Summer was born on December 31, 1948, in Boston
Father's name: Andrew Gaines
Mother's name: Mary Ellen Davis Gaines
Sister: Jeanette, Linda, Amy, Mary Anna
Spouse: Helmut Summer, Bruce Sudano
Children: Mimi Summer, Brooklyn Sudano, Amanda Sudano
Race or Ethnicity: Black
Sexual orientation: Straight
Donna Summer was born Donna Adrian Gaines on December 31, 1948, in Boston, Massachusetts. Her father, Andrew Gaines, was a butcher and her mother, Mary Gaines, was a schoolteacher. From nearly the moment she learned how to talk, Donna sang ceaselessly. "From the time she was little, that's all she really did," her mother recalled. "She literally lived to sing ... She used to go through the house singing, singing. She sang for breakfast and for lunch and for supper."Summer's debut performance came one Sunday when she was 10 years old, when a singer scheduled to perform at her church did not show up. The priest, who knew from her parents Summer's fondness for singing, invited her to perform instead—expecting, at the least, an amusing spectacle. But to everyone's surprise, the voice that bellowed out of Donna Summer's tiny body that Sunday morning was overwhelmingly powerful and beautiful."You couldn't see her if you were beyond the third row," her father remembered. "But you could hear her." Summer recalled, "I started crying, everybody else started crying. It was quite an amazing moment in my life & and at some point after I heard my voice come out I felt like God said to me, 'Donna, you're going to be very, very famous.' And I just knew from that day on I was going to be famous."Summer attended Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Boston, where she starred in the school musicals and was very popular. She was also something of a troublemaker as a teenager, sneaking out to parties to circumvent her parents' strictly enforced curfew. In 1967, at the age of 18, only weeks before her high school graduation, Summer auditioned for and was cast in a production of Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical scheduled to run in Munich, Germany. Overcoming her father's initial objections, she accepted the part and flew to Germany with her parents' reluctant approval. Summer learned to speak fluent German within a few months, and after Hair finished its run, she decided to remain in Munich, where she appeared in several other musicals and worked in a recording studio singing backup vocals and recording demo tapes. In 1974, still in Munich, Summer recorded her first solo album, Lady of the Night, which scored a major European hit with the single "The Hostage" but failed to crack the American market.
That same year, Summer married German singer Helmuth Sommer. She adopted an anglicized version of his last name as her stage name, which she kept even after the couple divorced in 1976.In 1975, Summer co-wrote and recorded a demo version of a seductive disco track called "Love to Love You Baby," initially intending it for another artist. Producers liked Summer's demo version so much that they decided to make it her song instead. The final version released in the United States, an unprecedented 17 minutes long, featured Summer's tantalizingly soft vocals and sensual moaning—sounds so suggestive, in fact, that many radio stations initially refused to play the song. Nevertheless, the path-breaking disco track became an overnight sensation, skyrocketing to No. 2 on the U.S. singles chart and serving as the titular track of her second album. Building on the success of "Love to Love You Baby," Summer released two albums in 1976: A Love Trilogy and Four Seasons of Love, both of which were enormous successes. In 1977, Summer released two more hit albums, I Remember Yesterday and Once Upon a Time, and in 1978 her single "Last Dance" from the soundtrack of Thank God It's Friday won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Summer's 1978 live album, entitled Live and More, became her first to reach No. 1 on the Billboard album charts and likewise featured her first No. 1 single in "Mac Arthur Park." A year later, she achieved the biggest commercial success of her career with the album Bad Girls, which instantly spawned two No. 1 singles, "Bad Girls" and "Hot Stuff," making Summer the first female artist to score three No. 1 songs in a single calendar year. As the 1970s gave way to the 1980s, Summer briefly abandoned disco to release two R&B albums: The Wanderer (1980) and Donna Summer (1982). Returning to dance music in 1983, she scored her biggest hit of the decade with "She Works Hard for the Money." The title track, based on Summer's feelings upon encountering a sleeping bathroom attendant at a restaurant, has become something of a feminist anthem. By the late 1980s, Summer's popularity began to wane and she achieved only one more Top 10 hit during the decade, 1989's "This Time I Know It's For Real" off the album Another Place in Time. Summer released only two albums during the 1990s, Mistaken Identity (1991) and Christmas Songs (1994), neither of which made much of an impact. During these years, the multi-talented Summer also branched out into painting, holding several exhibitions per year and enjoying both critical acclaim and commercial success. She also became embroiled in controversy during the early 1990s, when New York magazine reported that Summer had made homophobic remarks and called the AIDS epidemic punishment for the sins of homosexuals. Summer vociferously denied making any such comments and sued the magazine for libel. The case was settled out of court. Summer released her first album in 14 years, Crayons, in 2008 to positive reviews and decent sales. Summer married singer-songwriter Bruce Sudano in 1980, and they had two children.
Summer died on May 17, 2012 at age 63, after a years-long battle with cancer. Known as the "Queen of Disco," Summer will be remembered as perhaps the greatest singer in disco history. But she was so much more: a vocalist of incredible range and power whose voice was equally at home in German-language show tunes, racy disco dance tracks and powerful gospel ballads. Not long before her death, Summer said that her foremost life aspiration was not related her singing. "What I aspire to in my life, truly, is to be loving," she said. "And I don't always achieve that, but that's my aspiration."
Summer attended Boston's Jeremiah E. Burke High School
Donna Summer was a singer and songwriter. While singing background in a recording session at Munich's Musicland Studios for Three Dog Night, Summer met German-based producers, Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte. The trio forged a working partnership and began collaborating on songs together starting in 1974. A demo tape of Summer's work with Moroder and Bellotte led to a deal with the European-distributed label Groovy Records. The label issued Summer's first album, Lady of the Night. The album became a hit success in selected countries with two songs, "The Hostage" and "Lady of the Night", reaching the top of the charts in countries such as the Netherlands and Belgium. In mid-1975, while working on another album, Summer passed on an idea for a song that Moroder was working on for another artist in the then-nascent disco sound, writing part of the song and labeling it as "Love to Love You". Summer would later say that she had imagined how Marilyn Monroe would sing this song and demonstrated how she felt Monroe would've approached it. Prior to recording the song and to get into the mood, she requested Moroder to turn off the lights while they sat on a sofa with him inducing her moans and groans. Moroder liked what he heard after hearing its playback and felt Summer's song should be released. The song was then sent to Casablanca Records president Neil Bogart in hopes of getting an American release. Bogart informed Summer and Moroder he would release the song (now called "Love to Love You Baby") but requested that Moroder produce a longer version for discothèques. Moroder, Bellotte and Summer returned with a 17-minute version and Casablanca signed Summer and released the single in November 1975. The shorter version of the single was promoted to radio stations while clubs regularly played the 17-minute version (the longer version would also appear on the album). Casablanca became one of the first record labels to popularize the 12" single format. By early 1976, "Love to Love You Baby" had reached No. 2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 while the parent album of the same name sold over a million copies. The song generated controversy due to Summer's moans and groans and some American and European radio stations, including the BBC, refused to play it. "Love to Love You Baby" found chart success in several European countries and made the Top 5 in the United Kingdom despite the BBC ban. Other upcoming singles included "Try Me, I Know We Can Make It", U.S. No. 80; "Could It Be Magic", U.S. No. 52; "Spring Affair", U.S. No. 58; and "Winter Melody", U.S. No. 43. The subsequent albums Love Trilogy and Four Seasons of Love both went gold in the U.S. In 1977, Summer released the concept album I Remember Yesterday. This album, again co-produced by Moroder and Bellotte, included her second top ten single, "I Feel Love", which reached number six in the U.S. and number one in the UK. Another concept album, also released in 1977, was Once Upon a Time, a double album which told of a modern-day Cinderella "rags to riches" story through the elements of orchestral disco and ballads. This album would also attain gold status. In 1978, Summer released her version of the Jimmy Webb ballad, "MacArthur Park", which became her first U.S. number one hit. The song was featured on Summer's first live album, Live and More, which also became her first album to hit number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart and went platinum, selling over a million copies. Other studio tracks included the top ten hit "Heaven Knows", which featured the group Brooklyn Dreams accompanying her on background and Joe "Bean" Esposito singing alongside her on the verses. Summer would later be romantically involved with Brooklyn Dreams singer Bruce Sudano and the couple married two years after the song's release. Also in 1978, Donna Summer acted in the film Thank God It's Friday playing a singer determined to perform at a hot disco club. The film met modest success, but a song from the film, titled "Last Dance", reached number three on the Hot 100 and resulted in Summer winning her first Grammy Award. Its writer, Paul Jabara, won both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for the composition. In 1979, Summer performed at the world-televised Music for UNICEF Concert, joining contemporaries such as ABBA, Olivia Newton-John, the Bee Gees, Andy Gibb, Rod Stewart, John Denver, Earth, Wind & Fire, Rita Coolidge and Kris Kristofferson for a TV special that raised funds and awareness for the world's children. Artists donated royalties of certain songs, some in perpetuity, to benefit the cause. Summer began work on her next project with Moroder and Bellotte, Bad Girls, an album that had been in production for nearly two years. Summer based the whole concept on prostitution (revisiting the theme for 1974's Lady of the Night), even dressing as a hooker herself on the cover art. The album became a huge success, spawning the number one hits "Hot Stuff" and the title track and the number two "Dim All the Lights". With "MacArthur Park", "Hot Stuff", "Bad Girls" and the Barbra Streisand duet "No More Tears (Enough is Enough)", Summer achieved four number one hits within a thirteen-month period. Those songs, along with "Heaven Knows", "Last Dance", "Dim All the Lights" and "On the Radio" (from her upcoming double-album), would give her eight U.S. Top 5 singles within a two-year period. "Hot Stuff" later won her a second Grammy in the Best Female Rock Vocal Performance, the first time the category was included. That year, Summer played eight sold-out nights at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles. Summer released On the Radio: Greatest Hits Volumes I & II, her first (international) greatest hits set, in 1979. The double album reached number one in the United States, becoming her third consecutive number one album. A new song from the compilation, "On the Radio", reached the U.S. top five, selling over a million copies in the United States alone. After the release of the On the Radio hits album, Summer wanted to branch out into other musical styles in addition to disco, which led to tensions between her and Casablanca Records as Casablanca wanted her to continue to record in the disco format while Summer wanted to sing more rock and pop-based music. Sensing that they could no longer come to terms, Summer and the label parted ways in 1980 and she signed with Geffen Records, the new label started by David Geffen. Summer's first Geffen album, The Wanderer, featured an eclectic mixture of sounds similar to Bad Girls but with little emphasis on Summer's past disco success, instead bringing elements of rock, rockabilly, new wave and gospel music. The album continued Summer's streak of gold albums with the title track peaking at No. 3 in the U.S., though its follow-up singles, "Cold Love" and "Who Do You Think You're Foolin'," were only modestly received. When Summer presented Geffen with her projected second album, I'm a Rainbow, the label disapproved of its production, sensing Moroder's sound had grown stale (in spite of his present success with Blondie (Call Me), and immediate future success with Phil Oakey (Together in Electric Dreams) and Melissa Manchester (Thief of Hearts)), and advised Summer to change producers, leading to an argument between the artist and the label. Eventually, Moroder and Bellotte and Summer agreed to part ways with Geffen and hired top R&B and pop producer Quincy Jones to produce Summer's next album, the eponymously titled Donna Summer. The album took over six months to record, which was unusual for Summer's recordings, and was released in 1982. Among its releases were the top ten hit "Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger)" and the more moderately received "State of Independence" (No. 41 pop) and "The Woman in Me" (No. 33 pop). Problems then arose between Summer and Geffen Records after they were notified by Polygram Records, Summer's former label (Casablanca was by then a wholly owned subsidiary), that she needed to deliver them one more album to fulfill her contract with them. Summer delivered the album She Works Hard for the Money and Polygram released it on its Mercury imprint in 1983. The title song became a major hit, reaching number three on the U.S. Hot 100, as well as No. 1 on Billboard's R&B chart. It also garnered another Grammy nomination. The album also featured the reggae-flavored UK Top 20 hit "Unconditional Love", which featured the British group Musical Youth, who were riding high from the success of their single "Pass the Dutchie". The third U.S. single, "Love Has A Mind of Its Own", reached the top forty of the Billboard R&B chart. The album itself was certified gold. In late 1984, with her obligation to Polygram complete, Summer returned on Geffen Records with her next release. Geffen, wanting to keep the momentum going, enlisted She Works Hard for the Money's producer Michael Omartian to produce Cats Without Claws. The album, however, was not as successful as She Works Hard for the Money and failed to attain gold status in the U.S., becoming her first album since her 1974 debut not to do so. It did include a moderate hit in The Drifters cover "There Goes My Baby", which peaked at No. 21. Jellybean Benitez remixed two of the album's songs, "Eyes" and "I'm Free," which were released as 12" singles for club play. On January 19, 1985, she sang at the nationally-televised 50th Presidential Inaugural Gala the day before the second inauguration of Ronald Reagan. She was introduced by Merv Griffin. In the mid-1980s, Summer was embroiled in controversy after she allegedly made anti-gay remarks regarding the then-relatively new disease, AIDS, which as a result had a significantly negative impact on her career. Summer, by this time a born-again Christian, was alleged to have said that AIDS was a punishment from God for the immoral lifestyles of homosexuals. Because of this alleged quote, thousands of her records were returned to her record company. Years later, Summer publicly denied that she had ever made any such comment, and in a letter to the AIDS campaign group ACT UP in 1989 said it was "a terrible misunderstanding. I was unknowingly protected by those around me from the bad press and hate letters... If I have caused you pain, forgive me." She apologized for the delay in not making a response earlier and closed her letter with Bible quotes (from Chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians). Also in 1989, Summer told The Advocate magazine that "a couple of the people I write with are gay, and they have been ever since I met them. What people want to do with their bodies is their personal preference." A couple of years later, she filed a lawsuit against New York magazine when it reprinted the rumours as fact just as she was about to release her album Mistaken Identity in 1991. According to a Biography television program dedicated to Summer in which she participated in 1995, the lawsuit was settled out of court, though neither side was able to divulge any details. In 1990, a Warner compilation, The Best of Donna Summer, was released. The album went gold in the UK after the song "State of Independence" was re-released there to promote the album. The following year, Summer emerged with the album Mistaken Identity, which included elements of R&B as well as new jack swing. While the album itself failed to become a success, the song "When Love Cries" continued her success on the R&B charts, reaching No. 18. In 1992, Summer embarked on a world tour to promote the album and later that year received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1993, Polygram issued the two-disc set The Donna Summer Anthology, which included 34 tracks of all of Summer's material with Casablanca and Mercury and songs from her tenures with Atlantic and Geffen. Summer signed with Mercury/Polygram that same year, and in 1994 issued the Christmas album Christmas Spirit, which included renditions of classic Christmas songs such as "O Holy Night" and "Joy to the World" and Summer-penned songs. Another hits collection, Endless Summer: Greatest Hits, was released, featuring eighteen songs that were single cuts of the songs differentiating from the Anthology set, where fuller length recordings were featured. In 1992, she reunited with Giorgio Moroder, recording the dance song "Carry On", which later won Summer the first Grammy given to anyone in its dance category. The 1995 dance tune "Melody of Love (Wanna Be Loved)" went number-one on the dance charts in the U.S. while becoming a top 30 hit in the UK, peaking at number 21.During this time, Summer was offered a guest role on the sitcom Family Matters as Steve Urkel's (Jaleel White) Aunt Oona. She made a second appearance in 1997. In 1998, Summer received a Grammy Award for Best Dance Recording, the first to do so, after a remixed version of her 1992 collaboration with Giorgio Moroder, "Carry On", was released in 1997. In 1999, Summer taped a live television special for VH1 titled Donna Summer – Live and More Encore, producing the second highest ratings that year for the network after their annual Divas special. A CD of the event was released by Epic Records and featured two studio recordings, "I Will Go with You (Con tepartirò)" and "Love Is the Healer", both of which reached number one on the U.S. dance charts. In 2000, Summer participated in VH1's third annual Divas special, dedicated to Diana Ross, though Summer sang mostly her own material for the show. In 2003, Summer issued her autobiography, Ordinary Girl: The Journey, and released a best-of set titled The Journey: The Very Best of Donna Summer. In 2004, Summer was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame alongside the Bee Gees and Barry Gibb as an artist. Her classic song, "I Feel Love", was also inducted that night. In 2004 and 2005, Summer's success on the dance charts continued with the songs "You're So Beautiful" and "I Got Your Love". In a 2008 interview with The Daily Telegraph, Summer claimed that one month before the September 11 attacks she had a premonition that they would occur. She was living in Manhattan at the time of the attacks. In the same interview she said for a period of time after the attacks she was so depressed she was unable to leave her bedroom and left her blinds closed. In 2008, Summer released her first studio album of fully original material in 17 years, entitled Crayons. Released on the Sony BMG label Burgundy Records, it peaked at No. 17 on the United States Top 200 Album Chart, her highest placing on the chart since 1983. The songs "I'm a Fire", "Stamp Your Feet" and "Fame (The Game)" reached number one on the U.S. Billboard Dance Chart. The ballad "Sand on My Feet" was released to adult contemporary stations and reached number 30 on that chart. Summer said, "I wanted this album to have a lot of different directions on it. I did not want it to be any one baby. I just wanted it to be a sampler of flavors and influences from all over the world. There's a touch of this, a little smidgeon of that, a dash of something else, like when you're cooking." On the song "The Queen Is Back", Summer reveals her wry and witty self-awareness of her musical legacy and her public persona. "I'm making fun of myself," she admits. "There's irony. It's poking fun at the idea of being called a queen. That's a title that has followed me, followed me and followed me. We were sitting and writing and that title kept popping up in my mind and I'm thinking, 'Am I supposed to write this? Is this too arrogant to write?' But people call me 'the queen,' so I guess it's ok to refer to myself as what everybody else refers to me as. We started writing the song and thought it was kind of cute and funny." Summer wrote "The Queen Is Back" and "Mr. Music" with J.R. Rotem and Evan Bogart, the son of Casablanca Records founder Neil Bogart. On December 11, 2009, Summer performed at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway in honor of American President Barack Obama. She was backed by the Norwegian Radio Orchestra. On July 29, 2010, Summer gave an interview with Allvoices.com wherein she was asked if she would consider doing an album of standards. She said, I actually am, probably in September. I will begin work on a standards album. I will probably do an all-out dance album and a standards album. I'm going to do both and we will release them however we're going to release them. We are not sure which is going first. Summer's husband, Bruce Sudano, stated during his speech at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction on Summer's behalf that Donna never recorded the standards album as each time they went into the studio to record standards, she preferred to record new songs instead. In August 2010, she released the single "To Paris With Love", co-written with Bruce Roberts and produced by Peter Stengaard. The single (her last charted single) reached No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Dance Chart in October 2010, Also that month Summer appeared in the PBS television special Hitman Returns: David Foster and Friends. In it Summer performed with Seal on a medley of the songs "Un-Break My Heart / Crazy / On the Radio" before closing the show with "Last Dance". On September 15, 2010, Summer appeared as a guest celebrity singing alongside rising star Prince Poppycock on the television show America's Got Talent. On October 16, 2010, she performed at a benefit concert at the Phoenix Symphony. On June 6, 2011, Summer was a guest judge on the show Platinum Hit in an episode entitled "Dance Floor Royalty". In July 2011, Summer was working at Paramount Recording Studios in Los Angeles with her nephew, the rapper and producer O'Mega Red. Together they worked on a track titled "Angel". On December 11, 2012, after three nominations, Summer posthumously was announced to be one of the 2013 inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame., and was inducted on April 18, 2013, at Los Angeles' Nokia Theater.
Ordinary Girl: The Journey
Summer died on the morning of May 17, 2012, at her home in Naples, Florida at the age of 63 because of lung cancer
I don't care if I'm beautiful; I don't care what I am on the outside. It isn't about the outside.
Because I'm just an ordinary person that did some extraordinary things.
My life was changed in one breath from God.
It would be nice if you have a hit. But I don't think it's necessary to continue with my career at this point.
God had to create disco music so I could be born and be successful.
I am sensual and very physical. I'm very erotic. But my sexuality exists on a sort of a fantasy level.
But I think that I'm just a normal girl, you know.
But I like to know that someone is stronger than I am. I want to be able to know that if I get tired, somebody is there to hold up the fort. I like knowing that I can't pick a refrigerator alone. God did not make me strong enough to do that.
When you see these people that are in the public eye all the time, it must get tiring.
A friend of mine called and said they're interested in having you do a song for the new Pokemon. All my kids are grown up, so I'd heard of it, but I didn't really know what it was.
I haven't really been recording in the last several years. I haven't wanted to. And even though I had to deal with Sony and now I'm on Universal again, I will probably put out a new record soon.
Well, I'll say I have an incredible ability to fantasize - I really do. I don't have to have things tangible to be able to see them, and therefore I enjoy so many things, because they're in my mind.