Donna Summer, queen of disco, dies at 63


The BBC's David Sillito looks back at Donna Summer's contribution to music

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US singer Donna Summer, famous for disco classics including I Feel Love and Love To Love You Baby, has died at the age of 63.

Summer was one of disco's biggest stars and also had a huge influence on the synth pop and dance music scenes.

Her family said they were "at peace celebrating her extraordinary life and her continued legacy".

Stars including Kylie Minogue, Sir Elton John and Mary J Blige have paid tribute.

R&B singer Blige said on Twitter that Summer was "truly a game changer", while producer Quincy Jones said her voice "was the heartbeat and soundtrack of a decade".

Donna Summer Summer's is known for the global hit I Feel Love

Minogue described her as "one of my earliest musical inspirations", while Dionne Warwick said she was sad to lose a great performer and "dear friend".

Summer, who was reported to have had cancer, had been living in Florida with her husband Bruce Sudano.

A statement from her family said: "Early this morning, we lost Donna Summer Sudano, a woman of many gifts, the greatest being her faith.

"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."

Elton John said Summer was more than the "queen of disco", adding: "Her records sound as good today as they ever did.

"That she has never been inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame is a total disgrace, especially when I see the second-rate talent that has been inducted."

Duran Duran keyboardist Nick Rhodes said: "It's extremely rare that you hear one song that completely changes the way you perceive music. I Feel Love achieved that."

Singer Marc Almond recalled how Summer's work with Italian synthesiser pioneer Giorgio Moroder had "changed the face of music and changed my life".

Donna Summer on American Idol Summer performed on American Idol in 2008

"I Feel Love was a truly original and barrier breaking record, and Now I Need You and Working The Midnight Shift are simply some of the best euphoric electronic tracks ever," he said.

BBC Radio 2 presenter Paul Gambaccini said I Feel Love was "one of the key records in the history of electronic dance music and will always be recognised as such".

Summer grew up in Boston and started singing in her church's gospel choir. Her stage career began in musicals, prompting a move to Germany where she appeared in Hair and Porgy and Bess.

But it was her work with the Moroder that led to her pop breakthrough with Love To Love You Baby in 1975 - the first of 29 UK top 40 singles.

Her expressive vocal style, coupled with Moroder's pulsating rhythms, made the song a big club and chart hit - as well as leading it to be banned by several radio stations for its suggestive overtones.

Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer Giorgio Moroder (right) produced some of Summer's biggest hits

Between 1978-80, her career hit its commercial peak with a string of US hit singles including Last Dance, MacArthur Park, Bad Girls and Hot Stuff.

She won five Grammy Awards and had a further 12 nominations, becoming the first black artist to win a Grammy in a rock category - taking best rock vocal performance for Hot Stuff in 1979.

Her influence stretched across musical boundaries, with Madonna, Whitney Houston and David Guetta among the artists who sampled her, while Bruce Springsteen wrote songs for her.

Producer Pete Waterman, who worked with the singer on tracks including This Time I Know It's for Real in the 1980s, told BBC News: "She was the icing on the cake. We were at the top of our game when we worked with her. She was just fantastic.

"Donna was unique," he added. "Donna did things Donna's way. One of the first things she said to me was, when you work with me, you work on Donna time… She wasn't a diva, she was inspirational. Her talent came from God, she knew she couldn't just turn it on."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    Those who feel the need to use this forum to mark the passing of fellow human being with a mean spirit and derogatory comments say more about themselves than they ever will about Donna Summer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    Interesting aspect of this story is the light it shines on the UK version of the world versus the bigger picture. Actually Donna's biggest success was in the USA in 78/79 with Dim all the Lights, Bad Girls and Hot Stuff, Huge no. 1s but all minor hits in the UK. Still have her vinyl greatest hits double album. Very sad news.

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    When my Wife informed me That Donna Summer had died, it felt as though I'd been punched and I felt really sad, she had such a lovely voice and really great songs were written for her, She has died so young such a terrible shame, who could forget her music being used n The Full Monty it just added that extra special ooomph to what was a funny film and your music will live on. Goodbye. Oliver

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    I have fond memories of watching the Red Hot Chilli Peppers covering ' I Feel Love' at Slaine Castle and provoking the crowd to dance even more than they already were.

    Donna Summer's music crossed genres, we are all poorer for her passing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    Her spirit lives on as her mesmerizing music touches our hearts. Why do such talented souls have such a short tenure on the world stage? Looking back at her life, one marvels at her accomplishments, strength of mind and fearless courage and determination. Here is a lady who reached the pinnacle of music fame. One wonders why such talented beings live such short lives! They had so much to offer!

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    A classic.....Today's 'stars' just dont have that 'quality'. She will be missed and so nice to see someone for a change dying of 'natural' causes rather than self destruction. A class act.

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    Gone? Goodness, her tunes just keep on coming. Many of us grew up with her music ringing in our ears. Missed but very not forgotten.

    Condolences to her family and close friends.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    Someone left the cake out in the rain
    and I don't think that I can take it
    'cause it took so long to bake it
    and I'll never have that recipe again
    Oh, no! (Donna Summer / MacArthur Park)

    RIP The beautiful and incredibly talented Donna Summer

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    A sad loss, someone who really did have talent. ''The Voice'' of disco.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    The Sparks album, Number One In Heaven, one of the truly great synth-pop albums, would never have existed without the work Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder did together. Nick Rhodes and Marc Almond have it spot on; I Feel Love changed everything. The Bee Gees may have launched disco but it was Summer and Moroder who hit the hyperspace button. A true legend. RIP.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    A sad loss...great singer and for me the epitome of 70s disco. Sleep well, Donna, you were superb.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    Another great icon lost ; boy remenber dancing with the girls round their handbags !! RIP

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    @Paul #146 #147 and numerous more posts.

    You should be ashamed of yourself repeating your anti-Donna Summer propaganda.

    This was vehemently denied on many occasions, and no-one has any evidence supporting this myth. Quite to the contrary. Read Elton John's tribute and his tanks for her contributions to the AIDs foundation.

    RIP Donna Summer

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    Great artist who found religion, made stupid homophobic comments about Gods punishment and watched her career tank

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    HEAVEN KNOWS now, in its fold it has one of the greatest musical legend that has influenced not only me and my generation.
    THIS TIME I KNOW IT'S FOR REAL that I will missed the toot toot....hei... beep beep!
    Thank you for the music & memories DONNA!
    R.I.P. You will forever be in my groove.

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    Very sad news about Donna Summer. A number of women black artists changed the way one perceives music in particular the seventies and eighties. Women black artists seem to have an inspiring and exceptional voice, whether it is a ballad or a dance track. Donna I will be listening to your records this weekend to be reunited with fond memories I have about your tracks. Rest in peace dear Donna.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    Yet another so called celebrity dies among the hundreds of thousands of people who died today.
    I loved Donna Summers songs and will remember her through her music.
    Please remember those who didn't reach celebrity status.
    RIP all who passed today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    I feel loooooooo o o o oove great single shame she meant "I feel love" just for me and my church members and shame she allegedly said AIDS was a punishment from God on the gay community... it's the same as saying child cancer is from god because they are children!

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    God bless you Donna, RIP +++ It was because of Donna summer that i brought my first Synth - to make "THAT SOUND" ! I feel love.Thank you for such great tallent, and sounds that never seen "dated" Also thank you for your stance of Gays, anbd not afraid to voice your opinion..

    Point made! She was homophobe but her music was ok! One day this kind of stance will be seen as dated!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    I miss you Donna and your music you were part of my early life.



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