May 172012
Donna Summer

Donna Summer, one of the most influential singers of the disco era, died on Thursday. She was 63.


The cause was cancer, according to Brian Edwards, a publicist for Ms. Summer, who said she died at her second home in Naples, Fla..

Ms. Summer was a five-time Grammy winner who became a superstar in the 1970s with hits like “Love to Love You Baby,” “Last Dance,” “Hot Stuff” and “Bad Girls.”

Ms. Summer was a talented vocalist trained in the gospel tradition whose consistent success on the pop charts was rivaled at the time only by the Bee Gees. In the 1980s she continued to score hits with songs like “She Works Hard for the Money” and “This Time I Know It’s for Real.”

Her collaborations with the producer Giorgio Moroder in the 1970s broke new ground for dance music and have been influencing the genre ever since. Few vocalists could match the sensuous eroticism she brought to some of her best recordings, which for many fans came to define the disco era.

LaDonna Adrian Gaines was born on Dec. 31, 1948, and raised in the Boston area. She learned to sing in church in a gospel choir and as a teenager performed in a short-lived psychedelic rock group called the Crow. After high school, she moved to New York and soon landed a role in a German production of “Hair.”

It was in Europe, while Ms. Summer was working as a studio vocalist, that she met Mr. Moroder and Pete Bellotte, another producer. Collaborating with them, she recorded “Love to Love You Baby,” the 17-minute long single released in 1975 that became a major disco hit and by year’s end had crossed over to the pop and R&B charts as well. The song, on which she moaned and sang in a breathy, seductive voice, skyrocketed her career.

She went on to record 19 No. 1 dance hits from 1975 to 2008, a record she shares with Madonna. Ms. Summer’s albums also sold millions of copies. She was the only artist to have three consecutive double-LPs rise to the top spot on the albums chart with “Live and More,” “Bad Girls” and “On the Radio: Greatest Hits: Volumes I and II.”

As some disco stars started to fade by the early 1980s, Ms. Summer ended her partnership with Mr. Moroder and tried to reinvent her sound, exploring pop-rock and new wave beats on her album “The Wanderer.” Then she moved back into post-disco urban R&B style with 1983’s “She Works Hard for the Money.” The title track became a smash hit and a feminist anthem.

But the decade also brought strife. In 1980, she sued her management for mishandling her career and ended her association with Casablanca Records, signing with Geffen Records. In the mid-1980s, she also became a born-again Christian and found herself embroiled in a controversy after she was accused of saying the AIDS epidemic was God’s revenge on homosexuals. She denied she ever made the comments, but became the target of a boycott.

The momentum of her career slowed in the late 1980s, and she scored her last major success in 1989 when she hired a British production team to make the Top 10 single “This Time I Know It’s for Real,” which appeared on album “Another Place & Time.” Around the same time she began criticizing her earlier disco songs as “sinful.”

Her next album, “Mistaken Identity,” in 1991, failed to produce the kind of hit single that would resurrect her for a new generation. In the mid-1990s she moved to Nashville and stopped making albums, though she did win a Grammy when she reunited with Mr. Moroder for the 1997 single “Carry On.” It wasn’t until 2009 that she produced another studio album, the energetic and eclectic “Crayons.”

Religion played an important role in her life in later years. “She was very committed to God, spirituality and religion,” Michael Levine, who briefly worked as her publicist, told The Associated Press. “Her passion in her life, besides music, was God, spirituality and religion. She held a bible study class at her home every week.”

She married twice. Her first marriage in the early 1970s to Helmuth Sommer, an actor she had met in Europe, ended in divorce, though they had a daughter, Mimi. After the breakup, she decided not to return to her name at birth, but kept an anglicized version of Mr. Sommer’s surname and became Donna Summer.

In 1980, she married Bruce Sudano, the lead singer of Brooklyn Dreams, whom she had met while making the single “Heaven Knows.” They had two children, Brooklyn and Amanda. She is survived by her husband and three daughters.

Mr. Edwards said Ms. Summer had recently been writing songs and had begun recording material for two new albums.

Elton John said in a statement on Thursday that Ms. Summer should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, an honor that eluded her. “Her records sound as good today as they ever did,” he said. “That she has never been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a total disgrace, especially when I see the second-rate talent that has been inducted.”