Bloomberg News

Donna Summer, Disco Queen Turned Pop Star, Dies at 63

May 18, 2012

Donna Summer, the gospel-raised singer who bridged 1970s disco and the pop music that followed with hits such as “Love to Love You Baby,” “Last Dance” and “She Works Hard for the Money,” has died. She was 63.

Summer died yesterday of lung cancer at her home in Florida, according to her Los Angeles-based spokesman, Brian Edwards. The singer was a non-smoker, he said.

“While we grieve her passing, we are at peace celebrating her extraordinary life and her continued legacy,” said a statement issued in the name of her husband, singer-songwriter Bruce Sudano, and their two children. Summer had another daughter from her first marriage.

Summer dominated the music charts in the late 1970s, with albums including “Bad Girls,” released in 1979 by Casablanca Records. She was nominated for induction this year into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, but fell short in voting.

Summer “was the biggest star to emerge from the mid-70s disco explosion and went on to pursue a successful pop career,” the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll said.

According to Billboard.com, Summer landed 32 singles on the Hot 100 in her lifetime, with 14 reaching the top 10. She also had a top 40 hit every year from 1976 to 1984. Her four hits that reached No. 1 were “MacArthur Park,” “Hot Stuff,” “Bad Girls” and “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough),” a duet with Barbra Streisand, Billboard said.

Grammy Awards

She received the first of her five Grammy Awards in 1978, for “Last Dance.” The final one came in 1997, for “Carry On.”

To her fans and followers, she was an emblem of her time. “The sound of an era,” film critic Roger Ebert wrote on his Twitter feed. “Studio 54, where are you?”

Singer Kelly Osbourne tweeted, “Tonight my last dance is in honor of you!”

LaDonna Andrea Gaines was born on Dec. 31, 1948, in Boston, according to the Rolling Stone encyclopedia.

She sang first at her church, then in choirs and clubs in New York. At 19, she was cast in a production of the musical “Hair” in Munich, and during her seven years in Europe, she married and divorced Helmut Sommer, an Austrian actor. She kept the Anglicized version of his name after the couple broke up.

Also while in Europe, she came up with the title and a few lyrics for what would become “Love to Love You Baby.” The song reached the U.S. in 1975 and became a major disco hit as a 17- minute single, packed with erotic exhalations.

Academy Award

“I didn’t tell my parents about it for a long time,” Summer told CBS’s “Sunday Morning” in 2008, “and then finally when the song was really, really just on the radio in America, I got the call: ‘What is this? What are you singing here?’” She said she replied, “Well, Mom, it’s a long story.”

“Last Dance,” written by Paul Jabara, appeared with Summer herself in the film “Thank God It’s Friday” (1978) and won the Academy Award for best original song.

Asked whether she’d always be the queen of disco, Summer told “Sunday Morning” in 2008: “No, actually, I’m trying to change it to empress now. I’ve been the queen long enough. I’m older, I’d like to be an empress, OK?”

To contact the reporter on this story: Laurence Arnold in Washington at larnold4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Charles W. Stevens at cstevens@bloomberg.net


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