According to TMZ, sources say Summer had been trying to keep the extent of her illness quiet.
Summer, who was born LaDonna Gaines on December 31, 1948 in Boston, was known throughout her lengthy career as “The Queen Of Disco”, given the amount of dance-oriented hits she racked up in the ’70s. Having been influenced by Motown and Janis Joplin at a young age, the singer moved to New York in 1968, where she auditioned for a role in hippie-themed musical Hair. Though she didn’t get a part in the Broadway production, she was later offered to join up for the show’s international tour.
Summer, then still going by last name Gaines, moved to Germany, where she took part in other musicals and, in 1973, joined the pop act Family Tree. It was there that the singer married Austrian actor Helmuth Sommer. Upon their divorce, she kept his last name and altered it slightly to “Summer”.
While singing backup for Three Dog Night, Donna eventually met Italian producer Giorgio Moroder, who would later go on to become a multiple Grammy and Academy Award winner. They worked with fellow producer Pete Bellotte on Summer’s subsequent disco albums.
Summer’s first global hit was 1975′s infamous disco classic “Love To Love You Baby” (off her same-titled first album released in America), which contained the singer’s moans and groans throughout the song. The single peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and became a smash across the world.
“Love To Love You Baby”
By that point, Summer was signed to Neil Bogart’s Los Angeles-based Casablanca Records, one of the most successful labels in the ’70s. A slew of dance-fueld hits followed for the singer, including “I Feel Love”, “Heaven Knows”, “Dim All The Lights” and the chart-toppers “MacArthur Park”, the Grammy-winning “Hot Stuff”, “Bad Girls” and “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)”. The latter was a duet with Barbra Streisand.
Summer’s “Last Dance”, a contribution to the 1978 soundtrack to Thank God It’s Friday, went on to win both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.
The singer eventually tired of the disco sound, and parted ways with Casablanca Records in 1980. She signed with Geffen to release her LP The Wanderer. Soon after, she ended her professional relationship with Moroder.
Summer’s musical attempts to maintain her hit streak were in vain as the ’80s wore on, however, though she did land at #3 on the Hot 100 in 1984 with “She Works Hard For The Money”, and teamed up with British production team Stock Aitken Waterman for her 1989 LP Another Place And Time, which contained the Top 10 single “This Time I Know It’s For Real”.
“This Time I Know It’s For Real”
Summer later re-teamed with Moroder for the 1992 single “Carry On”, which would later be remixed and earn the pair a Grammy for Best Dance Recording in 1998. In 2000, she took part in the VH1 Divas special dedicated to Diana Ross, and was inducted into the Dance Music Hall Of Fame four years after that.
During her career, the singer, who by the mid-’80s identified as a born-again Christian, experienced some controversy when quotes alleged to be hers about AIDS being God’s punishment for gays surfaced. Summer denied making the statement, and later asked the gay community for forgiveness for any pain caused by the incident via a 1989 letter to AIDS organization ACT UP.
“She was in the wilderness when we had the biggest record of our careers together,” said Pete Waterman, part of “This Time I Know It’s For Real” producers Stock Aitken Waterman, today. “They warned us against working with her because of the whole anti-gay thing that had happened.”
Donna’s most recent album, Crayons, was released in May 2008, and featured production by J.R. Rotem, Greg Kurstin and Toby Gad.
Summer was married to Helmuth Sommer from 1973 to 1975. They had daughter Mimi Sommer together. The singer later married Bruce Sudano in 1980, and the pair had daughters Brooklyn and Amanda in 1981 and 1982, respectively.
In a statement released today, Donna Summer’s family said that they “are at peace celebrating her extraordinary life and her continued legacy. Words truly can’t express how much we appreciate your prayers and love for our family at this sensitive time.”