She was born LaDonna Adrian Gaines in Boston, Massachusetts, but the world came to know her as Donna Summer. Summer would become a pop culture icon in the 1970s as an innovator of the then-prevalent form of dance music called disco. Summer died today after a lengthy battle with cancer.
Summer was working as a session musician and stage actress in Europe when she met producer Giorgio Moroder. In 1975, she worked with Moroder to produce the controversial “Love to Love You Baby.” The song, which featured minutes of Summer groaning orgasmically set to music, garnered a lot of plays in discotheques across America and rose to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. This started her on the path of stardom, which led to 11 Gold albums, three triple-platinum albums, and five Grammy awards. She became one of the most popular acts of the 1970s and an icon of the Disco era.
In 1978, at the apex of her musical success, Summer co-starred in Thank God It’s Friday. The film, co-produced by the movie arm of her record label, Casablanca Records, told the story of a number of young people whose lives intersect one Friday night at their local discotheque. Summer played Nicole, and aspiring disco singer who performs at the club. While the film was a flop, the song Summer’s character sings, “Last Dance,” became one of her biggest hits.
While her career on screen as an actress was stillborn, her iconic music played an indelible part in the world of film. Her music provided a backdrop for Diane Keaton’s dangerous game of club hopping in Looking For Mr. Goodbar. When filmmakers of works such as Frost/Nixon and Roll Bounce wanted to capture the decade the films took place in, they used Summer’s music to set the stage. Her song, “Bad Girls,” has been used in films such as Picture Perfect to help symbolize a female’s character’s turn to somewhat naughty behavior and her “She Works Hard For Her Money” has been used to help tell the story of a put upon woman in the workplace in Ugly Betty and other films and TV shows.
Donna Summer was 63.