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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
transfersColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Developer - Permanent - London - Up to £50k

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum 23 days holiday plus Pension scheme: Clearwater Peop...

IT Technician (1st/2nd line support) - Leatherhead, Surrey

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Technician (1st/2nd line support)...

Primary Teacher EYFS, KS1 and KS2

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education are urgentl...

KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

£85 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn