Two nights ago I found myself humming Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” as I walked home in the warm Seattle night. It had been a long time since I heard that song, so I’m not sure where it came from. And today I found out that the soulful pop singer with the effortlessly perfect voice had passed away.
“Last Dance” takes me back to being 13 years-old and a high school freshman. It was the talent show and 6 girls from my class came out and did a dance routine. These weren’t the nice girls either. They were the unkind cheerleader type. But they were fantastic!
It was 1979. The girls’ costumes reflected a new sleekness in fashion. The art of them moving together transcended who we were to each other at school. They had the room.
Moving slowly, amping up as the song unfolded their dance was elegant, sexy and literally bursting with feminine strength. So was the song.
Disco gets a bad rap. Like every other genre, there is good disco and bad disco. And the reason Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” struck me so hard was because it was disco that went beyond good.
There was a drama and a sophistication to Donna Summer. And the lyrics seemed honest. The words in the emotional songs hit her deeply. She proved this with every gorgeous note.
Other favorites from Donna Summer range to the end of the 70s and into the 80s. “On The Radio”, “Bad Girls”, “She Works Hard for The Money” are dance floor classics and”Hot Stuff” is hilarious. But it’s “Bad Girls” that blows my mind. With the “toot toot -aaaaah- beep beep”.
Her voice is so solid and her range staggering. She clicks into pro mode and lays the song out with such elegance and controlled power.
Here she is doing “Bad Girls/Hot Stuff” in Belgium 2005.
“I’m just an ordinary person who did some extraordinary things.”
– Donna Summer
Donna Summer has just passed away from a long bout with cancer. She was with her husband Bruce Sudano in Englewood, Florida. Our hearts go out to her family.
She was born in Boston 1948, named Ladonna Adrian Gaines and was one of seven kids. In her lifetime she won 5 Grammy awards, was nominated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and got an Oscar for “Last Dance” which appeared in the movie “Thank God It’s Friday”.
She hit the Billboard charts again at #1 just two years ago with “To Paris with Love” and also appeared on the TV show “America’s Got Talent”.
From 1976 to 1984 Donna Summer had a number one hit every year.
She was known as the “Queen of Disco” but most people don’t know she also was a pioneer in working with electronic dance music.
I made a short radio story on Donna Summer’s innovative work with Italian electronic music producer Giorgio Moroder. Together they pushed the boundaries of pop and charted two of Donna’s biggest hits “Love to Love You Baby” and “I Feel Love” in 1975.
This episode is part of the KEXP Documentary series “Pop Goes Electronic”.
Michele Myers is a Seattle club DJ and hosts a radio show Saturdays 3-6pm on KEXP 90.3FM in Seattle – kexp.org. She’s a music historian, has produced over 200 radio stories for KEXP Documentaries and written scripts and features for NPR, Experience Music Project and the University of Washington.