Friday, May 18, 2012

Dance Clubs In Heaven Are Playing Donna Summer Songs

May 18, 2012 - The great Donna Summer passed away yesterday in Florida. Lung cancer took her from us. She was 63. She will always be the 23-year old Queen of Disco in my heart, though. Her real name was LaDonna Andrea Gaines. She was born on December 11, 1948 in Boston. Her stage name "Summer" was inspired by husband of two years, Helmut Sommer, an Austrian actor.
Image: Mark Mainz /AP Images for Fox via CS Monitor
Sure, some of you tough guys will laugh at me for admitting this, but I adored Donna Summer. I am rarely moved by the death of a celebrity, but the loss of this magnificent voice and spirit has saddened me in a way that I would not have expected.

I made a living as a "disco d.j." from 1978 through 1984, and Donna Summer was an essential part of the scene. I first heard disco in 1974, when I was a student in Munich, Germany. I would listen to Armed Forces Radio to get news from back in the States, and to hear American music at night. There was a new kind of music being played there. It was called "disco."

2008 album cover of 'Crayons,' Summer's first studio
album after a 17-year break:
Munich was vitally important to her early career, as The National Post reported:

"At the age of 18, she left her native Boston after being cast in a Munich production of the musical Hair. She remained in Germany for several more years, becoming fluent in German and performing in the musicals Godspell and Showboat. In the early 70s she married and divorced Austrian actor Helmut Sommer, with whom she had a daughter Mimi, anglicizing his name to Summer and keeping it as her own even after their split. It was also during her time in Germany that she met Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, two producers who would have a major impact on the future of her career."  More at The National Post...

When I returned to the U.S. in January, 1975, I went to record stores (vinyl!) and asked them if they carried any disco. The universal response was, "What's disco?" I remarked to one of the clerks that his store would probably have an entire section devoted just to disco music by Christmas. He stared at me blankly. I was right, as history shows, and it was due in large part to the irresistible force of artists such as Donna Summer. I was blown away when I first heard her 1975 hit "Love To Love You Baby."

Well before she became the Queen of Disco, Donna Summer's voice was impressing people. She recorded some songs for the Philips label under the name "Donna Gains." The song "Can't Understand" was co-written by her and H. Hammerschmied (listen to it).

As a child of the 1960s, I also love rock (I had an album-oriented rock show on a small station outside of Madison, WI in the early 1980s), I was instantly infected by disco.

You could not avoid Donna Summer in the 1970s and 1980s. If you liked disco, you did not want to avoid her. If you were a disco fan, you couldn't get enough of her powerful voice and infectious spirit. Now, after her passing, I know that her tens of millions of fans around the world still can't get enough.

It was only back in February that I wrote that Donna Summer was a better voice talent than the late Whitney Houston. Whitney was great, but for vocal strength Donna was greater.

Few could belt out a song with the velvety force that Summer could. While many people hated disco and mocked Donna Summer, she was highly respected among her peers in the music industry.

Elton John told E! Online, "I'm so sad. This woman was the queen of disco and so much more." Elton said that her music still sounds good today, and said she deserved to be  inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

He called it "a total disgrace" that she has not been inducted, "especially when I see the second-rate talent that has been inducted." Elton called her a "great friend" and said, "I will miss her greatly."

Beyonce wrote a very touching letter in memory of Donna Summer. "Donna Summer made music that moved me both emotionally and physically to get up and dance," wrote Beyonce. "You could always hear the deep passion in her voice. She was so much more than the queen of disco she became known for, she was an honest and gifted singer with flawless vocal talent. I’ve always been a huge fan and was honored to sample one of her songs. She touched many generations and will be so sadly missed."

Donna Summer may have left this world, but she is not dead. Her spirit lives on here and on that Other Plane. If there is a dance club in Heaven, they're playing Donna Summer songs.

My favorite cover of "I Feel Love," by Venus Hum with The Blue Man Group: