Summer's number of hits, in the late seventies included "Love to Love You Baby", "I Feel Love", "Last Dance", "Hot Stuff" and "Bad Girls". These hits helped the singer earn the title "The Queen of Disco". Following her split from Casablanca Records in the early 1980s and following a backlash against disco, Summer continued to have hits in various genres including "She Works Hard for the Money" and "This Time I Know It's for Real".
Summer was the first artist to have three consecutive double albums hit number one on the US Billboard chart and was also the first female artist to have four number-one singles in a thirteen-month period. Summer has sold more than 130 million records worldwide.
Early life and careerBorn on New Year's Eve 1948 in the multi-racial Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, Summer was one of seven children raised by devout Christian parents. Influenced by Mahalia Jackson, Summer began singing in the church at a young age. While singing her first solo at church, Summer said she received an epiphany from God to use this voice to become a star and to not ever misuse her voice. In her teens, Summer formed several groups, including one with her sister and a cousin, imitating Motown girl groups such as The Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas.
In the late 1960s, Summer was influenced by Janis Joplin after listening to her albums as member of Big Brother and the Holding Company, and joined the psychedelic rock group the Crow as lead singer. Beforehand, Summer dropped out of school convinced that music was her way out of Boston, where she had always felt herself to be an outsider even amongst her own family who ridiculed her for her voice (as a child) and her looks. The group's tenure was short-lived as they split upon their arrival to New York. In 1968, Summer auditioned for a role in the Broadway musical, Hair. She lost the part of Sheila to Melba Moore. When the musical moved to Europe, however, Summer was offered the part and she took it, moving to Germany in the process. She wouldn't return to the United States in the next six years.
While in Germany, Summer participated in the musicals Godspell and Show Boat. After settling in Munich, she began performing in several ensembles including the Viennese Folk Opera and even sang as a member of the pop group FamilyTree - "invented" and created by the German music producer Guenter "Yogi" Lauke & the Munich Machine. She also sang as a studio session singer and in theaters. In 1971, while still using her birth name "Donna Gaines", she released her first single, a cover of "Sally Go 'Round the Roses". It wasn't an instant hit. In 1972, she married Austrian actor Helmuth Sommer ("Summer" is an Anglicization of his name) and gave birth to their daughter Mimi Sommer in 1973. Citing trouble in her marriage due to Sommer not being around as much, she divorced Sommer and changed her name to "Donna Summer".
Early success and notorietyIt was while singing background for the hit-making 1970s trio Three Dog Night that Summer met producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte. Summer eventually got a deal with a European label, Groovy Records, and issued her first album, Lady of the Night, in 1974. The album found success on the strength of the hit, "The Hostage", which hit number-one in France and Belgium, and number-two in the Netherlands. The title track also found some success in Europe. Summer's early material consisted of pop rock and folk rock material. Summer stated years later that had she not recorded disco, she would've been a "black rock singer" but considering there wasn't a market for black rock singers, Summer thought it would be hard to get promoted as such.
In 1975, Summer approached Moroder with an idea for a song he and Bellotte were working on for another singer. She had come up with the lyric "love to love you, baby" as the possible title. Moroder was interested in developing the new sound that was becoming popular and used Summer's lyric to develop the song. Moroder persuaded Summer to record what she thought would be a demo track for another performer. Imagining herself in the shoes of someone else, she said later on that she had thought of how it would sound if Marilyn Monroe had sung it and began cooing the lyrics. To make herself feel comfortable recording the song, she requested the producers turn off the lights while she sat on the sofa inducing fake moans and groans. The original track was only three minutes. Moroder heard playback of the song and felt Summer's version should be released. Released as "Love to Love You" in Europe, the song found modest chart success.
The song was sent to America and landed in the office of Casablanca Records president Neil Bogart, who was so ecstatic over the demo that he asked Moroder to produce a longer version. Summer, Moroder and Bellotte returned with a 17-minute version, including a soulful chorus and an instrumental break while Summer invoked more moans. Signing Summer to Casablanca in late 1975, the label put out the song, now renamed "Love to Love You Baby", that November and by the late winter of 1976, the song reached number-two on the Billboard Hot 100 becoming an instant success. The parent album of the same name sold over a million copies as a result. The song generated some controversy for its graphic nature of the singer's moans and was even banned from radio stations because of it. Several news magazines, including Time reported that 22 orgasms were simulated in the making of the song. After several more modest singles and subsequent albums including the concept albums, Love Trilogy and Four Seasons of Love, which also went gold, Summer was deemed in the press as "The First Lady of Love", a title Summer wasn't totally comfortable with.
Her single Love's Unkind made number 3 in the UK in 1977. It spent six weeks in the Irish charts in 1978, entering on 5 January, 1978 and peaking at number two.
In 1977, Summer released another concept album, I Remember Yesterday, which included her second top ten single, "I Feel Love", which was produced in a way in which Moroder had predicted the future sound of music (the album itself brought out different elements of other forms of music with a disco feel). Reaching number six in America and number-one in the UK, the song's use of electronic sounds was revolutionary helping to popularize synthesizers in several genres including dance music, rock and the burgeoning new wave sound. It also played an important role in the development of dance sub-genres such as house and electronica. Another important artist who was developing this sound alongside Summer were the German electronic band, Kraftwerk, who released their groundbreaking Trans-Europe Express album that same year upon the release of "I Feel Love". According to David Bowie years later, he said his producer Brian Eno had heard the song and said the song resembled "the future".
Another concept album, also released in 1977, was the double album, Once Upon a Time, which told of a modern-day Cinderella "rags to riches" story through the elements of orchestral disco, ballads and electronica. In 1978, Summer released a disco version of the Richard Harris ballad, "MacArthur Park", which became Summer's first number-one US hit that year. The song was featured on Summer's first live album, Live and More, which became her first album to hit number-one on the Billboard 200, and went platinum selling over a million copies. Other studio tracks included the top ten hit, "Heaven Knows", which featured the group Brooklyn Dreams accompanying her on background and Joe "Bean" Esposito singing alongside her on the verses. Summer would later be involved with Brooklyn Dreams singer Bruce Sudano romantically and the couple married two years after the song's release. Also in 1978, Summer acted in the film, Thank God It's Friday, playing a singer determined to perform at a hot disco club. The song, "Last Dance", written for Summer by Paul Jabara, reached the top-three in the United States and confirmed Summer's rise as a pop superstar, resulting in the singer winning her first Grammy Award while Jabara won an Academy Award for its composition. Despite success, Summer was struggling with anxiety and depression and as a result soon was enthralled in a prescription drug addiction, which nearly consumed her in early 1979.
Also in 1979, Donna was a performer on the world-televised Music for UNICEF Concert. The United Nations organization Unicef had declared 1979 as the Year of the Child. Summer joined contemporaries like Abba, Olivia Newton-John, the Bee Gees, Andy Gibb, Rod Stewart, John Denver, Earth, Wind and Fire, Rita Coolidge and Kris Kristofferson for an hour's TV special that raised funds and awareness for the world's children. Artists donated royalties of certain songs, some in perpetuity, to benefit the cause.
Bad Girls and the break from discoFollowing her recovery, Summer, Moroder and Bellotte worked on their next project, which was to bring a harder, sparcer and edgier sound to Summer's music. The result was Bad Girls. An album that had been in production for nearly two years, Summer based the concept of the album on a "working girl" as was clear in the title track. Mixing disco with elements of rock, pop and electronica, the album became a runaway success debuting at number-one on the Billboard 200 and eventually selling more than three million copies alone in the United States. The album featured the number-one pop hits "Hot Stuff" and the funk-laden title track. The disco ballad "Dim All the Lights" reached number-two. All three songs sold over a million copies. Summer eventually scored a total of four number-one singles in 1979 including the Barbra Streisand duet, "No More Tears (Enough is Enough)". The duet made her the first female artist to score more than four number-one hits in a single year. "Hot Stuff" later won Summer her second Grammy in the Best Female Rock Vocal Performance, which was the first time the category was ever brought to the award's show. Also in 1979, Summer played eight sold-out nights at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles.
Summer released her first hits set that same year, titled On The Radio: Greatest Hits Volumes 1 & 2, which hit number-one in the US, becoming her third double album to hit number-one, making her the first artist to accomplish it consecutively. Alongside "No More Tears", another newer track from the compilation, "On the Radio", reached the top 5. After the release of Bad Girls, Summer no longer wanted to record in the disco format sensing the music's backlash from early 1979, and sought to record the type of music that she wanted, leading to tension between Summer and Casablanca Records. Sensing that they could no longer come to terms with each of their demands, Summer and the label departed company in 1980. Getting deal offers from major record labels, Summer eventually chose David Geffen's vanity label Geffen Records, becoming the first artist signed to the label. Summer's first release with Geffen, The Wanderer, replaced the disco sounds of Summer's previous releases with a more minimalist, guitar and synth-driven sound that was typical of the burgeoning new wave scene, incorporating elements of rock, such as the material being successfully recorded at this time by Pat Benatar. The title track was another top three hit and the album went gold.
Summer then ran into problems with Geffen over the ensuing recording project. Summer's projected second Geffen release, I'm a Rainbow, an album which touched on many then-current recording genres including dance-rock, ballads and techno-pop, was shelved (though two of the album's tracks would resurface in soundtracks of 1980s films Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Flashdance). Reluctantly, Summer departed company with Moroder after seven years working together.
Geffen then recruited Quincy Jones to produce her next album, resulting in 1982's self-titled release. Despite earning hits such as "Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger)" and "State of Independence", the record was not a healthy experience for Summer, who fought repeatedly with Jones during the making of the album. Problems between Summer and Geffen increased after Summer was required to deliver one more album to PolyGram to fulfill her agreement with them as a part of a settlement deal. The album released the song and its accompanying album in 1983 called "She Works Hard For The Money". The title track became a major hit reaching number three on the pop chart that year. The album featured the reggae-flavored UK hit "Unconditional Love", which featured the group Musical Youth, then riding high on the success of "Pass the Dutchie". The album reportedly upset Geffen as it was a very successful album – and it was not his.
In late 1984, Summer returned with Cats Without Claws. While the album included top forty charted singles such as "Supernatural Love" and her cover of The Drifters' "There Goes My Baby", the album fell short of 500,000 copies, becoming her first album since her 1974 debut to not reach gold status. Around the same time, Summer had turned down Moroder compositions such as "Rush Rush" (later recorded by Deborah Harry for the Scarface soundtrack) and "Flashdance (What a Feeling)" (a disco-style hit for Irene Cara). Since Summer had two new younger daughters (Brooklyn and Amanda) with husband Bruce Sudano (married in 1980) and a daughter (Mimi) from her previous marriage to Helmut Sommer, she wanted to take a break from the spot light and concentrate on raising her family.
With her absence from the charts, other singers rushed in to fill the void. Laura Branigan found success continuing in a disco/dance power-belt singing style reminiscent of Donna, but such acts were soon seen as being "old-hat" when compared to the techno-pop and New Wave sounds of the Second British Invasion. Soul singers like Evelyn King and Aretha Franklin also experienced career revival and pop chart success in this period. By 1984, singers such as Kim Carnes, Cyndi Lauper, and the emerging Madonna had redirected the tastes of the young record-buying public.
In 1987, Summer returned with All Systems Go, which did not sell well, despite the modest success of the Brenda Russell composition, "Dinner with Gershwin". Following the album's release and after his fatal misjudging of her material for most of the decade, Summer left Geffen for good in 1988, and signed with Atlantic Records.
ControversyIn the mid 1980s, rumors began circulating that Summer had allegedly made anti-gay comments regarding the AIDS epidemic as being a punishment from God for homosexuality. The fallout from the alleged quote had a significantly negative impact on Summer's career, which saw thousands of her records being returned to her record company by angered fans. However, Summer denied making any such remarks and many years later she filed a lawsuit against New York magazine when it reprinted the rumors as fact, just as Summer was about to release her latest album Mistaken Identity in 1991.. According to an A&E Biography program in which Summer participated in 1995, the lawsuit was settled out of court with neither side discussing details of the settlement.
Apparently, after a 1983 concert in Atlantic City, Summer was talking to the fans, as she liked to do at this first-comeback point in her career. A man with AIDS asked her to pray for him, because he knew of her born-again Christian beliefs, and she said she would be delighted. Someone else piped up that she was being hypocritical. At that point, all accounts get fuzzy and overblown, but every witness says that the heated situation deteriorated, with many outraged patrons shouting as they left the auditorium. In more than one account, Summer said that AIDS appeared in the gay community because of its reckless lifestyle... but did not say that AIDS was God's punishment. She and the gay fan prayed together, she asked him to turn his life to Christ, and she embraced him – a courageous act at a time when most people would have run screaming from the room to get away from someone with the deadly disease. (In 1989, in The Advocate, Summer said, "A couple of the people I write with are gay, and they have been ever since I met them. What people want to do with their bodies is their personal preference. I'm not going to stand in judgment about what the Bible says about someone else's life. I've got things in my life I've got to clean up. What's in your life is your business.
Later career and current workIn 1989, Summer released the album, Another Place and Time, for Atlantic Records. The album featured production from dance pop songwriter-producer team Stock Aitken & Waterman. Summer had a hit with "This Time I Know It's For Real", which became her fourteenth and final hit to register on the Billboard Hot 100. Further singles from the album did not chart, however, and Atlantic halted the album's promotion. In 1991, Summer released the new jack swing-driven Mistaken Identity, which did not sell well following its release. In 1994, Summer released a gospel-influenced Christmas album titled Christmas Spirit. While no longer scoring hits on the pop chart, some of Summer's dance-heavy releases including "Carry On" (her first collaboration with Moroder in a decade) and "Melody of Love (Wanna Be Loved)" charted on its dance singles chart, with "Melody of Love" reaching number-one.
While touring, Summer found work as an actor guest-starring on the sitcom Family Matters as Steve Urkel's (Jaleel White) Aunt Oona in 1994 and again in 1997. In 1998, Summer received a Grammy Award for Best Dance Recording, being the first to do so, after a remixed version of her 1992 collaboration with Giorgio Moroder, "Carry On", was released in 1997. In 1999, Summer taped a live television special for VH1 titled Donna Summer – Live and More Encore, producing the highest ratings that year second only to their annual Divas special. A CD of the recording was issued by Epic Records and featured two studio recordings, "I Will Go with You (Con te partirò)" and "Love Is the Healer". Summer continued to score top ten hits on Billboard's dance chart in the beginning of the new millennium. In 2004, Summer was inducted to the Dance Music Hall of Fame alongside The Bee Gees and Barry Gibb as an artist. Her classic, "I Feel Love", was also inducted that night.
In 2008, Summer released her first studio album of original music in 17 years with Crayons, which brought her modest chart success internationally upon its release on the Sony BMG imprint, Burgundy Records. The songs "I'm A Fire", "Stamp Your Feet" and "Fame (The Game)" reached number-one on the Billboard dance chart. The ballad "Sand on My Feet" was released to adult contemporary stations and reached number thirty. The album debuted in the Billboard Top 20.
In 2009 she was asked to perform at the famous Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway in honor of U.S. President Obama. On the 11th of December she performed her biggest hits, backed up by the Norwegian Radio Orchestra.
In August of 2010, Donna released the single "To Paris With Love", co-written with songwriter Bruce Roberts and Produced by Peter Stengaard. The Single and its remixes are available on iTunes.
On July 29, 2010, Donna gave an interview with allvoices.com where she was asked if she would consider doing an album of standards. She replied as follows:
"I actually am, probably in September. I will begin work on a standards album. I will probably do an all-out dance album and a standards album. I'm gonna do both, and we will release them however were gonna release them. We are not sure which is going first.
|U.S. pop||U.S. R&B||U.K.||DEU||ITA||NOR||SWE||JPN||NZ|
|1974||Lady of the Night ||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–|
|1975||Love to Love You Baby ||11||6||16||23||6||9||7||64||–|
|1976||A Love Trilogy ||21||16||41||24||1||9||8||–||–|
|Four Seasons of Love ||29||13||–||31||1||–||40||–||–|
|1977||I Remember Yesterday ||18||11||3||7||1||5||13||77||12|
|Once Upon a Time ||26||13||24||–||2||9||–||31||–|
|1979||Bad Girls ||1||1||23||7||2||3||3||9||3|
|1980||The Wanderer ||13||12||55||54||7||18||15||22||16|
|1981||I'm a Rainbow ||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–|
|1982||Donna Summer ||20||6||13||37||40||3||2||20||–|
|1983||She Works Hard for the Money ||9||5||28||14||46||12||8||27||47|
|1984||Cats Without Claws ||40||24||69||39||29||15||10||33||–|
|1987||All Systems Go ||122||53||–||–||27||–||27||69||–|
|1989||Another Place and Time ||53||71||17||49||–||–||16||92||–|
|1991||Mistaken Identity ||–||97||–||–||–||–||–||–||–|
|1994||Christmas Spirit ||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–|
|U.S. pop||U.S. R&B||U.K.||DEU||ITA||NOR||SWE||JPN||NZ|
|1978||Live and More ||1||4||16||–||14||–||–||52||4|
|1999||Live & More Encore ||43||33||–||75||30||–||–||–||–|
- All albums were released internationally unless otherwise stated. The record labels shown are those used to release the album in the US (unless of course they were not released in that country). For more information about labels used in other countries, see the first paragraph of this article. Please note that this is by no means a list of ALL compilation albums, as many minor labels have also released budget compilations of Summer's work. However some of these are included here.
- Charting compilations
|U.S. pop||U.S. R&B||DEU||ITA||JPN||NZ||NOR||SWE||U.K.|
|1978||The Greatest Hits of Donna Summer ||NR||NR||–||NR||–||–||–||–||4|
|1979||On the Radio: Greatest Hits Volumes 1 & 2 ||1||4||42||15||20||2||39||29||24|
|1980||Walk Away - Collector's Edition (The Best of 1977-1980) ||50||54||–||NR||78||–||–||–||–|
|1990||The Best of Donna Summer ||NR||NR||–||–||–||–||–||–||24|
|1994||Endless Summer: Greatest Hits ||–||–||–||–||–||10||–||–||37|
|2003||The Journey: The Very Best of Donna Summer ||111||65||–||–||–||–||27||–||6|
- Complete list