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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Donna Summer 1948 – 2012

We pay tribute to the undisputed Queen of Disco and five-time Grammy award-winning legend Donna Summer.

Written by Matt Bramford


Donna Summer by Naomi Ryder

Rumours had been circulating all year that undisputed Queen of Disco, matriarch of the 12″ record and five-times Grammy award-winning Donna Summer would perform at London’s Lovebox festival. I bought a ticket in advance and, even when Grace Jones was announced as the headline act, I hoped that Donna Summer would make a surprise appearance and I would finally see one of my favourite artists of all time perform live. So it came as a massive shock to discover (via Twitter as is fast becoming the norm) that the legend had lost her battle with cancer; a battle we didn’t even know she was fighting.


Donna Summer by Sam Parr

Most tributes you’ve read by now probably tell you that LaDonna Adrian Gaines was born on New Year’s Eve 1948, performed in church from the age of ten and moved to Munich in her teens, where she met and married Helmut Sommer – anglicising his name when they split. It was a chance meeting with producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte in Germany that would change Donna Summer‘s life forever.


Donna Summer by Nicola O’prey

It was in 1975 that Donna Summer had the idea for a song with the lyric ‘I love to love you’ and Moroder developed the track for another artist, asking Donna only to record a demo. Rumour has it that Donna asked for the lights to be turned off so she could get into the zone, as it were, and her recorded version was so powerful that Moroder insisted it should be released. Casablanca Records‘ chief Neil Bogart was impressed with the song but felt that discotheques would desire a longer track. Wasting no time, Summer moaned her way through 17 minutes – played in full in clubs – and the 12″ record was born.

In 1977, Moroder got his synthesiser out, and with Donna Summer created, in my opinion, one of the greatest dance records of all time – I Feel Love. This song is THIRTY FIVE years old. Its hypnotic beat and Summer‘s ethereal vocals are an impeccable match. The video’s elegant and raunchy simplicity makes it timeless. It makes my knees knock even now.


Donna Summer by Gemma Champ

A string of Summer/Moroder hits and albums followed: I Remember Yesterday featured dance floor classic Love’s Unkind (see below) and I Feel Love; Once Upon a Time has my favourite photograph of Summer that many of our illustrators have used as a source. The end of the seventies saw Summer trying to break from disco with album Bad Girls, featuring some of my favourite records ever – the title track and Dim All The Lights and the infamous Hot Stuff, for which Donna won the Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal (making her the first woman and first African-American to win a Rock performance Grammy). You could argue, considering that this category was created the year Donna Summer won, that it was created especially for her – it would have been criminal if she hadn’t won for this incredible performance.


Donna Summer by Inês Neto dos Santos

It’s at this point where things go a bit grey. Tensions rose with Casablanca Records, eventually parting ways in 1980. Summer renounced her saucy past as a born-again Christian and said that she resented her sex-symbol image and erotic persona. Whatever her reasons, it is my firm belief that nobody can fake an orgasm for 17 minutes with such conviction like on Love to Love You, Baby. I just don’t buy it. Hell, we’ve all had a go, but that breathy performance is definitely not a fake. Also, check her out in the I Feel Love video – she’s hot for that microphone stand and it looks pretty real to me.


Donna Summer by Gemma Champ


Donna Summer by Gilly Rochester

Some pretty ambiguous comments followed about HIV, AIDS and the gay community. Most reports suggest Summer said that AIDS was a punishment for homosexuality. She consistently denied it whenever questioned, but I never felt like she really meant it – her documented responses always skirt around the issue, when really she should have just said ‘ LOOK, I HEART GAYS, THEY BOUGHT MY RECORDS.’ A lot of fans never forgave her, but as has been evident from press coverage, social media and online tributes, it’s her music that we’ll remember her for.


Donna Summer by Sarah Ushurhe


Donna Summer by Claire Kearns

As a tribute, here are five of my favourite Summer songs. Ask me tomorrow and this list would probably change entirely, but here goes anyway:

Last Dance

Last Dance is one of my favourite disco records ever. It introduced a completely revolutionary song structure that, like Dim All The Lights and Enough is Enough after it (see below), began as a ballad before speeding up to the up-tempo mainstay that we love. It received an Oscar, a Golden Globe and earned Donna Summer her first Grammy award for best vocal performance. It’s a beautiful example of the genre at its finest – with disco strings and horns aplenty and Donna soaring vocals.

Love’s Unkind

Love’s Unkind always has me leaping around a dance floor. The lyrics are hilarious – Donna fancies some bloke who fancies her mate, but her mate fancies somebody else – oh, the drama. She’s desperate to cop off with him at the dance but the love rat has already asked her best mate and Donna is left legging it from the school in tears. It’s no sonnet but it’s a camp disco classic that I adore.

Bad Girls

Toot toot, beep beep. Need I say more? Look out for Twiggy’s hilarious cameo in this video.

Enough is Enough (No More Tears)

1979 saw Barbra Streisand‘s melancholic vocals teamed with Donna Summer‘s powerhouse disco sound . Legend has it that Summer went wild the night before and turned up to the recording studio with a terrible hangover, passing out whilst Babs was singing – hence the super long note Barbra delivers before the beat kicks in.

Love to Love You, Baby

I hadn’t got this on my original list, but the burden of not including it was too much. Enjoy 16 minutes 50 seconds (or, according to the BBC‘s statistics department, 23 orgasms) of disco heaven.


Donna Summer by Rebecca Strickson

I haven’t even included Summer‘s epic version of Could it Be Magic, the hypnotising Try Me, I know We Can Make It, the wonderful Dim All the Lights, the epic cover of the bonkers MacArthur Park or Sunset People, On The Radio, I Love You or Love Is In Control. The list is endless. Donna Summer was the Queen of a genre that transformed not only dance music but music as a whole, and continues to influence the greatest producers and performers. I’m sure you’ll agree that all of the songs I’ve mentioned (and more) sound as fresh today as they ever did, and I hope they’ll be continued to be played – now more than ever. Long Live the Queen!

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