When asked during an interview in 2010 whether she was sick of being known as the “Queen of Disco,” Donna Summer offered the perfect response: “It's great I'm the queen. Look, it’s nice to be the queen of something, darling.”
It was a title she held proudly until her death May 17, 2012, of cancer in Florida. She was 63.
Summer earned her nickname in the old country. Though born in Boston, she moved to Germany in the early 1970s after landing a role in the touring production of “Hair” and eventually settled in Munich. While there, she acted and sang in theater productions and also sang in various pop and rock bands. She married a German man with the last name Sommer, which she changed to Summer.
It was after drawing the attention of forward-thinking Italian producer Giorgio Moroder and hooking up with Neil Bogart’s Casablanca Records that Summer achieved the first of many peaks: the orgasmic disco hit “Love to Love You, Baby,” a controversial 17-minute dance track that featured Summer singing and, most notably, moaning in ecstasy for the duration. The song hit No. 2 on the Billboard singles chart and landed at No. 1 on the dance charts.
Over the next decade Summer was one of the most successful pop singers in the world. The string of hits is impressive: The duet with Barbra Streisand “Enough Is Enough (No More Tears),” “Bad Girls,” “Last Dance,” “On the Radio,” “MacArthur Park” (a take on the mysterious Jimmy Webb classic), and, most important, the classic dance track “I Feel Love.”
Produced with Moroder, “I Feel Love” is one of the defining moments of the disco era and set the stage for not only the techno music that would soon spring from Detroit, but also the proto-house sound of Chicago.
After falling out with Bogart and Casablanca, Summer became the first artist signed to David Geffen’s fledgling Geffen Records, and she continued with a string of strong-sellers. But she wasn’t again able to capture the public’s attention the way that she did from the mid-1970s through the mid-’80s, when she had hits including "She Works Hard for the Money."
Summer continued to tour and record until not long before her death. Her music has appeared on countless movie soundtracks. She also appeared as Aunt Oona in the sitcom “Family Matters” from 1994 to 1997. In 2010, she was inducted into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame.