“Last Dance”. An appreciation for Donna Summer, the lady who kept the world dancing. Dead at 63. May 17, 2012.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. You don’t just think about Donna Summer… you’ve got to experience her… because when you experience the lady you are liberating yourself… from all your burdens, problems, obstacles and everything else that’s bothering you.
You are on a dance floor. You are young. You are beautiful. You’ve got energy to burn… and every eye sees your every move. Who is the sorceress who makes this magic real?
Her name is LaDonna Adrian Gaines… known to the world who thrilled to her sound as Donna Summer.
Find her in any search engine. Start with “I Feel Love”, her 1977 hit. Turn it on. Turn it up. Close your eyes… the magic is working. You are soaring…. and you are happy. I know… I am dancing with you… 65 and arthritic no longer… but agile… astonishing… alive.
This is the power of our Queen… the Queen of Disco who ruled the nights under a revolving crystal ball… and made us wish the bright light of sunshine would pass… so we could dance again until Dawn.
Is it any wonder a generation millions strong loved her… and why we shall miss her so?
Summer was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and grew up in Dorchester at the other end, the wrong end, of the MBTA Red Line from where I am writing. Her father, Andrew Gaines, was a butcher; her mother Mary a schoolteacher. Her mother later recalled Summer could sing from the time she could talk. “She literally loved to sing. She used to go through the house singing, singing. She sang for breakfast and for lunch and for supper.”
Like every Black diva, Summer’s debut performance occurred at church. She was 10… and in the best traditions of the theatre, she was asked to replace a vocalist who, by failing to show up, allowed serendipity to change history. The priest expected what one usually gets from an untrained singer thrust forward without warning — an utterly forgettable performance. But this is what happened as soon as the congregation heard her voice. As Summer herself remembered:
“I started crying, everybody else started crying. It was quite an amazing moment in my life and at some point after I heard my voice come out I felt like God was saying to me, ‘Donna, you’re going to be very, very famous’ and I knew from that day on that I would be famous.”
She was not overstating the case… quite the reverse. She was more than just “very, very famous.” She became the symbol of a generation in search of ecstasy. Hers was the voice we thrilled to… the voice that gave permission, lowered inhibition, increased libido and made us realize how exciting being young could really be.
And it all took place on a dance floor where we never stopped moving, never stopped flaunting, never stopped showing everyone just how hot we really were. Donna Summer was the Pied Piper… and her voice the instrument of fantasies becoming real under the diamond ball that only stopped when the new day had well and truly dawned, a day that would come alive for you only when you entered the arena of the disco… where your Queen would ignite you and gratify your every desire.
But she needed that first big break…
Like most recording artists, it took Summer a while to discover herself, her genius, her unique sound. In 1967, she started her trek… dropping out of Boston’s Jeremiah E. Burke High School (where she was something of a troublemaker) for the Big Apple, only a 45 minute air flight but a world away from the place she knew. She always claimed her love of Boston but The Hub of the Universe was unable to provide her with the platform she needed to strut her stuff. But she didn’t make it in Manhattan either, just yet.
Her first break took place when she got a part in the counter cultural musical “Hair” and made the scene in — Munich, Germany, then as now a comfortable place to do things that annoyed and outraged the folks back home. Summer liked German men; they liked her. She married one (Helmuth Sommer by whom she had a daughter, Mimi); dallied with others. She was living the life she would later make famous in her records…
Then The Break.
In 1975, after numerous attempts at being “discovered” and some limited success in Europe, Summer gave producer Giorgio Moroder the line that changed not just her life but the entire world… that line was “love to love you, baby”. Moroder and Summer developed the concept. He put her in front of the mike where she thought of Marilyn Monroe, cooing the lyrics . She told Moroder to turn off the lights while they sat on a sofa, the resulting moans and groans her solid-gold passport towards becoming a cultural icon.
Every record producer spends every waking moment looking for the infuriatingly elusive “sound” that rains gold. Moroder knew at once that Donna Summer had given him just what he wanted. He sent the tape at once to Casablanca Records president Neil Bogart, in hopes of getting a prompt American release. Bogart knew his business, too; he wanted a longer, disco rendition. And he got it… and so the notorious 17-minute dance version was born… The album sold over a million copies. Parents, moralists, the good people of every community were vehement, outraged by every groan, every moan. This ensured its enormous success… and launched a Diva who legitimized every desire on the dance floor… and off.
“There is a tide in the affairs of men…”
Summer was no Shakespearean scholar (she had better things to do at Jeremiah Burke), but Shakespeare was ready for the crazy, glorious, money-drenched life she was about to have:
“There is a tide in the affairs of men/ Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life/Is bound in shallows and in miseries/ On such a full sea are we now afloat;/ And we must take the current when it serves/ Or lose our ventures.” (“Julius Caesar”).
You didn’t have to say that twice to this girl. She was ready, too….
And so with her mezzo-soprano vocal range she spun gold records like child’s play, got 5 Grammy Awards, had three consecutive double albums reach Number One on the U.S. Billboard chart, and more, more, more. And she did it without cracking up, stooping down, embarrassing herself or her genius. With Donna Summer it was always about the music… and she gave her legions of fans what they wanted… the best dance music on earth driven by a primal beat and a come-hither voice that promised everything and delivered… more.
Disco dies… Summer doesn’t.
Not only was she blessed with talent but more importantly she was blessed by her team… the people who made sure LaDonna Gaines became and stayed Donna Summer. They ensured that when disco died, Summer didn’t. Disco became a historic moment, totally self-indulgent and rather silly. Summer changed the beat… stepped out of the tableau that made her rich and famous to stay on top and relevant in the 1980′s and beyond. Only one honor eluded her. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame declined to induct her; it was churlish — and telling. For Donna Summer was always sweet, a helper, the girl next door you could ask to baby sit. And that just didn’t sit well with the folks at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame whose honorees so often personify selfishness and bad attitude.
But it sets well with me and her millions of fans. She was a good girl, singing about bad girls; we were good suburban kids playing at an attitude we didn’t really have but made us feel old, sophisticated, world-weary and chic.
In 1999 she gave an interview to the Boston Globe where she said this, “People say to me that I was the soundtrack to their lives. It makes you feel you’re a part of someone’s life you don’t even know. That something you’ve done has affected someone.”
Someone, Donna, like me. Which is why there will never be a “Last Dance” for your music in my house or in the houses of your mourning fans. After all, we love to love you, baby!
About the Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. Services include home business training, affiliate marketing training, earn-at-home programs, traffic tools, advertising, webcasting, hosting, design, WordPress Blogs and more. Find out why Worldprofit is considered the # 1 online Home Business Training program by getting a free Associate Membership today at http://www.Worldprofit.com
Author: Jeffrey LantThis author has published 572 articles so far. More info about the author is coming soon.