Donna Summer

  • Born LaDonna Adrian Gaines in 1948 in Boston Massachusetts. Died in 2012 of lung cancer. She believed the cancer was a result of breathing in fumes after the 9/11 terrorist attack.
  • She sang in her church as a child, and performed in high school musical theater. In 1967, she moved to New York and joined a blues rock band named Crow. When the band broke up, she stayed in New York and auditioned for a role in the musical Hair. She won the role of Sheila, and went to Germany to perform when the show moved there.
  • She became fluent in German, and she participated in several other musical theater productions while in Germany. In 1968, she released her first single (as Donna Gaines), a Germany version of Aquarius from the musical Hair. 
  • She moved to Austria, and joined the Vienna Volksoper, a major opera house in Vienna. She married actor Helmuth Sommer in 1973. She contributed to several other singles while in Europe.
  • While working as a back up singing, she met 2 German based producers, who signed her to a record label. Her first album was released in 1974 in Europe – Lady of the Night. An error on the album cover identified her as Donna Summer, which she used as her name going forward.
  • In 1975, she had an idea for a song, and after a demo was produced, it was sent to an American record label. When it was played at a industry party, it was so well liked that people asked for it to be played over and over again. Of course, Summer was signed to the label, and the song Love to Love You Baby was released. The single hit #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and the album of the same name sold over 1 million copies. The new genre of disco music had a new star.
  • From 1976 through 1978, 4 more studio albums were released, along with a live album. The studio albums were all concept albums, and the songs were all disco. Remarkably, 15 singles on these albums hit #1 on the Billboard Dance Club chart.
  • The film Thank God’s It’s Friday was released in 1978, and Summer had a role in the film, playing an aspiring singer. She performed the song Last Dance in the movie. The song reached #3 on the Hot 100 chart, and it won both an Academy Award and a Grammy Award.
  • In 1979, her biggest album was released. Bad Girls spent 6 weeks at the top of the Billboard 200 Album chart. Two singles – Hot Stuff and Bad Girls – topped the Hot 100 chart, and Dim All the Lights made it to #2. The album reflected a change in her music style – while still heavily based on disco, it includes a “rockier” sound to the songs.  Summer won her second Grammy award for Hot Stuff. 
  • Summer continued to release studio albums in the 80s and 90s. As the disco craze subsided, her music evolved to more of a dance pop sound. Her biggest album of the 80s was She Works Hard for the Money from 1983, and the single of the same title was one of her biggest hits.
  • In total, she released 17 studio albums, 2 live albums, and 89 singles. She won 5 Grammy awards, including awards in 1983 and 1984 for Best Inspirational Performance (for He’s a Rebel and Forgive Me), and her final win in 1997 for Best Dance Recording for Carry On. In 2013, she was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
  • Summer has been called the Queen of Disco and the First Lady of Love. Her dominance in the disco world made her iconic, and unlike nearly every other disco artist, Summer thrived in music well after disco music faded away. Here is the video of her anthem for the working woman, She Works Hard for the Money.

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