Donna Summer: Her Life and Career in Photos
Donna Summer performing, 1987.

Ask Billboard is updated every week. As always, submit your questions about Billboard charts, sales and airplay, as well as general music musings, to askbb@billboard.com. Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S.

ROBIN GIBB, DONNA SUMMER REMEMBERED

Hi Gary,

I was stunned and saddened by Thursday's (May 17) loss of Donna Summer. It is always so sad for us fans to lose a cherished performer, especially one who informs who we are and how we've lived certain aspects of our lives. Donna Summer, the uncontested "Queen of Disco," with a solid string of dizzyingly hypnotic dance singles in the 1970s, almost single-handedly defined an era and a musical style. And yet, she was so much more. She "escaped" the trappings of disco once it became a "scorned" form of music and her songs sound as fresh, influential and timeless today, more than 30 years later. It is quite a feat to have your songs define an era and exist outside of it in their purest of forms.

As for her legacy, where does one start? Her work with Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte exists as the standard-bearer for dance music. "Love to Love You Baby," with its disco thump and breathy orgasmic moans was something that had never been heard before among masses of population. The hypnotically pulsing throbs of "I Feel Love," coupled with her erotically charged vocals practically invented electronic music.

Summer remade an old novelty song into an 18-minute song cycle called "MacArthur Park Suite" and, to this day, her dramatic tour de force on this song has never once relegated this recording to the novelty bin. Her "Four Seasons of Love" and "Once Upon a Time" albums are underappreciated benchmarks for how concept albums should be made.

"Hot Stuff" and "Bad Girls" are so iconic that nothing else needs to be written about them.

"On the Radio" gave many on-air DJ's great pleasure and the great Casey Kasem has listed it as one of his favorites. The reports of the recording session of "No More Tears" with Barbra Streisand, with both divas in their prime singing into microphones with hands, heads and hair wildly flailing is stuff of legend.

And, "Last Dance." To this day, many clubs and parties end the night with this timeless piece of art, and it fills the floor every time.

With "She Works Hard for the Money," Summer not only scored an anthem for the '80s, but she became the first (I believe) black female artist to have heavy rotation at MTV, complete with a video that was over-the-top cheesetastic with its dancing working women.

And, as Billboard points out, long after radio stopped playing her new music, the people who loved her first, the dancers in the clubs across the nation, kept giving her hit after hit on the Dance/Club Play Songs chart.

I realize my letter is so very, very long, but I hope that this has brought a smile to your face, perhaps a glimpse of what it was like for those of us who lived through some of her glory days. It has given me a chance to say some things about a legend, our everlasting "Queen of Disco."

Sincerely,

George G. Kitchens III
Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania

George,

Thanks for such an eloquent e-mail.

Chart fans may find a bittersweet joy in knowing that her success on Billboard rankings meant much to Summer. As Billboard associate director of charts/retail Keith Caulfield noticed last week, Summer's last Tweet? A celebration of her final Dance/Club Play Songs No. 1 on Oct. 29, 2010:

"via @Billboarddotcom Donna Summer celebrates her 14th #1 on Dance/Club Play Songs, as "To Paris With Love" rises 3-1."


NEXT