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Vale Donna Summer 1948 - 2012

18 May 2012 | 2:42 pm | Andrew Mast

Donna Summer introduced female desire and synthesized disco to the world before suffering two major career backlashes.

US artist Donna Summer, known as the Queen Of Disco, died of cancer, age 63, on Thursday 17 May.

Remembered as a top-selling dance music performer ("one of the most successful recording artists of the 1970s and 1980s", according to Billboard), Summer was also a prolific songwriter.

Summer's first hit Love To Love You Baby was a song she'd actually intended for another singer. But her production team of Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bollote had Summer sing the vocal, believing she had star quality.

Moroder has since said that Summer's highly-sexualised vocals in the 17-minute love opus were done in one-take - once her husband was kicked out of the studio and the lights were dimmed.

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The song transformed the music industry. It introduced a more 'futuristic' sound in disco, popularised the 12"-single, helped set Cassablanca up as one of the '70s most successful labels and it was one of the tracks that helped open the floodgates for disco to crossover into the mainstream.

Love To Love You Baby also introduced the mainstream music world to the topic of female desire - a topic now taken for granted in pop but until 1975 relegated to smoky blues dens and underground hippy folk hang-outs.

Summer continued to explore female desire in a string of disco hits that included I Feel Love and Hot Stuff.

Summer also celebrated the working woman in her songs, whether it be the sex workers of Bad Girls (1979) or the 9-to-5ers of She Works Hard For The Money (1983).

That Summer remained popular beyond the '80s was a minor miracle as she survived two major backlashes against her careeer.

Summer's records were amongst the many destroyed during the disco backlash that climaxed with the Disco Demolition in Chicago in 1979 where 90,000 people turned out to witness the destruction of hundreds of pieces of disco vinyl.

But Summer remained popular with gay fans following the disco backlash - until her career suffered another setback.

In the early-'80s Summer had become a born-again christian and was alleged to have stated that AIDS was God's retribution against homosexuals for their immoral lifestyle. This led to boycotts of Summer's records and some gay clubs posted up signs asking patrons not to request Donna Summer records. Summer finally refuted the claims in 1989, pointing out that she worked closely with gay men throughout her career.

Summer continued to have hits and regained her popularity in the gay scene as a new generation of gay clubbers in the '90s embraced her early disco material as well as remixes, covers and tracks sampling her work.

Summer's work with Moroder and Bellotte was also popular during the rise of the electroclash scene in the '00s.

Although never inducted into the Rock'N'Roll Hall Of Fame despite multiple nominations, Summer won five Grammys during her career.

Her influence has even been felt in the lead-up to the next US election as one of the Republican candidates was found to be quoting Summer's The Power Of One in a speech at a pre-selection rally.

Selected hits: Love To Love You Baby (1975); I Feel Love (1977); Mac Arthur Park (1979); No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) [with Brabra Streisand] (1979); Hot Stuff (1979); Bad Girls (1979); The Wanderer (1980); Love Is In Control (Finger On The Trigger) (1982); State Of Independence (1982); She Works Hard For The Money (1983)