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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Last Dance with Donna Summer


Like just about everyone else, I was shocked when I first heard the news that Donna Summer was dead. Before there was Madonna, there was LaDonna. LaDonna Adrian Gaines took the professional name Donna Summer (Summer being her married name) and became a superstar. Her name was synonymous with Disco, a genre she helped popularize with her mellifluous mezzo-soprano and purety of pitch, tone and the ability to hold onto a note without faltering. If Donna used vibrato, it was a choice (as when singing La Vie en Rose). She had, simply, the most flawless voice I've ever heard.

Said CNN News today: Donna Summer, the "Queen of Disco" whose hits included "Hot Stuff," "Bad Girls," "Love to Love You Baby" and "She Works Hard for the Money," has died.... She was 63.

Her publicist, Brian Edwards, said Summer was suffering from cancer.

"She will be terribly missed. She was truly the #Disco Queen!" Singer La Toya Jackson said in a Twitter posting.

La Toya?  Oh, well, why not!

Classic disco queens Donna & Gloria pass the torch to contempo dance queen Amber
Donna Summer was indeed disco's queen and largest icon. So much so that, after Disco Demolition Night, a fascistic burning of disco records at Comiskey Park, Chicago 1979, Donna's career indeed suffered. She staged many a comeback and several triumphs, however, and time transformed her into one of the essential legends of popular music. (Wrote Gloria Gaynor of the record-burning event in Johnny Morgan's Disco bible: "[I]f these people hated disco, why did they have disco records to begin with?")

Another debacle that stunted Summer's career in the '90s was a claim that the born-again diva spoke out against homosexuality, according to New York magazine. The writer claimed Donna believed that AIDS was was a punishment from God. However, Donna denied that she had ever made any such comment.

"[I]n a letter to the AIDS campaign group ACT UP in 1989, she said that 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,'" according to Wikipedia.  "She went on to apologize for the delay in refuting the rumors."

Also, in a 2008 interview in New York's H/X  magazine, Donna reiterated only positive words of love to her gay fan base. Ultimately, her gay fans sided with her and remained faithful.

"In 1967, just weeks before graduation, Summer left for New York where she was a member of the blues-rock band, Crow. After they were passed by every record label, they agreed to break up. Summer stayed in New York and auditioned for a role in the counterculture musical, Hair," writes Wikipedia. "When Melba Moore was cast in the part, Summer agreed to take the role in the Munich production of the show. She moved to Munich after getting her parents' reluctant approval.

"While singing background for the hit-making 1970s trio Three Dog Night, Summer met producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte.... 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 song generated controversy due to Summer's moans and groans and some American and European radio stations, including the BBC, refused to play it."

According to Larry Harris (second-in-command at Casablanca), who wrote the tell-all, And Party Every Day: The Inside Story of Casablanca Records, he and Bogart were playing the original version of "Love to Love You Baby" at a party and a guest accidentally bumped into the record player, causing the needle to skip back to the beginning, and hence the crazy idea of the 17-minute dance song was born, and the start of the extended mix. (They all must have been pretty wrecked not to notice a record skip, but hey! I'm only telling you what I read.)

"'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."

Donna, though kind to many, could also be a diva with an attitude. She butted heads with Quincy Jones on her first non-Casablanca album, Donna Summer. Quincy claimed the Queen was unprofessional, and Donna said, "Sometimes I feel it's a Quincy Jones album that I sang on." Work with Tony Moran and Thunderpuss also led to artist vs producer disputes.

I adored later albums with Donna, especially the '80s hi-nrg Another Place & Time, produced by Stock/Aiken/Waterman, who also worked with Kylie, Bananarama and Rick Astley.  A second album was planned with S/A/W, however Summer had a falling out with them as well, and the tracks were later recorded by singer Lonnie Gordon as her first album.

I loved Donna's last come-back album, Crayons. Donna laid down several tracks foe a new album before she died, so expect a posthumous release.

She died in her home in Key West.

Rest in Peace, Donna. You burned brightly for so long. You are missed and loved by your fans. By me. And by millions worldwide.

You'll always be Queen... of hearts:












1 comment:

  1. Excellent tribute. I loved all of her music, even her mid-80s stuff that radio didn't play much. She was very experimental, going beyond her disco sound many times. She may have had some difficulties with producers but her early career proves that she had great instincts. Unlike many other divas (an exception being Mariah), Donna was at the forefront of singers who also co-wrote many of her big hits, a rarity in her day and even today. She has never been given enough credit for writing catchy songs that still stand up and it's sad that she was rejected from the R&R Hall of Fame during the last year of her life.

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