Queen Of Disco Donna Summer Passes Away

May 18, 2012 by Amy Gold

Donna Summer performing at the Nobel Peace Price Concert, 2009
Donna Summer performing at the Nobel Peace Price Concert, 2009 (Photo: Harry Wad)

"Queen of Disco" Donna Summer (Dec. 31, 1948 - May 17, 2012) passed away unexpectedly at 63 on May 17, 2012 after a lengthy and private battle with lung cancer. Some have speculated that her cancer may have been caused by toxic dust clouds from the 9/11 attacks in New York City, where she resided at the time. Summer is survived by her husband, Bruce Sudano; their daughters, Brooklyn and Amanda; and Summer's daughter, Mimi, from a previous marriage.

Donna Summer was born LaDonna Adrian Gaines in Boston, MA, on December 31, 1948. She started singing gospel music as a child, and her precocious singing talents became apparent to everyone when she gave her first public performance at age 10 at her church. In 1967, just weeks before her high school graduation, Summer left for New York to pursue a career in music and joined a blues rock band. She auditioned for a role in "Hair," and when Melba Moore was chosen for the part, she moved to Germany and took the role in the Munich production of the show. She also performed in the musicals "Ich Bin Ich" ("The Me Nobody Knows"), "Godspell," and "Show Boat." In 1974, while still in Germany, she recorded her first album, “Lady Of The Night,” and had a hit in Europe with one of this album’s songs, “Hostage.” She married actor Helmuth Sommer that same year and adopted an anglicized version of her husband’s surname which she kept to the present day even after the couple divorced.

In 1975, Summer burst onto the scene with her sizzling and steamy "Love To Love You Baby," a 17-minute song performed in a sensuous style reminiscent of the late Marilyn Monroe. A powerful mezzo-soprano, her many hits also included the chart topping “Last Dance,” “MacArthur Park,” “Hot Stuff,” "Bad Girls," "Dim All the Lights," “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough”) (duet with Barbra Streisand), and the feminist working class anthem, "She Works Hard for the Money." Her long string of hits on the Billboard Pop/Rock, R&B and Dance Charts continued into the 21st century, and over the course of her long career, she won many awards that included five Grammys.

Summer's exuberant disco songs captured the partying spirit of the late 1970s and made her a top icon of that era. In that period people were in a dance mood,, Summer said. They wanted to be lifted up, they wanted to have fun, they didn't want to think.