Yet another music great has died and died too soon with Donna Summer succumbing just a few hours ago to cancer at the age of 63. In a refreshingly un-rock star finale, her life ended as a happily married grandmother with a devout Christian faith. But make no mistake, Summer was a rock-star, with a huge voice, sex appeal, urban cool and above all, she was a pioneer.
She wrote many of her own songs when even two decades later that was rare amongst females in the industry and the sonic textures of much of her dance material (with producer Giorgio Moroder) were also years ahead of their time. Listen back to I Feel Love now and the music is Daft Punk 20 years before the fact. It still sounds astonishing.
She was the Queen of Disco, but my favourite Donna Summer song, just beating out the likes of Bad Girls and Sunset People, is her early 80s We Are The World pre-cursor State of Independence. Originally by Jon & Vangelis, Summer’s version of this ode to a utopia really becomes something truly special in the final 90 seconds when she’s joined by an all-star choir featuring the likes of Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Michael McDonald, Dionne Warwick, Kenny Loggins and others. It wasn’t the biggest hit she ever recorded (though still a UK top 20), but it makes a strong case for being the finest ballad of her career.
Donna Summer had 20 US top 40 hits, 14 making the top ten and four number ones. In all she released 17 studio albums (the last as recent as 2008) and won five Grammys over a 20 year period. Truly one of the greats of American music. Here is State Of Independence: