Donna Summer (1948-2012): Disco queen was a pioneer pop crossover diva


By Dwight Hobbes

Contributing Writer


Iconic performer Donna Summer (neé LaDonna Adrian Gaines) succumbed to lung cancer May 17. Immortalized as pop music’s preeminent disco diva, Summer, a powerhouse vocalist and successful songwriter, achieved prominence in the late 1970s. Her style, a mezzo-soprano voice with fluid phrasing, still is distinct, inimitable.

Summer was a contemporary to Natalie Cole and broke the ground crossover phenoms Cole and Whitney Houston trod to international fame. A five-time Grammy Award winner, she was the first solo artist to notch three consecutive double albums on the U.S. Billboard chart, Once Upon A Time, Bad Girls, and Live and More — four, if you include the compilation On the Radio: Greatest Hits Volumes I & II. She also hit with four number-one singles, “MacArthur Park,” “Hot Stuff,” “Bad Girls” and “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough),” in the U.S. within little more than a year, the first female artist to accomplish this feat. “Last Dance,” in 1978, garnered an Academy Award for Best Song.

During her illustrious career, Donna Summer enjoyed the enviable status of having worked with such highly sought producers as Quincy Jones, Michael Omartian and Giorgio Moroder. She wrote “Love to Love You Baby” with songwriter-producer Pete Bellotte. Giorgio Moroder convinced her to cut it singing lead. Released in 1975, it launched the veteran vocalist to superstardom as the “Queen of Disco.”

She Works Hard for the Money, her 11th studio album, released in 1983, served as a veritable swan song. The disc was her biggest hit of the decade, yielding the major hit “She Works Hard for the Money” and “He’s a Rebel.”

Donna Summer died at her home in Naples, Florida at age 63. She is survived by her husband Bruce Sudano, their daughters Brooklyn and Amanda, and her daughter Mimi from her first marriage.

Photo of Donna Summer courtesy of

Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.