Donna Summer (b. December 31, 1948) is a rarity in the 1970s disco scene because her career began before the disco explosion, and continued afterward. Though much of her material is perceived as horribly dated today, some of her work is still critically acclaimed; she remains one of the few disco artists accepted by modern rock critics.
Born LaDonna Andre Gaines in Boston, Massachusetts, Summer began performing in her church's choir, then joining a rock group called the Crow. After graduating high school, Summer moved to New York City to act and sing, eventually moving to Europe to act in a German production of Hair, eventually joining a Hair company in Vienna, Austria and then, the Viennese Folk Opera.
After resettling in Munich, Germany, summer married Helmut Sommer ("Summer" is an anglicization of his last name) and did various musical jobs in studios and theatres for several years. In 1971, Summer released "Sally Go 'Round the Roses", her first solo recording. The single was unsuccessful, however, and Summer had to wait until 1974 to launch a solo career. In that year, she, Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte (who met assisting Three Dog Night in the studio) worked together to produce "The Hostage", a European hit. Lady of the Night, Summer's first LP, was releasing in 1975 in Europe. With the album sales not terribly high, Summer recorded "Love to Love You Baby" (a reworking of "Je T'aime... Moi Non Plus" by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin), which was huge European hit. Casablanca Records soon began distributing the album in the United States, and it became a sensation there as well. This was followed by an album, Love to Love You Baby, critically acclaimed then and now, notable for including a seventeen minute version of the titular hit. This established a pattern that made Summer almost unique in the disco world: she focused just as much, if not more, on full-length albums instead of singles.
Love Trilogy (1976) and the concept album Seasons of Love (1976) were hits, though not as popular as Love to Love You Baby. I Remember Yesterday (1977) included the memorable hit single "I Feel Love", the first hit song recorded with an entirely synthesized backing track. This song, which became a major hit, is enormously influential in the development of disco, electronica and techno music.
Once Upon a Time was released soon after I Remember Yesterday; it was another concept album, concerning the fairy tale of Cinderella. After acting (and releasing a Grammy-winning song on the soundtrack) in the comedy Thank God It's Friday, Summer released a live album Live and More, which became another smash hit album and included a cover of "MacArthur Park". Summer's songwriting was shocased on Bad Girls (1979), which included a hit single in the title track, as well as "Hot Stuff". When a greatest hits album, On the Radio, became a #1 hit, Summer was the first artist with three consecutive #1 double albums. Summer then decided to leave Casablanca and sign to Geffen Records, then just starting up.
Her first Geffen album was The Wanderer (1980), which included more rock and roll and R&B influences. Her follow-up, I'm the Rainbow, was not released until 1996 because Summer did not think it was good enough. Dropping Moroder and Bellotte, her long-time songwriters, Summer worked with Quincy Jones on her later music, including the smash hit She Works Hard For the Money, which included a well-remembered hit in the title track.
Summers career began to slow down drastically in the mid 1980s. Her last major single was "This Time I Know It's For Real" (from Another Time & Place) and dismissed her earlier, disco material as "sinful". A series of albums in the 1990s revealed no major hits, though a few songs appeared briefly on the dance charts.