So it’s raining outside i’m having vaccation and i got tired and bored with trying to solve my croosword. Due to this i felt i might as well do some writing here! Anyway as the headline above says it’s time for the “Queen of Disco” as she was called, Donna Summer. Her most famous songs who got/gets the most airplay i wouldn’t describe as particulary slick but as always if there’s one that’s “slick enough” fine by me!
She was gorgeous don’t you think?!
As always let’s start from the beginning on the very last day of the year of 1948, she was born as LaDonna Adrian Gaines on new years eve or if you prefer saying December31. She was one of not less than 7 children, her father was a butcher and the mother a schoolteacher. A majority of all black singers of her generation, maybe still the same today, began their like stage debut in the local chucrh. In Donna’s case when she was 8 and replaced someone who failed showing up. She later attended Boston’s Jeremiah E. Burke High School where she performed in school musicals and was considered popular.
Shortly before graduation in 1967 she moved down to New York and was a member of a blues rock band called Crow and they tried to get the attention from the record companies but they only saw a young girl with a big potential and talent. So due to this the band agreed to break up. Donna stayed in the big apple and auditioned for the counterculture musical Hair and she landed to role of Sheila. She agreed to do the same role in the Munich production of the show. So Donna moved to Munich, Germany after getting her parents reluctant approval. Eventually she began speaking German fluently and singing various songs in German.
The Munich prodcution of the Hair musical with Donna on the far right.
She did participated in 3 other musicals in Munich before she moved on to Austria and Vienna and joined the Volksoper, people’s opera in English. In 1968 she released her first single on Polydor under the name Donna Gaines. It was a german version of the song “Aquarius”, one of the most famous songs from Hair. Next single came a few years later and it was also a cover, this time it was “Sally Go ‘Round the Roses” by The Jaynetts from a one off-European deal with Decca Records. Third single “If You Walkin’ Alone” came 1972 on Phillips Records.
Picture above shows Donna’s third single.
Then in 1973 she married austrian actor Helmuth Sommer and they had the daughter called Mimi but full name is Natalia Pia Melanie Sommer in the same year. She did some backing vocals on producer-keyboardist Veit Marvos on his, Ariola Records, release Nice To See You, credited as “Gayn Pierre”. Several subsequent singles inclued Donna performing with the group. The name “Gayn Pierre” was also used while performing another musical Godspell with husband Helmuth.
Donna with, at that time husband, Helmuth and daughter Mimi.
While working as a part time model and back up singer in Munich she met two german based producers called Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte during the session for Three Dog Night at Musicland Studios. The three of them forged a partnership and signed her to their “Oasis” label in 1974. A demo of the producders work with Donna led to a deal with the European-distributed Groovy Records. The company made a small mistake on the cover…it was supposed to be Donna Sommer, german spell, but instead it stood Donna Summer! Too late now and the name remained as we all are familiar with. The first album “Lady of The Night” had to songs became a success in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Sweden! Way to go Swedes lol! Those two songs were “The Hostage” and “Lady of the Night” The first one hit the charts high in France but eventually got remoded from the charts due to it’s subject. At this time a high politician in Germany had been kidnapped and was held hostage.
Donna’s first full length album picture above.
Now things began to work out for Donna and her producers. She launched an idea about a song which eventually would become her first smash mega hit a song called “Love To Love You Baby”. They actually recorded two versions of it, one shorter to send to the radio stations and a longer version of 17 minutes for the clubs and discoteques. They did the recordings in Germany and Giorgio Moroder thought this could be something for the American market. He contacted Neil Bogart on Casablanca Records. He played the song at one of his extravagant industry parties and everyone totally loved it immediately! This was the short version and Bogart suggested Moroder to make the longer version and Bogart also added the word “Baby” at the end of the title.
Donna and Casablanca Records president Neil Bogart in 1978.
Needless to say Bogart signed Donna to Casablanca in 1975 the same year the album was released. The “Love To Love…” single reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and sold platinum. In this song Donna groans and moans which caused some controversy and some radio stations in both the U.S. and Europe found this offensive and therefor refused to play it. It didn’t matter that much anyway since as i already mentioned it did became a huge hit. The next singles both sold gold and in 1977 she received her first American Music Award for Favorite Soul/R&B artist. Donna starred in the 1978 movie Thank Got It’s Friday thou the movie met with modest success however the song Last Dance reached No. 3 on the Hot 100. Both the soundtrack album and single went gold and this resulted in Donna getting her first Grammy Award For Best Female R&B Performance.
Donna with her first Grammy Award along with “Last Dance” songwriter Paul Jabara in 1978.
Another song from the “Thank God…” soundtrack that became a mega huge hit was a rearranging of a ballad from Jimmy Webb called MacArthur Park a true disco killer track! This became Donna’s first #1 on the Bilboard charts and it gave her a Grammy nomination for Best Female Vocal Pop Performance. The single sold gold and topped the charts for three weeks. Then in the week of November 11 1978 she became historic, the first woman in the modern rock era to have a #1 single and #1 album simultaneously. On her next project, still working with producers Moroder and Bellotti, the first one brought in Harold Faltermeyer, whom he had collaborated with on the soundtrack for Midnight Express, as the albums arranger. His role did however significantly increase from just arranger, as he played keyboards and wrote songs with Donna.
Donna and Harold Faltermeyer during the “Bad Girl” sessions.
The album they worked on was released in 1979 and sold triple platinum and contained hit singles such as “Hot Stuff” and “Bad Girls“. Both are considered beeing two big time Donna classics and they both sold platimum. The third single “Dim All the Lights” sold gold. To say the least she was big time successful in the late 1970:s cause within the span of 8 months she had topped both the single and album charts simultaneously three times. That very impressive i must say. She also became the first woman ever the have 3 #1 singles in one calendar year. Another super success during this time was another disco classic, kinda in the same style as “MacArthur Park“, a duet with Barbara Streisand called “No More Tears (Enough is Enough)“. The song “Hot Stuff” earned her a Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Performance. You can say that during 1979 she was at the very height of her career and she played 8 sold out nights at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles.
At the American Music Awards 1980 she was nominated in 4 categories and won 3 of them and those were Female Pop/Rock and Female Soul/R&B Artist; and well as Pop/Rock single for “Bad Girls“. Now she had her own tv special Donna Summer Special which aired on ABC network on January 27. She was not totally comfortable with beeing labled “Queen of Disco” cause she wanted to try out other genres thou Casablanca resisted this which led to big tentions between them. Later in 1980 the like split up and Donna signed up for the newly created lable Geffen Records created by David Geffen. Her first album for the new label was called “The Wanderer” and wasa ecletic mixture of like everything! It contained influences from rock, rockabilly, disco, new wave, gospel.
Donna’s first album for Geffen Records “The Wanderer”.
While working on the next album Geffen himself stopped by the studio and was warned it was a work in progress but it was almost done. That wasn’t quite the case caused in reality it was more of some demos they’ve recorded and Geffen wasn’t pleased with the quality so not so much more happend with those. Then 15 years later in 1996 they were released under the title “I’m a Rainbow“. After that project beein cancelled not so much happend thou she contributed on some soundtracks. Still Geffen wanted a album to be released so he brought in a super heavy weight producer called Quincy Jones. The recording lasted for over 6 months and Donna beeing pregnant at that time found it hard to sing.
During the session of the album her former boss Neil Bogart died from cancer in May 1982 and Donna sang on his refuneral. Despite beeing produced by Quincy Jones the album didn’t became that success everyone hoped for. Today’s song is actually taken from this very album and no suprise then it’s produced by QJ cause he always brought the best cats to the sessions. Cause the song is definetely QJ slick with some great saxophone playing provided by Ernie Watts. Now i must give cred to my oldest brother who brought my attention to this one. Just like me he loves slick music and he also loves saxophone cause he used to play himself. Anyway he called me and asked who played on the tune called “Lush Life“. I had to listen to the song and immediately liked it and listened again and thought it must have been Ernie Watts playing. I did check the album’s credit’s list on allmusic.com as well and yes it said Ernie Watts was playing.
Quincy Jones and Donna in 1982.
As i said Donna sang on the refuneral of Neil Bogart who was the president of Casablanca Records. They were now owned by Polygram Records who claimed Donna had to make one more album to fulfill hercontract with them. So she had to do that and delivered the She Works Hard for the Money. The title song became huge success. The 1980:s wasn’t by far as successful as the previously decade still she did have some success and still sold gold but also some albums who failed to do so. Her career got a dip when she was acussed of saying that AIDS was a punishment from God and those who got it deserved it. At this time she had become a born again Christian. Years later the denied ever saying a such thing and why she replied so late was due to she wasn’t aware of the whole situation.
Donna and her second husband Bruce Sudano whom she met in 1978 and married in 1980. They had two daughters Brooklyn and Amanda Sudano.
On the day of 9/11 Donna was living in NYC and claimed that the toxic air everyone who was there were forced to breathe in caused her lung cancer diagnosis. Indeed she was the Queen of Disco no question about that and a very successful artist. Just like many other artists she tried out some more jazz stuff and sang standards. She was working until the very end. Everyone in the business from David Foster to Quincy Jones says she did change the face of the music business along with producer Giorgio Moroder. She was also the first artist to have 3 albums reaching #1 and they were Live & More, Bad Girls and On the Radio:Greatest Hits Volumes I &II. Altogether she got 17 Grammy nominations won 5 and 12 American Music Award nominations won 6. What i understand she had a big intregity and never compromised with herself and her family. I also get the impression that she was loved by everyone.
Donna and husband Bruce and their daughter Brooklyn who is just as beautiful as her mother.
Her last official album came in 2008 and was called “Crayons” it peaked #17 on the U.S. Top 200 chart it was her highest chart position since 1983. Three singles from this album sold gold in the U.S. they were “I’m a Fire“, “Stamp Your Feet” and “Fame (The Game)“. She said about it “did not want it to be any one baby. I just wanted it to be a sampler of flavors and influences from all over the world. There’s a touch of this, a little smidgeon of that, a dash of something else, like when you’re cooking.”
Donna was the first black woman to be nominated for a MTV Music Award. On December 11, 2012, after four prior nominations, Summer was posthumously announced to be one of the 2013 inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame . and was inducted on April 18, 2013, at Los Angeles Nokia Theater. Offcourse they to actually do it when she had already passed away. That’s so so lame i must say and there’s no doubt she should have been inducted way way earlier while she still was living. Her legacy is huge cause think of every artist she has influenced that list is long…very long. Well let’s do a little name dropping here…we got Beyoncé, Madonna, Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Lenny Krawitz to only name a few of them. Thou she never got inducted to the Hall of Fame while she still was with usbut she did get her star at the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1992.
When she got her big breakthrogh and labeled “Queen of Disco” she was also a big time sex symbol and many of her early lyrics have sexual connotations/innuations. No one can say she was “just a product” cause she was the real thing for sure! She was blessed with an awesome voice and great charisma otherwise she wouldn’t have last long. I might be wrong but i do remember reading somewhere long time ago that she after becoming born again Christian she didn’t really like some of her earlier stuff cause she felt they like didn’t worked along with her faith. Then again she changed her mind and performed all her classics live. On May 17 2012 her body finally gave in and she went to be with the Lord. She was then living in Naples, Florida. She died way too early 63 is nothing so sad. On a comment about her passing Chaka Khan said that Donna was one of very few black persons she could speak German with so they were tight! Let’s enjoy the song from her eponymous album from 1982 and today’s song “Lush Life”.
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