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Category:    Home > Essays > Music > Disco > Dance > Club > Soul > Pop > Biography > Industry > The Legacy Of Donna Summer

The Legacy Of Donna Summer


By Nicholas Sheffo



2012 is not even half-over as I write this and the seemingly unprecedented loss of unforgettable music talent is as unbelievable as it has ever been.After getting over the shock and loss of Whitney Houston, many performers you have heard but would not know their names and Adam Yauch of The Beastie Boys, Donna Summer is now gone at the age of 63 from cancer.She did not reveal it while she was going through it, but suddenly, another one of the most successful music artists ever was gone.Without her, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Janet Jackson would not have had the careers they had and though she was The Queen of Disco and an international music icon, Summerís success and legacy foes far and beyond her peak.If anything, she had much more to offer musically.


When she first charted, no one had ever heard anything quite like her in her singing, the electronic nature of her productions by Giorgio Moroder or anyone deal with sexuality and relationships the way her music did.Soon, she was setting sales records for women and for all time in the business.The 17-minutes-long version of Love To Love You Baby established the last great vinyl record format internationally, the 12-inch extended single.The hits success Diana Ross was having and was expected to explode in even larger ways was suddenly eclipsed by Summer for a few very big years, who also managed to eclipse just about every other female performer out there.Summer joined and in some respects replaced Ginger Rogers as the ultimate female dance and dance floor icon.As soon as sampling began, her hits were at the top of the list and that never stopped, making Summer the most sampled and licensed female music artist of all time by the millions and possibly the most sampled of all time.No DJ worth anything can be at a club without her music and be taken seriously.


But there was more.Summer was the peak of feminism in music and the ultimate peak of the women of music who continued to have hits (Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Barbra Streisand, Tammy Wynette) and new singers with huge success on the charts (Helen Reddy, Roberta Flack) and from the singer/songwriter movement (Carole King, Joni Mitchell) all moving into that direction.This was a woman who was bold, uncompromising and could sing in an amazing range.


It is no surprise then that she would have an insanely huge duet with Streisand in the form of No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) and be the first woman to sell as many millions of albums as she did singles like no female artist ever had before.She was also an early watershed success in what was then known as being a crossover artist, with her songs doing as well on the Pop charts as the Soul chart, but then she dominated the Dance/Club charts like no one ever had before (even Crayons, her last studio album in 2008, had three #1 hits and To Paris With Love was a #1 dance single in 2010!) and was so successful that she would quickly go mainstream enough to even have adult contemporary hits.The sales were massive and made money for more than just her and her label, but the whole big money disco movement would have never happened in the big way it did without her.


She was a new artist then, constantly coming up with something new, fresh, daring and the frenzy for her and her work was massive.Four of her 20 Top 40 hits were #1s including the Streisand duet, which was a huge event since Streisand was considered so elusive, exclusive and every one of her albums had become major music events upon release being a perfectionist and all, while three of her Top 40 albums did the same, but the big news there is it was the first and only time in chart history three double albums had done that for one artist and back to back at that.As for Dance/Club #1s, only Madonna has more, but some Summer material may still get released.She is also the only artist to have three double albums be #1 hits back to back and they were massive sellers, not to mention all their singles.


Yet, there is something more than the multiple millions of records and other music formats sold, more than the download sales, more than the chart records, the sampling records, the diva image and all the statistics that will be repeated for a long time.There was the woman, who had her personal problems and dealt with them.A lady who could sing with a freshness and new kind of energy in her phrasing that it made most female singers sound dated.There was also a heart and soul to her singing and even a formidable actress playing various characters in her songs.Think of the streetwise lady of the night in Bad Girls, how different yet totally convincing the sexually interested woman of Love To Love You Baby was from Hot Stuff, yet she was totally, completely believable in both cases.


It was this same voice that more than met the challenge of moving into new genres from the Hip Hop influenced tracks on Crayons that shockingly none of which crossed over to the other charts to the practically anti-Reagan plea for the respect of blue collar woman in She Works Hard For The Money to the New Wave/Dance triumph of This Time I Know Itís For Real to the funky dance smash Love Is In Control (Finger On The Trigger) to her coy song Romeo for the Flashdance soundtrack to her underrated spiritual and soulful triumphs State Of Independence and The Woman In Me. Summer was always underrated, underappreciated and that total comeback might have been just around the corner with the new album she was working on.


Especially in this era of digital music, we will never see anyone like Summer again or her success will be rare in the future, but at least we have her music and it is always worth revisiting.


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