The second half of the 1970’s saw the immense rise in the popularity of disco music. The film “Saturday Night Fever” and its primary musical contributors the Bee Gees helped propel the genre to the highest of heights. The Bee Gees, however, were not the only bona fide superstars to come out of the disco era. Donna Summer was the reigning queen of disco during its heyday, and though the genre eventually waned, Donna Summer persevered for years to come.
LaDonna Adrian Gaines was born and raised in the Dorchester section of Boston, Massachusetts. From the age of 8, she began performing in church choirs and started to realize her God-given talent. When she was 18, Donna ventured to New York City in search of work in the entertainment industry. There, she landed a spot in the road production of the musical “Hair”, which eventually brought her to a stage production in Germany.
Donna remained in Europe for several years, finding work in several shows, including “Godspell”, “Porgy and Bess”, and she even garnered a spot in the Viennese Folk Opera. During this time, she began working in recording studios, performing backups and recording demos of her own. It was during one of these sessions that Donna met producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte.
The threesome began working together and put out several singles which fared well in Europe, including Donna’s first hit “Hostage.” In the meantime, Donna met and married Austrian actor Helmut Sommer, whom she met while on vacation in Vienna. Her stage name was borne out of that union, which lasted less than two years. Donna gave birth to her daughter, Mimi, during her marriage to Sommer.
In 1974, Moroder and Bellotte came to Donna with a song called “Love to Love You Baby.” At first the singer wasn’t sure about the lyrics and jokingly ad-libbed, on tape. The producers liked the results and with a little sprucing up, they’d made a record. “Love to Love You Baby” started out as a hot single in French nightclubs, eventually getting widespread attention for its sultry vibe. American record exec Neil Bogart loved the track and who licensed it for release in the US under his Casablanca Records label. The original 16-minute recording was whittled down to a radio-friendly length and the song became a smash, hitting the #2 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 charts in the US.
The success of “Love to Love You Baby” paved the way for Donna Summer to return to the US, where she began a long string of successful recordings. Such classic disco tunes as “McArthur’s Park”, “I Feel Love”, “Dim All the Lights”, “Hot Stuff”, “On the Radio” and many, many more earned Donna Summer the title of disco queen. During disco’s heyday in the late seventies, Donna released eight albums in four years, all of them reaching gold status and the last four attaining platinum certification. The singer won a Grammy and an Oscar for her signature song, “Last Dance”, which was featured in the film “Thank God It’s Friday.”
With the disco craze ebbing towards the end of the decade, Donna Summer moved on. In 1980, she signed on to record company executive David Geffen’s new label, Geffen Records, and recorded a gospel influenced record called “The Wanderer.” Though only garnering a modicum of success, “The Wanderer” signaled the beginning of a new era for Donna, and she would move on to produce another string of successful hits, including “Love is in Control”, “She Work’s Hard for the Money”, “This Time I Know it’s for Real”, “State of Independence”, and more. In 1997, Donna reached a new milestone by winning the first ever Grammy Award in the “Best Dance Recording” category with her song, “Carry On.”
Donna Summer has been a mainstay on the music scene for more than thirty years. Her accomplishments are illustrious. The singer has been nominated for a Grammy Award twelve times and she’s won five times. She’s won an Oscar, six American Music Awards, and was recently a first time nominee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010. Her most recent recording was 2008’s “Crayons”, which was a big hit in the dance music world, garnering three #1 Dance Music Singles (“I’m a Fire”, “Stamp Your Feet”, and “Fame the Game”).
Donna Summer’s storied career continues to be written. On June 18th, 2010, she was inducted into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame, where she “rocked the crowd” with a short set of her hits. The singer is grateful to her enduring and loyal fans, who enthusiastically celebrate her music every time she performs. The singer states on her website that she looks forward to “entertaining people throughout the world for many years to come.” We do, too!