Donna Summer died this morning in Florida after succumbing to lung and breast cancer. Born on New Year's Eve 1948, LaDonna Adrian Gaines was a trained traditional gospel singer who grew up in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. As Donna Summer, she went on to change the landscape of dance music with her mezzo-soprano voice and dazzling smile. Summer, who won five Grammy awards, was the only artist to have three consecutive double albums top the Billboard charts.
Over the course of her career, Summer amassed nineteen number-one dance hits, including "Last Dance," which has been covered by many a gorgeous drag queen. With impeccable vocals and sexually charged lyrics, she blazed a path for all of the divas who came after, seamlessly bridging disco with the soulful sounds of other African-American artists of her time.
Melding her provocative notions into music that was at once sensual, erotic and elegant, Donna Summer was a walking pot of sexuality. On "Love to Love You, Baby," one of her most instantly recognizable hits, Summer reportedly emulated what she believed Marilyn Monroe would've sounded like for the breathy vocals on the track, which was produced by Giorgio Moroder. Turning the song into a seventeen-minute-long audible translation of an orgasm, Summer turned the world on its head with her audacity.
While not old enough for real-time immersion, I vividly remember my mother and cousins dancing, flipping their hair and singing loudly, reminiscing about a time when all they had to do was make a little love and get on down. Disco was the church, and Donna Summer its magical pastor. A woman of strength, drive and ridiculous beauty and talent, she will be sorely missed.
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