There are moments when it feels as if Donna Summer is still here with us. At times the loss of her light feels quite strong and new. In daydreams, I fantasize that perhaps everything surrounding he death was quiet up until to end, simply because she was orchestrating a plan to live her life out of the spotlight – that she retreated in to the character of Hattie-Mae Blanch Dubois, of “Slide Over Backwards”, and sings for special guests only, at an undisclosed location.
Donna used to annoy her husband, Bruce Sudano, by going in to the character of Hattie Mae, in public, when she wished to be left alone. This is her explanation of the character and the song:
Hattie Mae is a bartender in the south. She grew up in a very rough environment. Her parents died when she was young. She really had to fend for herself at a very early age. The streets were pretty much her home. She had some relatives that gave her handouts but she really was pretty much on her own. She wanted to sing but her life was so hard. Finally, she evolves to a place where she owns, by default, this little po’ boy restaurant. It’s like a little diner that the local people love. It’s actually becoming quite famous and on certain days of the week she gets a little piano player in there and she sangs. This is her moment to shine. Source
Yet, there is nothing like seeing “Donna Summer Sudano” on a headstone for reality to crash through my fantasy: Donna Summer, the woman, is gone.
However, Donna Summer – the voice and spirit – lives on.
Whether it be listening to her recordings, or simply thinking of her possibly being on the other side of a veil to the spirit world, she lives. When we feel down or sad and her voice lifts us up, she lives. When we go inward to search for a spark of divine, feminine care, she lives. When we turn on the radio and hear today’s artists, she lives.
Of course, comparing anybody to Donna Summer is a bit unfair, because Auto Tune rules the airwaves, these days. Whatever deals are being made, having an exceptionally talented voice does not seem to be a factor any longer.
Recently, Rolling Stone ran an article, The 40 Most Groundbreaking Albums of All Time. It was disappointing not see any of her work with Giorgio Moroder on the list. This is as close as they came:
1974: Kraftwerk’s savvy use of pop elements smuggled in a Trojan horse of electronic experimentalism to the broadest audience possible. Most pop genres that followed would incorporate this innovation — new wave, hip-hop, techno and contemporary EDM among them. The German group pulled away from rock music’s formal identity while channeling its to-the-jugular pop spirit onAutobahn. They focused on the pulse first and foremost, slowing the tempo down to match the title track’s concept, reflecting the feel and sounds of driving down the German autobahn. The concept’s irreverence was balanced by the neutral German imitation of Beach Boys harmonies. Pop music had escaped rock & roll, and the electronic pulse would guide the decades that followed.
I have to admit some ignorance, here. To this day, I do not know if I have ever heard a song by Kraftwerk. If I heard one, I would not recognize it. I will go check them out, but it seems that time and time again, Donna Summer is snubbed by the industry, one way or another. Moroder may have followed Kraftwerk, but it was Donna’s vocals that gave warmth to the synthesizer background. That was groundbreaking.
It took her death and a rant by Elton John to get her in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Granted, the Hall is a bunch of politics and in the end our tastes in music are subjective, but her snub for so many years was especially painful, considering her contributions.
Earlier today I was reading a Facebook comment on a post about how bad Britney Spears sounds, live: “Nobody sounds good live”. What!? Seriously? How sad if they were not joking. How sad to not know what it was like when exceptional vocalists dominated the airwaves.
As Donna used to say about other artists, some times you have something that you want to say, but somebody else just says it better. I decided to listen again to what Johnny Lydon, aka “Johnny Rotten”, of The Sex Pistols had to say about her. He really nailed it terms of her impact of music, as well as provided a tear-jerking testimony to the sweetness and grace of her character. The entire video is a great listen, but he comes in at 13 minutes + a few seonds:
And Donna Summers [sic] died today, that breaks me heart. What a wonderful person that was. Oh my god, the music that woman made. She broke down so many barriers … so many. And her records were wonderful. For my mind, that…that was the openings – that was the audacious beginning of … of rave culture.
Gays loved her, straights loved her, hooligans loved her. Everybody loved her. She crossed all barriers and she didn’t ask for no credit for it, either. The voice of ultimate honesty. Ah, you will be missed Donna. You will.
Just as I was about to press this, I saw another Facebook post that happily makes me wrong, in terms of her being written out of history!
12. Donna Summer, “I Feel Love”
Way back in 1977, Summer and her producer, Giorgio Moroder, sent dance music hurtling headlong into the future with “I Feel Love,” the first track to marry the sweeping melody lines and brisk tempos of disco with the metronomic synthesizers and drum machines of Kraftwerk. Foreshadowing and influencing techno, trance and today’s epic festival EDM, Moroder’s gleaming, robotic synths and Summer’s swooning, abstract vocals still sound like the future — and can still ignite any dance floor. — Andy Hermann
I love synchronicity and Donna, wherever you are, I love you. Thank for the joy you brought to my childhood and for the peace and joy that your music brings me, at 49 years of age.
From the notes for the YT video, above:
[Edit to add links at 7:05 PM, December 12, 2014: NOTE: I did not have anything to do with the video, or the comments under it. I included them here for reference/discussion, but for well-researched facts and awesome tidbits on Donna’s career, discography and awards, see the links, below:
Steven Housman’s Music History Facts
The Totally Unauthorized Donna Summer Tribute Site
Published on Nov 27, 2012
WHY DONNA SUMMER BELONGS IN ‘THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME” (2013)
‘In a career that spanned over 40 years, Donna Summer was the consummate entertainer. From her chart debut in October 1975, ‘Love To Love You, Baby’, to her last charted single in November 2012, ‘To Paris With Love’, Summer’s career was the envy of many in the music industry, not just for the longevity of it, but the sheer passion and loyalty to which her MILLIONS of devoted fans worldwide attested to in great numbers after her untimely passing on May 17, 2012′. – (TEXT WRITTEN BY DERRECK MEYERS/ LAST SCREEN SHOT CREATED BY DERRECK MEYERS)
5 TIME GRAMMY WINNER / 6 TIME AMERICAN MUSIC AWARD WINNER
‘LAST DANCE’ – OSCAR WINNER FOR BEST ORIGINAL SONG
‘HOT STUFF’ – BEST ROCK VOCAL PERFORMANCE (FEMALE) & FIRST WOMAN TO WIN THIS AWARD
ANOTHER GRAMMY FIRST – ‘BEST DANCE RECORDING’ FIRST TO WIN IN 1997
‘SHE WORKS HARD FOR THE MONEY’ – FIRST BLACK FEMALE ARTIST FEATURED IN HEAVY VIDEO ROTATION ON MTV
BILLBOARD CHART TOPPER FOUR TIMES IN THE SPAN OF 13 MONTHS & SHE WAS A WRITER OR CO-WRITER ON MANY OF HER SONGS
FIRST FEMALE ARTIST TO LAND TWO #1 SINGLES IN THE BILLBOARD TOP 3 AT THE SAME TIME (‘HOT STUFF’ & BAD GIRLS)
FIRST FEMALE ARTIST TO HAVE #1 SONG AND #1 ALBUM IN THE SAME WEEK ON TWO SEPARATE OCCASIONS
SEVERAL MULTI-PLATINUM SINGLES & ‘ENOUGH IS ENOUGH WAS THE FIRST 12″ SINGLE EVER TO BE CERTIFIED PLATINUM
TEN GOLD SINGLES/THREE MULTI-PLATINUM ALBUMS/TWELVE GOLD ALBUMS WITH WORLDWIDE SALES OVER 130 MILLION ALBUMS AND SINGLES
‘I FEEL LOVE’ -THE INDUSTRY STANDARD FOR TECHNO/ELECTRONICA AND ONE OF THE MOST SAMPLED RECORDINGS WAS CHOSEN AS ONE 0F 40 RECORDINGS TO BE PRESERVED IN THE US LIBRARY CONGRESS
INDUCTED INTO THE DANCE MUSIC HALL OF FAME ALONG WITH ‘I FEEL LOVE’/ALSO TOPPED THE BILLBOARD DANCE CHARTS #1 MANY, MANY TIMES OVER FOUR DECADES
‘PROTECTION’ WRITTEN FOR SUMMER BY BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN (‘COVER ME’ WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR DONNA AS WELL)
ONLY PERSON TO EVER HOST DICK CLARK’S AMERICAN BANDSTAND IN HIS ABSENCE/CLARK RESPECTFULLY DUBBED HER ONE OF THE MOST ‘UNDERRATED SINGERS OF OUR TIME’
‘WE ARE THE WORLD’ GOT IT’S IMPETUS FROM SUMMER’S QUINCY JONES PRODUCED ‘STATE OF INDEPENDENCE’, WHICH ALSO FEATURED AN ALL-STAR CHORUS INCLUDING MICHAEL JACKSON, STEVIE WONDER, LIONEL RICHIE, DIONNE WARWICK, MICHAEL MCDONALD AND OTHERS.
WORKED WITH LEGENDARY PRODUCERS GIORGIO MORODER, QUINCY JONES, DAVID FOSTER, THE HIT FACTORY (STOCK, AITKIN, WATERMAN), MICHAEL OMARTIAN, HAROLD FALTERMEYER & MORE
CONTINUED TO PERFORM TO SOLD-OUT VENUES ALL OVER THE WORLD THROUGH 2011 (LAST PUBLIC PERFORMANCE WAS WITH PRODUCER DAVID FOSTER IN 2011)
Her legacy speaks for itself and in volumes. NOW is the time to honor this music LEGEND and induct her into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame once and for all!!!
With Love & Respect
Donna’s ‘Friends UnKnown’ – (AND THE TEXT ABOVE WRITTEN BY DERRECK MEYERS…Also information culled from WIKIPEDIA / POP MATTERS articles / and in the minds of diehard DONNA SUMMER FANS everywhere.)”