Donna Summer, a platinum recording artist and queen of the disco era, who started her career in Germany, has passed away at the age of 63 after a long battle with cancer, her publicist confirmed.
Born LaDonna Gaines in Boston on New Year’s Eve, 1948, she began her career as a session singer for the likes of Three Dog Night before a creative partnership with Italian producer and disco pioneer Giorgio Moroder led to her first hit, the breathy 1976 cultural lightning-rod “Love to Love You Baby.”
In the late 1960s she joined the Munich company of the rock musical “Hair” and relocated to Germany, where she became fluent in German and worked as a studio vocalist, in musical theater and briefly as a member of the Viennese Folk Opera.
She married an Austrian actor, Hellmuth Sommer, in 1972, and after they divorced she kept his name but changed the spelling. She had already recorded her first single under the name Donna Gaines, an unsuccessful remake in 1971 of the Jaynetts’ “Sally Go ’Round the Roses.”
High-ranking singles like “I Feel Love” “MacArthur Park,” and “Heaven Knows” followed, and the 1978 anthem “Last Dance” earned the rising star her first Grammy award.
1979′s concept album Bad Girls yielded further smashes, including “Hot Stuff” and “Dim All the Lights,” and that year also saw the popular Barbra Streisand collaboration “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough).”
After searching for a new post-disco identity for several years, Summer found her stride again with “Love Is In Control (Finger on the Trigger)” and the title track of her 1983 album She Works Hard for the Money.
Several followups, however (with the exception of the top-ten 1989 hit “This Time I Know It’s For Real”) failed to reach the gold and platinum status of her previous releases.
Her immersion in born-again Christianity in the mid-’80s also alienated some fans, as did her alleged statements about AIDS being a just punishment for homosexuality.
She later denied those remarks, telling The Advocate in 1989,”I’ve lost a lot of friends who have died of AIDS… people who ran my first album, who were really close to me, beautiful guys … 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 found fresh fans on the dance charts in the 2000s, and in 2008 released Crayons, her first album of originals in nearly two decades. In December 2009, she also performed for President Obama at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo.
Summer, also an avid painter, moved her family from Los Angeles to Nashville in the mid-1990s, and spoke of her desire to move away from the spotlight more than once.
As she told The Advocate in that same 1989 interview,”I learned that everything that brings you success does not bring you joy. It was a hard lesson to learn, because when I was young, I equated success with happiness. For me, success means work."
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