Donna Summer: Singer who led the disco revolution of the Seventies

The 17-minute extended version of ‘Love To Love You Baby’ kicked off the passion for disco remixes

In the mid-1970s, when disco ruled the airwaves, the biggest acts were the Bee Gees and Donna Summer. As well as being controversial, the combination of Summer's lubricious voice and Giorgio Moroder's infectious rhythms were appreciated by dancers and non-dancers alike and although most '70s disco records now sound dated, her best work has retained its popularity.

Donna Summer was born LaDonna Adrian Gaines in Boston, Massachusetts on New Year's Eve 1948. Her father was a butcher and her mother a schoolteacher and they encouraged her to sing; her first love was the gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson. When a soloist did not arrive for a church service, the eight-year-old Summer took over and later said, "It was as if God was saying to me, 'Donna, you're going to be famous', and I knew from that day on that I would be famous."

Before graduating, and much to her parents' annoyance, Summer moved to New York with a psychedelic band, Crow, but they could not secure a record contract. She auditioned for the Broadway musical Hair and was given a role in the Munich production.

As a result, Summer stayed in Germany, learnt the language and took part in several other musicals. She met her first husband, the actor Helmuth Sommer, while they were in Godspell, and they had a daughter, Mimi. They separated after Donna had an affair with the artist, Peter Mühldorfer, and were divorced in 1975. However, she anglicised her former husband's name to become Donna Summer.

When Summer sang backing vocals for Three Dog Night she met their producers, the Italian Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, an English guitarist who had been with the Sinners. Her first album with them was Lady Of The Night (1974) and a single "The Hostage" had some success in Europe.

In 1975 Summer, Moroder and Bellotte worked on an explicitly sexual song, "Love To Love You Baby". Summer imagined how Marilyn Monroe might record it and the record was full of orgasmic moans and groans to a pulsating rhythm and a wah-wah guitar. Summer said, "It's in every woman to be seductive, be she a teacher or a whore."

Neil Bogart, the president of Casablanca Records in the US wanted a longer version for discos and Moroder obliged with a generous 17 minutes, which started the passion for disco remixes. Time magazine reckoned that the record included 22 orgasms, and clumsily rushing to her defence, Mühldorfer said that she did not sound like that when she had an orgasm and anyway, she was only good for one or two at a time, a response that certainly falls into the category of too much information.

Despite several broadcasting bans, including restricted play on the BBC, the single went to No 2 in the US, No 4 in the UK and No 20 in Germany. The album that contained the extended version, also called Love To Love You Baby, was a big seller. Oddly it was the follow-up single, a disco revival of Barry Manilow's "Could It Be Magic" which made her a star in Germany.

In 1977 Summer released her fourth and biggest selling album to date, I Remember Yesterday, which included the million-selling "I Feel Love". She recalled, "Giorgio brought me this popcorn track he had recorded and I said, 'What the hell is this, Giorgio?'. I finished it as a sort of joke." Joke or not, "I Feel Love" topped the UK charts and spawned hundreds of trance-like dance hits built around electronic sequencing. Both Duran Duran and Marc Almond have acknowledged Summer's influence and, in 1985, Almond with Bronski Beat had a Top 10 single with "I Feel Love", eccentrically merged with the 1961 hit, "Johnny Remember Me". When Summer remade "I Feel Love" in 1995, she made the Top 10.

Summer starred in the film Thank God It's Friday (1978), alongside Jeff Goldblum and the Commodores but Friday was no Saturday Night Fever. However, Paul Jabara's "Last Dance" won an Oscar for Best Song and the soundtrack album included a 15-minute version of "Je T'Aime, Moi Non Plus", thus acknowledging Serge Gainsbourg's influence on "Love To Love You Baby". Later in the year, Summer topped the US charts with a disco version of the Richard Harris hit "MacArthur Park": many listeners thought she had ruined the idiosyncratic song, while many more thought she had improved it.

One record followed another at lightning speed. Summer dressed as a hooker for her album Bad Girls (1979), and the title track with its gimmicky "beep, beep" rhythms topped the US charts for five weeks. Another track, "Hot Stuff", was another No 1. Despite her raunchy image, she performed at an all-star Music For Unicef concert.

When Barbra Streisand wanted to record a disco track she was put alongside Summer for Paul Jabara and Bruce Roberts' "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)". Summer arrived two hours later for the session, prompting Streisand to remark, "I haven't waited this long for anybody." During the recording, Summer fell from a stool when she tried to hold a note for as long as Streisand and lost her breath.

Throughout her career, Summer has had successful hits compilations, which have sometimes included new recordings. In 1980 the new title track to On The Radio became a million-selling single in its own right.

Wanting to move away from disco, Summer left Casablanca and signed with Geffen Records. Her first album, The Wanderer (1980), was in a rock vein and sold poorly by her standards, as did Donna Summer (1982), produced by Quincy Jones, although that did contain the celebrated "State Of Independence". Ironically, when Summer had to make a final album for her old company, She Works Hard For The Money (1983), as part of a settlement, the title track restored her to her million-selling status.

Summer's 1979 hit single, "Heaven Knows", had featured Brooklyn Dreams and Summer was to marry group member Bruce Sudano and have two daughters with him.

Although outwardly confident, Summer was unsure of herself and she struggled with depression, attempting suicide and becoming addicted to her medication. Part of her problem was the contrast between her church upbringing and her sexuality. With Sudano's help, she became a born-again Christian and vowed never to sing "Love To Love You Baby" again. Highly controversially, she was reported as saying that Aids was God's punishment on gays, although she later claimed to have been misquoted.

Another Place And Time (1989), an album with the British producers, Stock, Aitken and Waterman led to her further UK Top 10 hits, "This Time I Know It's For Real" and "I Don't Wanna Get Hurt". Her final studio album was Crayons (2008), and in 2009 she performed in Oslo at a Nobel Peace Prize concert for President Obama, as well as returning to "Love To Love You Baby" for a perfume commercial. She died after a long struggle with cancer.

La Donna Adrian Gaines (Donna Summer), singer: born Boston, Massachusetts 31 December 1948; married firstly Helmuth Sommer (divorced 1975; one daughter), secondly Bruce Sudano (two daughters); died Naples, Florida 17 May 2012.

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
tv
News
Matthew Mcnulty and Jessica Brown Findlay in 'Jamaica Inn'
mediaHundreds complain over dialogue levels in period drama
News
peopleJay Z and Beyoncé to buy £5.5m London townhouse
Voices
voicesMoyes' tragedy is one the Deputy PM understands all too well, says Matthew Norman
Arts & Entertainment
Rocker of ages: Chuck Berry
musicWhy do musicians play into old age?
Arts & Entertainment
With Jo Joyner in 'Trying Again'
tvHe talks to Alice Jones on swapping politics for pillow talk
News
Jilly's jewels: gardener Alan Titchmarsh
peopleCountry Life magazine's list of 'gallant' public figures throws light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Sport
John Terry goes down injured in the 70th minute
sportAtletico Madrid 0 Chelsea 0: Blues can finish the job at Stamford Bridge, but injuries to Terry and Cech are a concern for Mourinho
Student
student
News
<b>Rebecca Adlington</b>
<br />This, the first British swimmer to win two
Olympic gold medals in 100 years, is the eversmiling
face of the athletes who will, we're
confident, make us all proud at London 2012
peopleRebecca Adlington on 'nose surgery'
Arts & Entertainment
tvJudge for yourself
Life & Style
tech
News
Tough call: is the psychological distress Trott is suffering an illness? (Getty)
healthJonathan Trott and the problems of describing mental illness
Life & Style
23 April 2014: Google marks St George's Day with a drawing depicting England's patron saint slaying a fire-breathing dragon
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Projects Financial Analyst - Global Technology firm

£55000 - £62000 per annum + outstanding benefits and bonus: Pro-Recruitment Gr...

Reception Teacher

£120 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Reception teacher required for an Outs...

Commercial B2B Pricing Specialist - Global Bids and Tenders

£35000 - £45000 per annum + excellent company benefits : Pro-Recruitment Group...

DT Teacher - Food Technology

£90 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The Job We are currently recr...

Day In a Page

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

Migrants in Britain a decade on

They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
Why musicians play into their old age

Why musicians play into their old age

Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
How can you tell a gentleman?

How can you tell a gentleman?

A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire
Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Celebrate St George’s Day with a nice cup of tea. Now you just need to get the water boiled
Sam Wallace: Why Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term

Sam Wallace

Why Ryan Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term
Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Having smashed Sergei Bubka's 21-year-old record, the French phenomenon tells Simon Turnbull he can go higher
Through the screen: British Pathé opens its archives

Through the screen

British Pathé opens its archives
The man behind the papier mâché mask

Frank Sidebottom

The man behind the papier mâché mask
Chris Marker: Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Chris Marker retrospective is a revelation
Boston runs again: Thousands take to the streets for marathon as city honours dead and injured of last year's bombing

Boston runs again

Thousands of runners take to the streets as city honours dead of last year
40 years of fostering and still holding the babies (and with no plans to retire)

40 years of fostering and holding the babies

In their seventies and still working as specialist foster parents