Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Donna Summer, The #11 Female Artist of the Rock Era

We lost her in 2012, but she was so successful that many females are going to be playing catchup for quite awhile. 

LaDonna Gaines was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and loved to sing at an early age.  She was a member of church choir groups, and sang her first solo at age ten.  Gaines attended Jeremiah E. Burke High School, and was set to graduate, when she left for New York City to become the lead singer of the group Crow. (not to be confused with the popular group from Minneapolis of the same name)   

Crow was ignored by the record labels, and split up.  LaDonna instead auditioned for a part in the musical Hair.  She didn't get it, but accepted an offer to star in the Munich production of Hair.

Gaines spent several years in West Germany.  It was there that she met producer Giorgio Moroder, who would be a significant influence and key factor in her success.  She also married Helmuth Sommer, and would later adapt a version of his surname as her stage name.

LaDonna became fluent in German, and starred in the musicals Ich bin ich, Godspell and Show Boat.  Three years later, she moved to Vienna, Austria, and joined the Vienna Volksoper, an opera based on the Grimm's fairy tale.  She toured briefly with a vocal group called FamilyTree.

In 1968, Gaines released her first single, a German version of "Aquarius" from Hair, on Polydor Records, and then covered "Sally Go 'Round The Roses" in 1971 on Decca Records.

Gaines met producers Moroder and Pete Bellotte while singing backing vocals for Three Dog Night at a Munich recording studio.  The three began writing songs in 1974, and LaDonna's demo led to a recording contract with Groovy Records.

She released her first album as Donna Summer, Lady of the Night, which was successful in Europe, with "The Hostage" and "Lady Of The Night" reaching the Top 5 in the Netherlands and Belgium.   

After returning to the United States, Donna co-wrote "Love To Love You Baby". Moroder suggested she sing the song herself, and a copy was sent to Casablanca Records.  Label president Neil Bogart liked the song and Summer signed a recording contract.  In 1975, she released the single, and it climbed to #1 in Canada, #2 in the U.S., #4 in the U.K. and Australia, #5 in Sweden, #6 in Germany and #8 in New Zealand.

The success of her first hit propelled both the single and album to Gold status--one million singles and 500,000 albums sold.  Subsequent singles, while not successful with the mainstream, nonetheless established Summer as one of the early stars of the Disco era.  "Could It Be Magic" was a #3 Dance hit in the United States and #5 in the Netherlands.  "Try Me, I Know We Can Make It", "Spring Affair" and "Winter Melody" all reached #1 on the Dance chart, helping the albums Love Trilogy and Four Seasons of Love to also attain Gold status.

In 1977, Summer released the album I Remember Yesterday, featuring the pulsating single "I Feel Love".  It shot up to #1 in the U.K., Australia and the Netherlands, #2 in New Zealand, #3 in Germany, #4 in Canada, #5 in Sweden.  Charts in America erred in giving the song a peak at #9 when it in fact was a million-seller.  To wit, Summer was nominated for both Favorite Pop/Rock Female Artist and Favorite Soul/R&B Female Artist at the American Music Awards.


I Remember Yesterday became Donna's fourth consecutive Gold album, and it was one of the first concept albums from a female artist.  Later in the year, she released another, Once Upon a Time, which essentially told her own personal story of a modern-day Cinderella who went from rags to riches.  Discos often played two tracks back to back, "Rumor Has It", #19 in the U.K., and "I Love You", #6 in the Netherlands and #10 in the U.K. and Norway, but an extremely underrated #37 in the United States. 


Summer toured the world to promote her new album.  "Fairy Tale High", was another #1 Dance hit, as was the uptempo title track. 


But the ballad also called "Once Upon A Time" might be better.


Later in the year, Summer starred in the movie Thank God It's Friday.  Her single from the soundtrack album, "Last Dance", catapulted to #1 on the Dance chart and #3 overall in the United States, #3 in New Zealand and #4 in Canada.  The song captured both Academy and Golden Globe Awards for Best Song from a Motion Picture.

"Last Dance" revealed what people at the discos had known for years--this was a major talent, one of the brightest stars on the music scene, with one of the most amazing voices popular music has ever known.  Donna won her first Grammy Award for Best R&B Female Vocal Performance for the song.  

Summer continued her hot streak with a remake of "MacArthur Park", a smash #1 in the U.S. and Canada, as well as #4 in New Zealand, #5 in the U.K., #7 in Ireland, and #8 in Australia and the Netherlands.  Summer was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.


Summer released the album Live and More, her first #1 Album and a million-seller that also featured studio tracks such as "MacArthur Park".  Another of the studio songs was "Heaven Knows", which included the group Brooklyn Dreams.  The single topped out at #3 in Canada and #4 in the U.S.

It had been quite a year for Donna.  She punctuated her success with three American Music Awards, taking home trophies for Favorite Disco Female Artist, Favorite Disco Album, and Favorite Disco Single ("Last Dance").  She was also nominated for Favorite Soul/R&B Female Artist.

In 1979, Summer performed at the Music for UNICEF Concert televised worldwide, that raised money for the world's children.  She then set out to work on her next concept album, Bad Girls.  
The project made her one of the hottest stars on the planet.  The fiery "Hot Stuff" was one of the finest examples of Disco Rock, which combined both styles of music into one of the biggest songs of the year in the United States, Canada and Australia, #2 in Sweden and Norway, #5 in Germany and #7 in New Zealand.  Summer won a Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. 


"Hot Stuff" sold over two million singles and remains one of The Top 500 Songs of the Rock Era*, as does her follow-up.  "Bad Girls" also landed at #1 in the United States and Canada, and reached #6 in New Zealand, #8 in Norway and #9 in Germany.  It too went Platinum.  


The album sold over three million copies in the U.S. alone.  "Dim All The Lights", which broke the Rock Era record at the time for the longest-held note, narrowly missed the top spot, peaking at #2 in the U.S., and gave Summer her sixth consecutive Top 5 song.  The single sold over one million units.

Summer earned four other Grammy nominations:  Album of the Year, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Disco Recording (for "Bad Girls"), and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance (for "Dim All The Lights").  She won three more American Music Awards:  Favorite Pop/Rock Female Artist, Favorite Soul/R&B Female Artist, and Favorite Pop/Rock Single (for "Bad Girls").

Summer went on a world tour in 1979, and played eight sold-out concerts at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angles.  She was not known for ballads, but she included one on the Bad Girls album that is one of her best career songs--"On My Honor".


Donna teamed up with Barbra Streisand for a historical duet--"No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)", which gave her a fourth number one song within thirteen months and eight Top 5 songs within two years.  The single also was #1 in Sweden, #2 in Canada, #3 in the U.K. and Norway, #7 in New Zealand and Ireland and #38 in Australia, and earned Summer another Platinum single. 


Donna released her compilation album, On the Radio:  Greatest Hits Volumes I & II.  It reached #1 on the Album chart and sold over two million copies.  Summer recorded a new song for the package, "On The Radio", which sold over one million copies and hit #2 in Canada, #5 in the U.S. and #6 in Norway.  Donna earned another Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

Summer wanted to record other styles of music besides disco, which led to problems with Casablanca Records.  Donna left the label in 1980 and signed with Geffen Records.  Her first album on Geffen, The Wanderer, featured elements of rock, new wave and gospel music.  The album went Gold and included the #3 smash "The Wanderer", also #4 in Canada, #5 in New Zealand, #6 in Australia and #9 in Sweden.

Follow-up singles "Cold Love" and "Who Do You Think You're Foolin'" did not continue the commercial momentum, though the former earned Summer a Grammy nomination for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance at the Grammy Awards. 
Donna turned to producer Quincy Jones for her self-titled album in 1982.  Summer released the single "Love Is In Control (Finger On The Trigger)", which placed at #3 in Canada, #4 in Norway and #10 in the United States.


Although "State of Independence" was only a moderate hit, "The Woman In Me" reached #12 in the Netherlands and an underrated #17 on the Adult Contemporary chart in the U.S.   

Summer also received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Inspirational Performance for "I Believe In Jesus", and another for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance (for "Protection").

Summer still owed Polygram (which had absorbed Casablanca) an album, so she recorded She Works Hard for the Money in 1983.  The title song was a smash, hitting #1 on the R&B chart and #3 overall in the United States, #4 in Canada and Australia, #5 in Sweden and #9 in Norway.  Summer was nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the Grammy Awards and Best Female Video at the MTV Video Music Awards.

Summer also was nominated for Favorite Pop/Rock Female Artist and Favorite Soul/R&B Female Artist at the Academy Awards.  Although the album again was certified Gold, it contained no other big hits.  And Donna's 1984 album Cats Without Claws became her first album since 1974 not to sell over 500,000 copies.  In 1985, Summer sang at the Presidential Inaugural Gala prior to the second inauguration of U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
Donna won Grammy Awards for Best Inspirational Performance for "He's A Rebel" and "Forgive Me".

In 1987, Summer released the album All Systems Go, which did not sell well, and her planned album Another Place and Time was not released by Geffen Records.  Summer left Geffen, and when the album was released in Europe in 1989 on Warner Brothers, the single "This Time I Know It's For Real" became a hit.  This led to Summer signing a contract with Atlantic Records so the album could be released in North America. 

The song reached #2 on the Adult Contemporary chart and #7 overall in the United States, #3 in the U.K. and Norway, #4 in Ireland and #6 in Canada, and became Summer's 12th Gold single.
It was Summer's final Top 40 worldwide hit.  In 1990, she released The Best of Donna Summer.  She then recorded the album Mistaken Identity, featuring eclectic songs that included the styles of R&B and new jack swing. 

Summer toured the world to promote the album, and was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame that year.  In 1993, Polygram released the double album The Donna Summer Anthology, which contains most of Donna's best work on all four record labels.

In 1992, Donna reunited with Moroder to record "Carry On".  Summer signed a new contract with Mercury/Polygram and released the 1994 album Christmas Spirit

Summer then returned to dance music, and began to reel off what would become a string of eight #1 Dance hits.  The first of these was "Melody Of Love (Wanna' Be Loved)".

In 1997, Summer won the first Grammy Award for Best Dance Recording when a remixed version of her 1992 song "Carry On" was released, her fifth career Grammy.  In 1999, Summer starred in the VH1 television special Donna Summer = Live and More Encore

In 2000, Donna was featured in VH1's Divas special.  In 2003, Summer released her autobiography, Ordinary Girl:  The Journey.  The following year, Donna was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame as one of its most successful proponents, and her great song "I Feel Love" was inducted as well.

Summer's domination of the Dance chart continued, with "I Will Go with You (Con te partiro)" and "Love Is The Healer". 

In 2008, she released her first studio album in 17 years, Crayons, on Burgundy Records.  The album reached #17, her best-selling album since 1983.  The songs "I'm A Fire", "Stamp Your Feet" and "Fame (The Game)" all reached #1 on the Dance chart.
In 2009, Summer performed at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway in honor of U.S. President Barack Obama.  The following year, she released the single "To Paris (With Love)", which became another #1 Dance song.  Thirty-four years after she began, Donna was still relevant in popular music and churning out quality songs, truly an amazing achievement.

Donna died on May 17, 2012 in Naples, Florida.  She was diagnosed with lung cancer, believed to have been caused by inhaling toxic particles following the 9/11 murders in New York City.  Reaction was worldwide.  As Liza Minnelli said, "She was a queen, The Queen of Disco, and we will be dancing to her music forever."    Dolly Parton said "Donna was one of the greatest voices ever."  Janet Jackson said "Donna changed the world of music with her beautiful voice and incredible talent."  Quincy Jones wrote that "Donna's voice was the heartbeat and soundtrack of a decade." 

 In 2013, after four previous nominations that would have allowed Donna to enjoy the moment while she was alive, Summer was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Summer had 33 career hits, with 13 reaching the Top 10 and four #1's.  Her worldwide album sales are estimated at 130 million.  She won five Grammy Awards and six American Music Awards in her career.

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