Day the disco music died: Donna Summer loses her fight against cancer

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Voices from across musical spectrum pay tribute to singer who started a revolution

Donna Summer, whose soaring voice and effervescent stage presence ignited the disco craze of the 1970s, kick-starting a glittering career that spanned four decades, has died. She was 63.

The family of the singer, who was known as the "Queen of Disco", issued a statement confirming that she had died following what is reported to have been a short but acute battle with cancer.

"Early this morning, surrounded by family, we lost Donna Summer Sudano, a woman of many gifts, the greatest being her faith," it read. "While we grieve her passing, we are at peace celebrating her extraordinary life and her continued legacy. Words truly can't express how much we appreciate your prayers and love for our family at this sensitive time."

Summer, who is best known for pulsating dance hits such as "Hot Stuff", "Bad Girls" and "Last Dance", had attempted to keep the extent of her illness from fans, an acquaintance told the tabloid website TMZ, which broke news of her death. She was in Florida attempting to put the finishing touches to a final album – her 24th – when she passed away. As little as a fortnight ago, she had seemed cheerful and in robust health, the source added.

She is thought to have told friends that she believed the cancer had been caused by toxic particles inhaled when the Twin Towers collapsed in New York in the 9/11 terror attack.

The combative nature of Summer's response to her final illness was true to form, given the energetic performances. Such early hits as "Love to Love You Baby" and "I Feel Love" are credited with ushering in the hedonistic disco era. "My heart goes out to her husband and her children," said her contemporary Dionne Warwick. "Prayers will be said to keep them strong."

While Summer's music provided the soundtrack to a dance movement defined by sex, drugs and extravagant clothes, she was the very antithesis of a fast-living disco diva off-stage.

Born LaDonna Adrian Gaines, and brought up as one of seven children of a devoutly Christian family, she had learned to sing in the church choir, and began performing professionally in the late 1960s after landing a part in Hair.

She achieved fame after signing as a solo artist to the pioneering disco label, Casablanca, in 1975. It helped to propel her first single "Love to Love You Baby" to No 4 in the UK charts. The record was only the second 12-inch single released to the public; previously, they had been provided as promotional copies to radio stations. A debut album of the same name sold more than a million copies.

In the 1980s, her hit single "She Works Hard For The Money" became an anthem for the women's rights movement. Yet Summer's fanbase often seemed at odds with her conservative values. She became a born-again Christian in the 1980s, and was reported to have said Aids was "divine punishment" against homosexuals. Later she denied that, and described the ensuing controversy – which led to a boycott of her music – as a "terrible misunderstanding".

She won five Grammys and was this year a nominee for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She achieved happiness after meeting second husband, Bruce Sudano, to whom she was married for more than three decades. He survives her, along with three children.

'She reigned over an era': Stars remember Summer

Marc Almond, singer

"Her work with Giorgio Moroder changed the face of music and changed my life. 'I Feel Love' was a truly original and barrier-breaking record."

Barbra Streisand, singer

"She was so vital the last time I saw her a few months ago. I loved doing the duet "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)" with her. She had an amazing voice."

Aretha Franklin, soul singer

"So shocking to hear about Donna. In the 70s, she reigned over the disco era and kept the disco jumping. A fine performer and a very nice person."

Pete Waterman, record producer

"She used to warm up in the ladies' toilet and everyone in our building would stop and it would come to a standstill to hear her warm up."

Quincy Jones, record producer

"Rest in peace, dear Donna Summer. Your voice was the heartbeat and soundtrack of a decade."

Sir Elton John

"Her records sound as good today as they ever did. She is a great friend to me and to the Elton John Aids Foundation and I will miss her greatly."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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 People

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Officer

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen at th...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - London - £40,000 + Bonus

£36000 - £40000 per annum + Bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own