It’s a topic that’s hard to avoid when discussing the achievements of Donna Summer, who died Thursday of cancer: Why is the legendary singer not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
Longtime member Elton John weighed in almost immediately following the singer’s death, calling the snub “a total disgrace.” Now, the person in charge of nominations to the Cleveland-based Hall has issued a blunt statement, blaming voters for the “error.”
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“There is absolutely no doubt that the extraordinary Donna Summer belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” Jon Landau, the chairman of the nominating committee, told the New York Times. “Regrettably, despite being nominated on a number of occasions, our voting group has failed to recognize her — an error I can only hope is finally and permanently rectified next year.”
Summer was nominated for this year’s class, but was passed over. Inductees included Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Faces, Guns N’ Roses and The Beastie Boys.
The issue with voters could very well be the genre of music Summer is most associated with, disco, which has a quiet presence in the museum. A scan of members reveals only two groups that could be categorized as “disco,” The Bee Gees (1997) and ABBA (2010) — however, both have diverse pop portfolios, much like Summer, who thrived in dance-pop and rock after disco fizzled out in the late-1970s.
Landau is correct in saying Summer “belongs” in the Hall, in terms of popularity, having earned 32 hit singles on the Billboard Hot 100 in her career, with 14 of those reaching the top 10. Her biggest singles include her four No. 1s “MacArthur Park,” “Hot Stuff,” “Bad Girls” and “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)” with Barbra Streisand. In 1983 she returned to the Hot 100’s top 10 with the No. 3 anthem “She Works Hard For the Money.”
Other members of the Hall dabbled in disco during their careers, particularly Rod Stewart (“Do Ya Think I’m Sexy”), The Supremes (“I’m Gonna Let My Heard Do the Walking”), The Jackson 5 (as The Jacksons) and The Rolling Stones (“Miss You”), among others.
[ Correction: An earlier version of this story included The Who’s “Sister Disco” in this group of rock-disco crossovers. Actually, it’s more of a send-off: “Goodbye Sister Disco, With your flashing trash lamps; Goodbye Sister Disco, And to your clubs and your tramps.”]
One dance group that many believe should join Summer soon is Chic, the Nile Rodgers-led band behind hits like “Le Freak” and “Good Times.” They’ve been nominated for inclusion seven times since 2003.
Additional reporting by Keith Caulfield.