Wednesday, 7 March 2012


Summer: "Disco is joyful music" (Photo Courtesy Sony BMG)

May 17, 2012 UPDATE: Donna Summer died of cancer this morning in Florida at age 63. Read Bugs' Donna Summer obituary in Daily Xtra.

Bugs' original interview with Donna Summer ran in Three Dollar Bill on July 3, 2008.

Donna Summer remembers the day she discovered Love to Love You Baby was number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. She was returning to America from Germany in 1975 and was being picked up at the airport by the late Neil Bogart, the Svengali behind Casablanca Records.

"I was elated!" Donna Summer tells me. "I got off the plane and stepped into the limousine. Neil closed the door and we heard the first beats of Love to Love You Baby come on the radio."

Then Donna Summer begins to sing Love to Love You Baby to me on the phone. I just about die and go to disco heaven.

"The driver had no idea that song was mine," Summer laughs. "The song became a smash!"

So big, in fact, that Summer singlehandedly brought disco out of the gay and black underground nightclubs into the mainstream, becoming the ultimate disco diva of the era.

"People continue to love disco because it’s joyful music," Summer explains.

But Summer was always more than just disco.

The Boston-born beauty learnt her vocal chops singing gospel music in church, then auditioned – along with 300 other aspiring singers – for a part in the musical Hair in NYC. She won a role in the German production, moved to Munich and became a huge star in Europe.

Then she met producer Giorgio Moroder, the man who recorded Love to Love You Baby (with lyrics by Donna); 1977′s monumental I Feel Love, the gay anthem that laid the groundwork for the techno revolution of the ’80s and ’90s; and 1979′s number 1 disco duet No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) with Barbra Streisand.

The rest, as they say, is history, and Summer went on to sell over 130 million records.

Summer left Casablanca for Geffen Records – going from the hands of one Svengali (the late Neil Bogart)  into another’s (David Geffen would pair Summer with producer Quincy Jones) – after she won the first-ever Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal for Hot Stuff in 1980.

"Awards are not important in and of themselves," Summer says, then jokes, "Though I do pick up a bottle of water sometimes thinking of getting a tenth Grammy!"

Then came the homophobic "disco sucks" backlash. Disco, mainstream America made very clear, is cocksucker music.

"The real animosity between rock and disco lay in the position of the straight white male," music critic Peter Braunstein once astutely opined in the Village Voice. "In the rock world, he was the undisputed top, while in disco, he was subject to a radical decentring. Only by killing disco could rock affirm its threatened masculinity."

Along the way the disco backlash claimed many careers.

For Summer, the attack was double-barrelled. In the early 1980s an urban myth claimed Summer made anti-gay remarks, that AIDS was divine retribution from God, and many gay clubs banned her music.

Summer issued a press statement in 1984 denying any homophobic statements. But in 1991 New York Magazine printed a two-paragraph item in their gossip column rehashing the rumours, concluding "it’s incomprehensible that she won’t retract those statements."

Summer sued the magazine for libel for $50-million and settled out of court.

"It was awful, especially since none of it was true," Summer says today. "But I can’t hunt these people down. In this business people write stuff about you all the time and I can’t control everything."

Today Summer continues to embrace her gay fans. But what is it about Donna Summer that gay men love? Is it the big voice? The big personality? The big hair?

"People ask me this all the time and I tell them it’s not about how I look," Summer replies, "It’s that I love you back. It’s about love. I have an ability to bring gay and straight people together [at my concerts] and [it's] all about the love."

In 2008, 17 years after the New York Magazine battle of 1991, the same year she recorded her last album of original music, Summer released Crayons (Burgundy Records/Sony BMG), her critically hailed album of original material that featured the number 1 Billboard dance hit Stamp Your Feet and the aptly named track The Queen Is Back in which Summer name-checks her old hits On the Radio and Love to Love You Baby.

"I’m poking fun at myself," Summer says. "The title is tongue-in-cheek!"

But Donna Summer – who turns 64 this December, has three children as well as three grandchildren ("I’m a grandmom!") and whose most recent single To Paris With Love topped the U.S. Billboard Dance Chart in August 2010  – admits she can be something of a diva.

"I think I’m a diva in the theatrical sense [on stage]," the Queen replies. "But not in my personal life. There is a big separation between who I am and what I do, and I do it well."

Click here for Donna Summer’s official website.


  1. I have always loved Donna since the age of 9. I Don't know why the voice from the first song I heard, I Feel Love, would penetrate my psyche the way it did, but it hasn't gone away yet.
    I've always had a lot of love for Donna mainly because she reminds me of a more glamorous version of my mother. What centers her is her integrity to herself and her craft. We may not understand all the aspects of it, but she is true to herself and will come through in the end. She is who she is without pretense or marketing - and you can either take it or leave it.

  2. Did this interview garner any information about any new releases from Donna? A good while back, she mentioned two new albums, but they have not appeared. Any news, Richard?

  3. Yeah get us some scoop on new material. We are all waiting!

  4. NIce little interview. The only thing missing is any info about what The Diva is up to and if she's releasing anything new. We want more Summer!

  5. I love her. When is she dropping a new cd?

  6. Yes we are all looking forward to her new material, an album of standards done in the unique Summer way would do nicely.

  7. Donna is 100% beauty, no one else comes any where close.

  8. The sweetness, the big hair, yes, the big voice. The voice of love. No, I can't get over her either. I listen carefully, and I squint my eyes, so I can see who she is to mother, my lover, yes, of course, my fairy God mother...So I just love, on and Donna Summer...on and on...

  9. Donna is the Queen of Dance Music because no other voice can compare. The power and the passion in her vocals and lyrics ring true. No Madonna or Kylie, or todays girls who cannot sing, have Donnas talent, class or style. Im not holding my breath waiting for a new album after the last one took 18 years.

  10. Summer is simply the best. I wish more people would read this interview and forever put the nasty "rumor" to death.

  11. Donna is truly legendary. Her voice as strong today as yesterday. She will go down in history as one of the most influential artists in music history. She changed the way we listen to dance music and brought the straights and gays together.

  12. I hope this finally buries the stories that Donna Summer deserted her gay fans when she became a born again Christian.

    She knew I was gay when I met her in 2004 on a UK breakfast TV show.....and as a hardcore fan I knew that she is a very private person who keeps the industry at arms length. I gave her a big smile and extended my right hand and said it was very nice to meet her....and she did the same right back. And thank you Donna for signing my album.

    Love you always and can't wait for the new material!!!

    Dave xxx

  13. Would be great to get some new material. Always a lot of talk but nothing ever really comes of it. Also what about a European tour ? Donna seriously ought to consider this whilst people still remember who she is. Donna is lucky to have such loyal & patient fans

  14. I echo all the comments, she's wonderful just wonderful. That duet with Seal on David Foster and friends was fantastic, and what about that peformance of Last Dance, the best I've ever seen. Carry on Donna.


  16. Did you pre-order your copy of Love to Love You Donna?


    Thanks so much for this. It still warms my heart, even though my soul was ripped apart. sigh ...