Disco diva Donna Summer dies at 63

Friday, May 18, 2012

Donna Summer performing at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in 2009.
Image: Harry Wad.

US disco singer Donna Summer died Thursday aged 63 in Key West, Florida, following a struggle with lung cancer. During her career, Summer won five Grammy Awards and had nineteen number one singles in the US charts.

Summer's family gave the following statement: "Early this morning, we lost Donna Summer Sudano, a woman of many gifts, the greatest being her faith. While we grieve her passing, we are at peace celebrating her extraordinary life and her continued legacy."

Her first hit was the 1975 track Love To Love You Baby, which was banned by the BBC.

The 1977 Giorgio Moroder-produced single I Feel Love pioneered the use of synthesisers. Brian Eno told David Bowie upon hearing the song, "I've heard the sound of the future".

After disco's popularity wound down, Summer moved across genres, with the 1979 song Hot Stuff earning her a Grammy Award for best rock vocal performance. She said of this: "I am actually the first woman — not black woman — but woman, period, to get a rock-and-roll Grammy".

Donna Summer also appeared in the 1979 movie Thank God It's Friday, and her performance of the song Last Dance earned her an Academy Award for best song.

Her popularity in the gay community was threatened in the 1980s after it was reported that she had made anti-gay remarks at a concert, specifically that "AIDS is the result of your sins". In 1989, she told the gay magazine The Advocate that she did not make the statements she was reported to have made, and expressed regret at the loss of friends to AIDS: "I never said, ‘If you are gay, God hates you.’ Come on. Be real. I don’t understand that. Anybody who really knows me knows I wouldn’t say that."

Summer was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1948 as LaDonna Adrian Gaines. She learned she could sing in her church's gospel choir and then in musicals. In 1973, she married an actor she had met in Austria, Helmuth Sommer, from whom she gets the name "Summer". Before her divorce in 1975, Summer gave birth to Mimi Summer. Five years later, she remarried to Bruce Sudano, a musician, who fathered two daughters, Brooklyn and Amanda.