About Donna Summer, the singer behind 14 top dance & disco hits, including ‘I Feel Love’

Donna Summer with eyeshadow

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Donna Summer burst onto the disco scene in the 1970s with a bang — her four #1 singles all reached the top chart spot within 13 months of each other.

But far more than just a 1970s disco sensation, she had a long, productive, and popular career beyond the death of disco. In fact, although she never had another #1 Hot 100 single after “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)” in 1979, she managed to tally an astonishing 16 #1 singles on the US Dance chart — the last coming in 2010.

In addition to her chart success, Summer picked up twelve Grammy nominations with five wins to show for it, along with two Golden Globe nominations with one win. Three of her albums went Platinum in the US, and 11 went Gold, along with 12 Gold singles.

Donna Summer passed away after a long battle with cancer on May 17, 2012. She was 63.

Donna Summer feels love (1977)

By Michael Quintanilla – San Antonio Express (San Antonio, Texas) June 24, 1977

“OOOOOOOOOOOOooooooohhhhhhhhhh, I feel love, I feel love, I feel love, I feeeeeeeeeeeeelllllllll love.”

These are the sensuous words of sexy, sultry Donna Summer —the newest disco queen since the arrival of Gloria Gaynor three summers ago. Her newest disco smash, “I Feel Love” — a must for disco-goers every night — is doing for disco record sales and discotheques what Gaynor’s “Never Can Say Goodbye” tune did in 1974.

GAYNOR COULD MAKE you dance then with her recycled rock tunes into the popularity of disco beats. Summer can also make you dance, but better yet, she can make you love all over with her melodies of feel it, try it, I know we can make it and love to love you, baby.

Her whispering words of love and sex are simple and sung to the background music of high-voltage Latin-influenced instrumentation. It is that sound, lyrics and music that is in demand. Sex and love sung to disco music is selling — across the board — to teenagers, adults and middle-aged discomaniacs.

Donna Summer publicity photo

I Feel Love – The original by Donna Summer (1977)

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She’s the “Love to Love You” baby

By Bill Thompson – The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) December 15, 1977

She loves being a woman, feels that the feminist movement is ridiculous and thinks it’s about time for people to realize that there’s more to her than “Love to Love You,” the 16 minutes and 50 seconds of orgasmic music on spinning plastic that continues to inundate the national disco scene.

There’s nothing plastic about Donna Summer, however. She’s as alive, attractive and vibrant up close as she is on stage. If people want to think of her as a sexy lady, it’s OK by her, but she’s not going to “put on a negligee to prove it.”

Beautifully dressed in a green beret and green dress, the 27-year-old Casablanca Records recording artist sat talking at a table in a coffee shop in Cherry Hill, not far from the Latin Casino, where she is performing. She ordered a seafood basket, lit a Parliament cigarette, and spoke about Donna Summer the sex symbol and Donna Summer the woman.

“Who is the real Donna Summer?” the interviewer wanted to know. “Here she is,” she answered, “sitting next to you.”

“Are you really that sensuous on stage, or is it merely an act?” She smiled and her eyes sparkle. “When I’m on stage, I feel as sensuous as I sound.”

She said it all started with “Love to Love You,” a song she devised specifically for the American market. The song is mostly suggestive sexual mutterings to a definite disco beat. “It was merely me singing a song that was sensuous,” she said. “Then people categorized that as being me.”

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It wasn’t that way in Germany, she said, where she lived and performed for nine years. There, she sang popular songs, some in German, but most in English. That is a side of her, she added, that Americans haven’t seen.

Born in Boston, Miss Summer (nee Donna Gaines) left home for New York when she was 19 years old to audition to replace Melba Moore in “Hair.” She ended up in the touring company that went to Germany. In Europe, she got parts in other musicals, including “The Me Nobody Knows” and “Porgy and Bess.” She also modeled and became part of the international nightclub scene. Last year she left Germany to live in the United States.

She found a house in Los Angeles for her and Mimi, her 4-year-old daughter, who was born in Germany. The girl’s father is Ilelmut Sommer, an Austrian actor to whom Miss Summer was married, and who still lives there. (She uses her married name, but changed the spelling to “u.”) Leaving Germany to live in the United States hasn’t been easy, she says.

“After being out of the country for so long, I didn’t feel like I was an American,” she said candidly. “I couldn’t relate to anything around me. All of a sudden I was confronted by the color problem and all the things that are indicative of America. “Even some of the entertainment agencies,” she added, “all of a sudden, everything is categorized. But I understand that the men who run the agencies are mostly older and basically politically conservative.”

Besides rediscovering America, she has observed the feminist movement here. She doesn’t like it. “Women are just totally messed up as to exactly where they are,” she said slowly and thoughtfully. “They really want a man to open the door, at the same time they want their total freedom.

“I think I have more respect from all the men I’ve been with than all the women I know, who are into ‘I want my equal rights.’ I have my equal rights. You’re either liberated in your mind, or you’re not.” She paused to bite into a breaded shrimp.

How to do disco dancing moves from the '70s: The Hustle, Bump, Walk, Foxy Trot and more

“You know,” she continued, “the women who said they wanted to be protected by a man were the first ones to establish the woman outside the home. In many ways, women are more chauvinistic than men. They’re more demanding.

“Basically,” she added, “it’s a one-on-one thing. You must deal with it, and not 60 women behind you. At the last minute, you’re the one who’s going to get in bed with that person, not them. The bottom line is, he’s still a man and you’re still a woman.”

Donna Summer on Right On magazine cover

Donna Summer: Hot Stuff (1979)

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Donna Summer: Last Dance

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She Works Hard for the Money (1983)

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