Donna Summer rocketed to international super-stardom in the mid-1970s when her groundbreaking merger of R&B, soul, pop, funk, rock, disco and avant-garde electronica catapulted underground dance music out of the clubs of Europe to the pinnacles of sales and radio charts around the world.
Maintaining an unbroken string of hits throughout the 70s and 80s, most of which she wrote, Donna holds the record for most consecutive double albums to hit #1 on the Billboard charts (3) and first female to have four #1 singles in a 12 month period; 3 as a solo artist and one as a duo with Barbra Streisand. A five-time Grammy winner, Donna Summer was the first artist to win the Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female (1979, “Hot Stuff”) as well as the first-ever recipient of the Grammy for Best Dance Recording (1997, “Carry On”).
In 2004, she became one of the first inductees, as both an Artist Inductee and a Record Inductee (for 1977’s “I Feel Love”) into the Dance Music Hall of Fame in New York City.
Born Donna Gaines on New Year’s Eve to a large family in Boston, she developed an early interest in music.
From the age of eight, Summer sang in church choirs and city-wide choruses, and by her early twenties, was performing in musical theatre in Germany, winning parts in such highly-acclaimed shows as “Hair,” “Showboat,” “Godspell,” and “Porgy and Bess” as well as performing with the Viennese Folk Opera. She released her first single, a cover of the Jaynett’s girl group classic, “Sally Go Round The Roses,” in 1971.
While singing backup, she met producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte who produced her first single, “Hostage,” which became a hit in the Netherlands, France and Belgium.
In 1975, Moroder and Bellotte produced the international hit, “Love to Love You Baby,” which rose to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and triggered Summer’s triumphant return to the United States as a key figure of the then-emerging disco genre. “Love To Love You Baby” paved the way for such international hits as “MacArthur Park,” “Bad Girls,” “Hot Stuff,” “Dim All The Lights,” “On The Radio,” and “Enough Is Enough,” as well as the Grammy and Academy award winning theme song “Last Dance,” from the film “Thank God It’s Friday,” which remains a milestone in Donna’s career.
In 1980, Summer became the first artist to sign with David Geffen’s new label, Geffen Records, leaving her disco days behind and moving into the next phase of her career .”
In the years that followed, Summer collaborated with writers and producers such as Quincy Jones, Michael Omartian and England’s dance-pop production compound Stock Aitken Waterman and produced a steady stream of hits from “State of Independence,” featuring Michael Jackson on backing vocals, to the abiding feminist anthem “She Works Hard For The Money,” one of the most-played songs of all-time, and the infectious “This Time I Know It’s For Real.”
In 1994, she released “Endless Summer,” a greatest hits retrospective containing a new song, “Melody of Love,” which became Billboard’s #1 Dance Record of the Year.
She also released the critically acclaimed gem “Christmas Spirit,” a collection of Summer’s original songs and holiday standards recorded with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.
Summer spent the ’90s continuing to tour, performing to sold-out audiences worldwide.
In 1997, when the new “Best Dance Recording” Category was created at the Grammy Awards, Donna Summer was the first winner with her fifth career Grammy award for “Carry On.”
In 1999, Sony/Epic Records released “VH1 Presents Donna Summer: Live & More – Encore!,” an album and DVD of Summer’s critically acclaimed VH1 broadcast taped at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom.
The show premiered on VH1 as one of the network’s highest rated shows to date and featured live performances of Summer’s top hits.
In addition to her five Grammy Awards, Summer has won six American Music Awards, three consecutive #1 platinum double albums (she’s the only solo artist, male or female, ever to accomplish this), 11 gold albums, four #1 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart, 3 platinum singles, and 12 gold singles.
Summer is also the first female artist to have a #1 single and #1 album on the Billboard charts simultaneously (“Live & More;” “MacArthur Park” 1978) a feat she also repeated six months later (“Bad Girls” & “Hot Stuff” in 1979).
She has charted 33 Top Ten hits on the combined Billboard Disco/Dance/Dance Club/Play charts over a period of 37 years with 18 reaching the #1 spot solidifying her as the undisputed Queen of Dance.
In addition to her recording and performing career, Summer is an accomplished visual artist whose work has been shown at exhibitions worldwide including Steven Spielberg’s “Starbright Foundation Tour of Japan” and The Whitney Museum as well as a prestigious engagement at Sotheby’s in New York.
Since 1989, she has sold over 1.7 million dollars in original art – with her highest piece going for $150,000. In 2003, Random House published her autobiography “Ordinary Girl,” co-authored with Marc Eliot. Also that year, Universal released “The Journey,” containing all of her original hits, as well as two new songs.
In 2008, celebrating four decades of milestones, Summer adds another accomplishment to her list with the success of her new album “Crayons.”
The album debuted at #17 on the Billboard Top 200 Chart making it Summer’s highest debuting album ever. It also debuted at #5 on the Billboard R&B chart – another personal best.
“Crayons” is Summer’s first album of all new studio material in 17 years and is her highest charting album since “She Works Hard For The Money” in 1983.
To date, the album has spawned three #1 Dance hits “I’m A Fire,” “Stamp Your Feet” and “Fame (The Game).”
It is estimated that Summer has sold more than 130 million records worldwide.
Ranked #24 on Billboard Magazines 50th Anniversary issue’s “Hot 100 Artists of All Time,” Donna Summer was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame on April 18, 2013 in Los Angeles.
By: Brian Edwards (II)