Remembering Disco Queen Donna Summer

May 18, 2012
Originally published on May 18, 2012 4:49 pm



Let's take a moment, now, to remember Donna Summer. She died of cancer yesterday at age 63.


The Boston native, a 10-year-old soloist in her church choir, grew up to make music that defined the dance floor, the poolside, and the beach in the 1970s and '80s.


DONNA SUMMER: (Singing) Bad girls, talking 'bout the sad girls. Sad girls, talking 'bout bad, bad girls, yeah.

GREENE: And she was known as the Queen of Disco.

DANYEL SMITH: Man, she wore that crown. She wore that crown.

GREENE: Danyel Smith is the former editor at Billboard and Vibe magazine. She's working on a book about Africa-American women in pop music.

INSKEEP: Smith said Summer's style could change completely within a single song. She might start a tune as a slow, powerful ballad...

SMITH: And then turn on a dime, and she's in disco mode and you are dancing and shaking and the beats go and her voice rises. And it's like some people can't even do that at all. And she did it without blinking a false eyelash.

GREENE: But if she was donning false eyelashes and sequined gowns, performing under disco balls, she was taking in the other sounds. Here's Summer in a 2003 interview with WHYY's FRESH AIR with Terry Gross.


SUMMER: You know, the Doors, the Stones, the Beatles, I listen to a lot of stuff. I also listen to country music, you know, and classical music and jazz music. So, you know, I listen to everything because I feel that music is on all levels a part of us in a lot of ways, and I don't like to exclude things.


SUMMER: (Singing) She works hard for the money. So hard for it, honey. She works hard for the money so you better treat her right.

GREENE: Before her death at 63, Donna Summer had come a long way from her beginnings in Boston where she was born in 1948. As a kid, people knew her by her given name, LaDonna Adrian Gaines.

INSKEEP: She was raised on gospel music and when she became that child soloist in the church choir, people recognized her talent. Many years later she told an interviewer people would lend me money and tell me to pay it back when I got famous.


SUMMER: (Singing) So let's dance the last dance. Let's dance the last dance. Let's dance the last dance tonight. Last dance. Last dance for love. Yes, it's my last dance for romance tonight. Oh, I need you by me, beside me to guide me...

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.