LaDonna Adrian Gaines (December 31, 1948 – May 17, 2012), known by the stage name Donna Summer, was an American singer-songwriter who gained prominence during the disco era of the 1970s. She had a mezzo-soprano vocal range, and was a five-timeGrammy Award winner. Summer was the first artist to have three consecutive double albums reach number one on the U.S.Billboard chart, and she also charted four number-one singles in the United States within a 13-month period.
Summer died on May 17, 2012. The Associated Press reports that she died in the morning at her home in Key West, Florida at age 63 following a battle with cancer. The Bradenton Herald quotes "Sarasota County records" stating that she lived in Englewood, Florida at the time of her death. The reference did not state the place of her death.
While singing background for the hit-making 1970s trio Three Dog Night, Summer met producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte. She eventually signed a deal with the European label Groovy Records and issued her first album, Lady of the Night, in 1974. The album was not released in America, but found some limited European success on the strength of the song "The Hostage", which reached number one in Belgium and number two in the Netherlands.
In 1975, Summer approached Moroder with an idea for a song she and Bellotte were working on for another singer. She had come up with the lyric "love to love you, baby". Moroder was interested in developing the new sound that was becoming popular and used Summer's lyric to develop the song. Moroder persuaded Summer to record what was to be a demo track for another performer. She later said that she had thought of how the song might sound if Marilyn Monroe had sung it and began cooing the lyrics. To get into the mood of recording the song, she requested Moroder turn off the lights while they sat on a sofa with him inducing her moans and groans. After hearing playback of the song, Moroder felt Summer's version should actually 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 #2 on the US 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", US #80; "Could It Be Magic", US #52; "Spring Affair", US #58; and "Winter Melody", US #43. The subsequent albums Love Trilogy and Four Seasons of Love both went gold in the US.
Summer in the recording studio, 1977
In 1977, Summer released the concept album I Remember Yesterday. This album included her second top ten single, "I Feel Love", which reached number six in the US 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 US 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 US Billboard 200chart, and went platinum selling over a million copies. Other studio tracks included the top ten hit, "Heaven Knows", which featured the groupBrooklyn 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, 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 an Academy 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 and Fire, Rita Coolidge and Kris Kristofferson for an hour's 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.
After the release of the greatest hits album, Summer wanted to branch out into other musical styles in addition to disco, which led to tensions between her and Casablanca Records. 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 release on Geffen Records was The Wanderer, which replaced the disco sound of Summer's previous releases with more of the burgeoning New Wave sound and elements of rock, such as the material being recorded at this time by Pat Benatar. The album achieved gold status in the US, and the title track (released as the first single) peaked at #3 in the US, though subsequent singles were only moderate hits.
Summer's projected second Geffen release, entitled I'm a Rainbow, was shelved by Geffen Records (though two of the album's songs would surface in soundtracks of the 1980s films Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Flashdance). Summer reluctantly parted company with Moroder after seven years working together as Geffen had recruited Quincy Jones to produce her next album, 1982's Donna Summer. The album had taken a lengthy six months to record. The album's first single, "Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger)", became an American top ten hit on the Hot 100, followed by more moderate hits "State of Independence"(#41 pop) and "The Woman In Me"(#33 pop). Problems then increased 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 hit reaching number three on the US Hot 100, and would provide Summer with a 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 US 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 of 500,000 copies sold in the US, becoming her first album since her 1974 debut not to do so. It did include a moderate hit in "There Goes My Baby", which peaked at #21.
Summer continued to score top ten hits on Billboard's Dance Chart in the new millennium. In 2000, she also appeared on the third annual Divas special, dedicated to Diana Ross, though Summer sang her own material for the show.
One month before the September 11 Attacks Summer who was living in Manhattan at the time had a premonition that they would occur. For a period of time after the attacks she was unable to leave her bedroom. She was reported to have blamed her lung cancer on inhaling toxic dust from the fallen towers.
In 2004, Summer was inducted to 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 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 #17 on the US Top 200 Album Chart (her highest placing on the chart since 1983), and achieved modest international success. The songs "I'm a Fire", "Stamp Your Feet", and "Fame (The Game)" reached number one on the US Billboard Dance Chart. The ballad "Sand on My Feet" was released to adult contemporary stations and reached number thirty on that chart. While commenting on the album, 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 United States President Barack Obama. She was backed by the Norwegian Radio Orchestra.
In August 2010, she released the single "To Paris With Love", co-written with Bruce Roberts and produced by Peter Stengaard. In October 2010, the single reached #1 on the US Billboard Dance Chart (it would be her last charted single). 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 "Unbreak My Heart / Crazy / On the Radio", before Summer closed the show with "Last Dance".
On July 29, 2010, Summer gave an interview with allvoices.com where she was asked if she would consider doing an album of standards. She replied:
"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 gonna do both, and we will release them however were gonna release them. We are not sure which is going first."
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 week two titled, Dance Floor Royalty. Platinum Hit is a reality competition series on Bravo launched in 2011 in which 12 singer-songwriters compete through innovative songwriting challenges that will test their creativity, patience and drive. Every episode features a different topic from a dance track to a love ballad, that require the contestants to write and perform lyrics from a multiple of genres, for a cash prize of $100,000, a publishing deal with songwriting collective The Writing Camp, and a recording deal with RCA/Jive label.
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 entitled "Angel".
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