I was totally shocked and devastated yesterday, when I heard the news of Donna Summer’s passing, at just 63 years of age. The label “The Queen of Disco” is one that sticks, but actually Donna was so much more than a disco singer. In my view, she is a vocal stylist, who for a very short time sang disco material, then she took disco by the scruff of its neck and widened and broadened the entire disco category into mainstream pop and rock.

The jarring guitars heard on the intro to her 1979 nr. 1 single “Hot Stuff” marks this point very well. 1979 was a good year for disco, Donna was most certainly THE queen of disco that year, and she chose to make a song like “Hot Stuff” to prove there was more to her musical persona than just disco rhythms and cooing vocals. She was awarded the Grammy for Rock Vocal Performance (Female) that year, beating off competition by much more established rockers like Bonnie Raitt, Carly Simon and Tanya Tucker (who performed a similar entry into rock, but from a country background).

LaDonna Andrea Gaines Sommer Sudano, 1948-2012

When I look back at her 40 years of recording, it’s with much joy and reverence – for a lot of great music, and for a fabulous voice that could easily embrace any style of music. Donna had a special talent for adapting her voice to whatever material she was presented with. Donna ooh’ed and aah’ed her way through mid-70’s stuff like “Love to love you, baby”, “Spring affair” and “I feel love”. When you compare them to the use of her full voice, scaling the octaves on later songs like “There will always be a you”, “I will go with you” and her soulful take on “Don’t cry for me, Argentina”, it seems like two different singers – there’s no vocal similarites at all!

Her early records, like “Wassermann” (a German version of  “Aquarius) and her first album, 1974’s “Lady of the Night” show off a powerhouse voice, giving strong, soulful performances. Then, starting in 1975 she made the first of her orgasmic moaning and groaning disco hits, and she kept it up for a while, then going back to her original full scale voice again, partly on 1977’s “I Remember Yesterday”, and on all of next years “Once Upon A Time…”

So much is said and written about the music and career of Donna Summer, that there’s not a single detail left  that hasn’t been in print already. I will therefore not go into any details about her reccords or any specific song. All aspects of her music can be found on thousands of web sites around the world.

I will however share with you some personal memories of Donna. Way back in 1978, when I was twelve I got my first Donna Summer record. I’d saved some of my pocket money and was about to get myself a new record. For the pricely sum of NOK 49,50 (In 1978 currency, that equals approxim. € 5 today) I trotted off to the big mall near where I grew up and returned home with the LP “Four Seasons of Love”. Inside the LP, all the lyrics were printed, and it also contained a fold-out calendar with Donna dressed according to the four seasons. I still have that LP, and the calendar is still in there too, it was never hung on my wall as I didn’t want tape marks on it!

The back of the “Four Seasons of Love” album pictures Donna in Marilyn Monroe vogue, for the summer season

When Donna appeared at the Red Cross concert at the Momarkedet in Mysen, Norway in 1993, I finally had the chance to see her on stage, and when she exited I was close enough to shout out to her that I loved her music. She turned around and came over to where I was standing. Then she looked me straight in the eyes and said “Thank you darling. I hope you liked my performance here tonight” and then flashed me a big smile. Then she was gone, and her car drove away…. It lasted all of 20 seconds, but it was a truly magical moment!  Me, being completely dumbfounded and momentarily “star struck” didn’t even get around to ask her for an autograph!

Her musical legacy will live on forever, Donna is one of the biggest stars of the 21st century and she made so many great albums for us to enjoy. I think Donna herself said it best, when she wrote in the liner notes to one of her albums: “Wherever you go, take a little Summer with you…” Now, that’s what I call good advice!