Donna Summer Passes, Leaves Disco Legacy

Photograph from sessions for Summer's 2008 album Crayons.

Disco diva Donna Summer passed away today (5/17) at age 63 after quietly battling lung cancer for several months. She and husband Bruce Sudano were sometime Nashville residents who were in Florida, reportedly working on her new album, at the time of her passing.

Best known for a string of late-‘70s dance hits, Summer’s music helped define the era with “Hot Stuff,” “Last Dance,” “Bad Girls” and “Love To Love You Baby.” Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte were the producer and songwriter team behind her biggest hits in the ’70s.

Her success continued in the next decade as a singer and songwriter. “Starting Over Again,” which she wrote with Sudano, was a No. 1 country and Top 40 hit for Dolly Parton in 1980. Summer had a hit as an artist with “On The Radio,” which she penned with Moroder, and was covered by Emmylou Harris in 1983. She also scored big as an artist with the 1983 smash “She Works Hard For The Money.” In 1995 Reba McEntire took “Starting Over Again” back to the Top 20.

Born LaDonna Andre Gaines, Summer grew up performing in church in her hometown Boston. She eventually moved to Europe and married a German named Helmut Sommer and took his name.

She later married Sudano. In the mid-‘90s the couple moved to Brentwood with their two daughters. She became integrated with the community, serving on the board of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum from 2003-2005, and developing a friendship with the late legendary songwriter Harlan Howard.

Summer was a five-time Grammy winner and was nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on several occasions, including this year.

“I can’t believe we’ve lost another wonderful singer,” Parton said in a statement today. “Donna, like Whitney, had one of the greatest voices ever. I loved her records. She was the disco queen, and will remain so. I knew her and found her to be one of the most likable and fun people ever. She will be missed and remembered.”

ET is reporting that funeral services will be held Mon., May 21 in Nashville.


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Sarah Skates has worked in the music business for more than a decade and is a longtime contributor to MusicRow.

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