last Dance" & a duet with Westlife on "No More Tears (Enough is Enough)" - which appeared on the Discomania soundtrack album.
On September 20, 2004, Summer was among the first artists to be inducted into the newly formed Dance Music Hall of Fame in New York City. She was inducted in two categories, Artist Inductees, along with fellow disco legends The Bee Gees and Barry White and Record Inductees for her classic hit "I Feel Love". Summer added to her credits in October 2004, when she performed "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch at Game 2 of the 2004 World Series at Boston's Fenway Park. Two of her most recent singles, "I Got Your Love" and "You're So Beautiful" reached the Top Ten on Billboard's dance chart.
Today, Summer and her family make their home in Nashville, Tennessee. In July 2006, Summer joined forces with Pure Tone Music, an A&R consulting and full service independent music company, located just outside of New York City, and Summer's official web site has announced an upcoming CD on the Burgundy label to be released in Spring, 2007. She is touring extensively in mid-2006, and is to be featured in Sade's upcoming album "Pearls." Summer has hinted that her upcoming album will be more political, and is currently fundraising for the incumbent Democratic governor of Tennessee.
In 1972, Summer married her first husband, Helmut Sommer, and permanently moved to Germany to star in musicals, which resulted in her learning to speak fluent German. With Sommer, she gave birth to her first child, Mimi. The couple divorced in 1976 but before then, Donna anglicized Sommer into Summer and began her professional singing career in 1974 as Donna Summer. In 1978, she collaborated with the disco group Brooklyn Dreams for the hit, "Heaven Knows". While at the session recording the single, she met their frontman Bruce Sudano. The duo began a romance that culminated in their July 16, 1980 marriage and later the birth of daughters Brooklyn and Amanda. Today, Mimi and Amanda sing alongside their mother while Brooklyn has been seen acting in TV shows, including the since-canceled My Wife and Kids. Summer is still married to Sudano, and she is a grandmother of three.
During her lengthy career, Summer has dealt with controversy both professionally and personally. Her first hit, "The Hostage" was banned in Germany, and other radio stations banned her music for being sexually suggestive, with "Love to Love You Baby" being an example.
In 1991, during the height of the Gulf War, Summer's song "State Of Independence" was banned from US radio play alongside many other songs that were deemed to have an imflammatory effect on the population.
Rumors persisted that Summer was in fact a man in drag and not a woman, a rumour Summer addressed in 1989 on The Arsenio Hall Show. A far more painful incident came in the early 1980's with reports that she had made anti-gay remarks associated with the AIDS epidemic. Her songs were banned for a number of years in some gay establishments over these rumours.
Summer has long denied such allegations, and finally taking legal action against a newspaper who had printed the rumors during a review of a concert. Summer tearfully stated, "I never said anything that was written about me in that article". To make amends, Summer has since played for AIDS benefits and has donated proceeds to AIDS research. Even in 2006, she is still asked about the rumors, recently by a Canadian newspaper. Summer responded, "So many people in my audiences are gay. I canâ??t live my life trying to assure people of anything. You have to live knowing who you are. I think that my actions and the person that I am speak louder than somebody elseâ??s misgivings or lies about me," says Summer now. "They print all kinds of things about people all the time but you canâ??t run after every single lie. You tell people the truth and if they choose to believe you, they do."
For a detailed listing of albums and singles, see: Donna Summer discography.
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