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Disco Queen Donna Summer dies at 63
Donna Summer was a five-time Grammy winner who became a superstar in the 1970s with hits such as "Love To Love You Baby," "Last Dance," "Hot Stuff" and "Bad Girls."
The New York Times
Donna Summer, one of the most influential singers of the disco era, died Thursday. She was 63.
The cause was cancer, said publicist Brian Edwards, who added that Ms. Summer died at her second home in Naples, Fla.
Ms. Summer was a five-time Grammy winner who became a superstar in the 1970s with hits such as "Love To Love You Baby," "Last Dance," "Hot Stuff" and "Bad Girls."
She was a talented vocalist trained in the gospel tradition whose consistent success on the pop charts was rivaled at the time only by the Bee Gees. In the 1980s, she continued to score hits with songs such as "She Works Hard for the Money" and "This Time I Know It's for Real."
Her collaborations with producer Giorgio Moroder in the 1970s broke new ground for dance music and have been influencing the genre ever since. Few vocalists could match the eroticism she brought to some of her best recordings, which for many fans came to define the disco era.
It had been decades since Ms. Summer was the Disco Queen, with her glittery gowns, long eyelashes, luxurious hair and sultry vocals. She was as much a part of the culture as disco balls, polyester, platform shoes and the music's pulsing, pounding rhythms.
Her music gave voice to a musical revolution and a cultural one at a time sex, race, fashion and drugs were being explored and exploited with freedom like never before in the United States.
Her rise was inseparable from disco's, even though she remained popular for years after the genre she helped invent had died.
LaDonna Adrian Gaines was born Dec. 31, 1948, and raised in the Boston area. She learned to sing in church in a gospel choir and as a teenager performed in a short-lived psychedelic rock group called the Crow.
After high school, she moved to New York and soon landed a role in a German production of "Hair."
In Europe, while Ms. Summer was working as a studio vocalist, she met Moroder and Pete Bellotte, another producer. Collaborating with them, she recorded "Love To Love You Baby," the 17-minute single released in 1975 that became a major disco hit and by year's end had crossed over to the pop and R&B charts.
Her career skyrocketed after release of the song, on which she moaned and sang in a breathy, seductive voice.
She went on to record 19 No. 1 dance hits from 1975 to 2008, a record she shares with Madonna. Ms. Summer's albums also sold millions of copies.
She was the only artist to have three consecutive double-LPs rise to the top spot on the albums chart with "Live and More," "Bad Girls" and "On the Radio: Greatest Hits: Volumes I and II."
As some disco stars started to fade by the early 1980s, Ms. Summer ended her partnership with Moroder and tried to reinvent her sound, exploring pop-rock and new-wave beats on her album "The Wanderer."
Then she moved back into post-disco urban R&B style with 1983's "She Works Hard for the Money." The title track became a smash hit and a feminist anthem.
In 1980, she sued her management for mishandling her career and ended her association with Casablanca Records, signing with Geffen Records. In the mid-1980s, she became a born-again Christian and found herself embroiled in a controversy after she was accused of saying the AIDS epidemic was God's revenge on homosexuals. She denied she made the comments but became the target of a boycott.
The momentum of her career slowed in the late 1980s, and she scored her last major success in 1989, when she hired a British production team to make the Top 10 single "This Time I Know It's for Real," which appeared on the album "Another Place & Time." About the same time, she began criticizing her earlier disco songs as "sinful."
In the mid-1990s she moved to Nashville and stopped making albums, although she did win a Grammy when she reunited with Moroder for the 1997 single "Carry On." It wasn't until 2009 that she produced another studio album, the energetic and eclectic "Crayons."
Religion played an important role in her life in later years.
"She was very committed to God, spirituality and religion," said Michael Levine, who briefly worked as her publicist. "Her passion in her life, besides music, was God, spirituality and religion."
Ms. Summer married twice. Her first marriage in the early 1970s to Helmuth Sommer, an Austrian actor she had met in Europe, ended in divorce; they had a daughter, Mimi. After the breakup, she kept an Anglicized version of Sommer's surname and became Donna Summer.
In 1980, she married Bruce Sudano, lead singer of Brooklyn Dreams. They had two children, Brooklyn and Amanda. She is survived by her husband and three daughters.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.