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Donna Summer was a singer-songwriter who became the "Queen of Disco" in the 1970s with such hits as "Love to Love You Baby," "I Feel Love" and "Last Dance."
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Donna Summer, the Disco Queen, is lauded for both her singing and songwriting by DIck Clark, Giorgio Moroder and others.
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Singer-songwriter Donna Summer, known as the "Queen of Disco," was born on December 31, 1948, in Boston, Massachusetts. She died on May 17, 2012 at age 63, after a years-long battle with cancer.
Donna Summer was born Donna Adrian Gaines on December 31, 1948, in Boston, Massachusetts. Her father, Andrew Gaines, was a butcher and her mother, Mary Gaines, was a schoolteacher. From nearly the moment she learned how to talk, Donna sang ceaselessly. "From the time she was little, that's all she really did," her mother recalled. "She literally lived to sing ... She used to go through the house singing, singing. She sang for breakfast and for lunch and for supper."
Summer's debut performance came one Sunday when she was 10 years old, when a singer scheduled to perform at her church did not show up. The priest, who knew from her parents Summer's fondness for singing, invited her to perform instead—expecting, at the least, an amusing spectacle. But to everyone's surprise, the voice that bellowed out of Donna Summer's tiny body that Sunday morning was overwhelmingly powerful and beautiful.
"You couldn't see her if you were beyond the third row," her father remembered. "But you could hear her." Summer recalled, "I started crying, everybody else started crying. It was quite an amazing moment in my life & and at some point after I heard my voice come out I felt like God said to me, 'Donna, you're going to be very, very famous.' And I just knew from that day on I was going to be famous."
Summer attended Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Boston, where she starred in the school musicals and was very popular. She was also something of a troublemaker as a teenager, sneaking out to parties to circumvent her parents' strictly enforced curfew. In 1967, at the age of 18, only weeks before her high school graduation, Summer auditioned for and was cast in a production of Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical scheduled to run in Munich, Germany. Overcoming her father's initial objections, she accepted the part and flew to Germany with her parents' reluctant approval. Summer learned to speak fluent German within a few months, and after Hair finished its run, she decided to remain in Munich, where she appeared in several other musicals and worked in a recording studio singing backup vocals and recording demo tapes.
In 1974, still in Munich, Summer recorded her first solo album, Lady of the Night, which scored a major European hit with the single "The Hostage" but failed to crack the American market.
That same year, Summer married German singer Helmuth Sommer. She adopted an anglicized version of his last name as her stage name, which she kept even after the couple divorced in 1976.
In 1975, Summer co-wrote and recorded a demo version of a seductive disco track called "Love to Love You Baby," initially intending it for another artist.
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Women became the center of the 1970s mainstream, from The Runaways and Heart to Fleetwood Mac and Donna Summer. The gains of the feminist movement throughout the 70s enabled women working in all areas of the music industry to assume more control over their careers.
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When musicians land big fame, there typically comes a moment of reinvention in which the "rock star" identity is born. This new persona often requires a new name, a way to differentiate between the private and public versions of themselves. Musical monikers take different forms, from the simple, last-name changes aimed at boosting celebrity appeal—like Steven Tyler—to the glamorized version of a childhood nickname—like Jay-Z. Musicians' nicknames and aliases tend to take on an identity all their own over time, often becoming as full of personality as the artists they represent.
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