The Queen of Disco, Donna Summer has died at the age of 63 in Florida. According to the website TMZ, Summer had been battling cancer, although no cause of death was immediately available. She certainly kept her struggle quiet. Most of her fans were unaware of her illness and only knew that she was hard at work on a new album.
The deeply religious Summer’s family issued the following statement: “While we grieve her passing, we are at peace celebrating her extraordinary life and her continued legacy. Words truly can’t express how much we appreciate your prayers and love for our family at this sensitive time.”
Summer was born LaDonna Adrian Gaines on December 31, 1948 and gained fame in the 1970s with a string of classic disco hits, including “Love to Love You Baby”, “Bad Girls”, and “Hot Stuff”. She helped usher in the era of the music video with “On the Radio” and “She Works Hard for the Money”, one of the first long-form “story videos” that would inspire the likes of Janet Jackson. During her 40-year career, she scooped five Grammy Awards, and her last single, “To Paris with Love”, topped theU.S.dance chart in 2010.
Summer placed a Top Forty hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in every year from 1976 (“Love to Love You Baby”) to 1984 (“There Goes My Baby”) and was the first artist to score three consecutive number-one double albums.
She is survived by her husband of nearly 32 years, singer and producer Bruce Sudano and their daughters, actress Brooklyn and Amanda. Summers also had another daughter, Mimi, from a previous marriage.
Personally, I wasn’t ever much of a disco fan, but one couldn’t help but appreciate her beautiful mezzo-soprano voice honed in gospel choirs and musical theater.
Unless you lived through the disco era, you can’t imagine the impact her music had, particularly on the gay community. I have friends who remained devoted fans to this day and are absolutely devastated by her passing. Summer had family ties to Boston and played here often over the years, especially during Pride Week. I have one friend in particular who never missed a performance and even skipped work one day when Summer was in town to help open her brother’s chicken restaurant, so that he could see her. He has every album, every single she ever recorded and autographed pictures reside in frames around his apartment. To a gay kid growing up in a tough neighborhood, Donna Summer was an icon whose music represented joy and exultation in the freedom to be himself. When this certain friend was at Vanderbilt Law School he ran into his idol, who had moved with her family to Nashville in the early 90’s, in a grocery store. With every ounce of restraint he could muster, and even though he’d spoken to her on numerous other occasions in a fan setting, he quietly said, “Hello, Mrs. Sudano”. She gave him a shy smile and returned the greeting, letting him know she appreciated his discretion and respect for her privacy. It’s his favorite anecdote about his favorite singer.
Turn on the radio or television in the next few days and you will probably hear this song quite a bit, but I cannot think of another more appropriate to mark Summer’ s passing:
If you’re so inclined, in lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in the singer’s honor to the Salvation Army.
RIP Mrs. Sudano.