There are great voices in pop music – and then there is Donna Summer.
As Robert Hilburn noted in an August Los Angeles Times review of her sold out headlining show at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles: "Donna Summers name was a powerful magnet on the marquee in the late 1970s, when she turned out some of the most appealing and well crafted dance minded records of the era. But is there still an audience for the one time "Queen of Disco" at a time when pop music is dominated by grung and hip-hop? Absolutely."
With incomparable range and power, Donna Summer defined the 70s musical generation. And while other languished in the wake of the infamous "death of disco" in 1979, Summer boldly outlived those hallowed days, and carved a niche among the worlds leading song stylist with a sterling string of hits that range from rhythmically dynamic to warmly spiritual. As Summer celebrates her 20 year in the music business, she has garnered a stunning fourteen top ten hits, four No. 1 smash singles, and album sales in the ten millions worldwide.
After 20 years as a singer/songwriter, Summer remains an inspiration and influence. "I Feel Love" (Summers Top 10 pop hit in 1977) recently re-entered the charts and was a Top 10 hit on Billboards "Hot Dance Chart." The song, updated in London with new vocals by Summer and remixed by hipsters Rollo and Sister Bliss, topped the U.K Dance Charts for five weeks and was a Top 5 pop hit there as well.
Beyond her recording and performing career, Summer is an accomplished artist. Her work has been shown at art exhibitions and galleries in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami. Her most recent display was on show in the upper lobby of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville. Entitled "Driven By The Music" the nine piece collection of paintings and sketches was exhibited throughout the month of February 1996 in the Tennessee capitol.
The Donna Summer story begins on New Years Eve, when Donna Adrian Gaines was born in an area of Boston known as Dorchester. Growing up in a family of five sisters and one brother, she created a unique identity by exploring an early interest in music. A young follower of gospel legend Mahalia Jackson, Donna first tested her voice at the age of 10 performing with church choirs. "It was then that I knew I had been given a very special gift from God" recalls. "It was just a matter of how to best use it."
At the age of 18, Summer moved to New York in search of a career in entertainment. An audition to replace Melba Moore in the Broadway smash Hair led to a prime spot in the shows road company – which eventually landed the young singer in a German production of the classic theater piece. After a year, she scooted over to the Viennese cast of the show. "That led to my joining the Vienna Folk Opera" Summer recalls. "While I was with them, I was in productions of Showboat and Porgy & Bess." It was also during that time she married actor Helmet Sommer, a union that later ended in divorce. She kept the name though, anglicizing its spelling.
Summer returned to Germany and continued her budding musical theater career,
The success of "Love To Love You Baby" triggered a catalog of albums that would brilliantly blend the primal groove urgency of disco and funk with symphonic strings and vocals that soar with drama. Hard core club DJs took delight in expansive epics like
"Of all the song from those days, I probably still feel most connected Last Dance" Summer says. "Singing it brings tears to my eyes. For me, its become a poignant song. There were a lot of people in my life who are not with us anymore. Its like Im singing to the memory of people who are special to me."
A string of No. 1 singles and albums for Casablanca ended with On The Radio. Summer was the first artist signed to David Geffens new record company, stomping into a new phase in her career with The Wanderer. That set was followed by Im A Rainbow, a lyrically intelligent and musically innovative double-record opus that was her final album with Moroder and Bellotte. Years ahead of its time in term of context and conceptual grasp, the set was never commercially release by Geffen, but was issued by PolyGram in 1996.
In the years that followed, Summer collaborated with an illustrious line-up of writers and producers that included Quincy Jones, Michael Omartian, Stock Aitken and Waterman. The stream of hits never stopped. "State Of Independence" was richly uplifting, "She Works Hard For The Money" a feminist anthem, and "This Time I Know Its For Real."
1994 saw the release of Endless Summer, which served as more than simply a greatest hits retrospective – but also an invaluable primer for anyone interested in examining an important era in musical history. And the year ended with the critically acclaimed Christmas Spirit, an album of Christian standards and Summer penned originals recorded with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.
1995 marked the return the road for Summer with successful tours in Brazil and the U.S. Met by critical raves, the tours brought out Summers legions of fans in both countries. The Tour continued in 1996 with the four time Grammy award winning songwriter headlining a cross country summer tour that made stops at many of the major amphitheaters like New Yorks Jones Beach, Detroits Pine Knob and Atlantas Chastain Park. It bears mentioning that this marks Donnas second summer tour in as many years, testifying to her star power.
As 1996 closes out Donna joined other superstars in an ABC-TV special celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Disneyworld as well as recording he theme from The Hunchback of Notre Dame for Disneys Mouse House childrens album. In December, Donna teamed up with Bruce Roberts to sing a duet for the Universal blockbuster feature film Daylight starring Sylvester Stallone. The powerful ballad produced by Grammy award winner David Foster. The accompanying music video shines brighter with Summers incredible performance.
As long as she has the freedom to write and sing the music that moves her, Donna will continue to thrill fans everywhere.
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