Death of the original disco diva Donna Summer
The news that ‘Queen of Disco’ Donna Summer has died came as a shock and surprise for her millions of fans around the world, myself included.
Her voice was the soundtrack to my life as a child growing up in the 1970s. I loved twirling around to her music in my bedroom, hairbrush in hand, my Afro swaying, flares flapping – me, the original 10-year-old Donna Summer wanna-be.
From hits including Hot Stuff, Love to Love You Baby, I Feel love, On The Radio and She Works Hard for the Money, the sensual tones and pulsating beats which defined her sound saw the birth of a musical genre which went on on to inspire everything from house to hip-hop, garage to grime.
The strong, powerful vision of big hair, bright teeth and dazzling outfits meant a new image of black women in entertainment was emerging – Donna Summer was the original mama of Bling!
With tributes pouring in from presidents to pop stars, the five-time Grammy winning songstress inspired generations of people from all cultures and creeds with the irresistible foot-moving disco music she came to epitomise.
US President Barrack Obama said in a statement: “Michelle and I were saddened to hear about the passing of Donna Summer.” Music journalist Paul Gambaccini added that Summer will have “a lasting legacy.”
With respects being paid from singers in genres spanning pop, gospel, urban and soul, as well as just your regular fan on the street, it goes without saying that Donna Summer’s music will live on.
Summer died of lung cancer but few of us knew she was suffering from it. Such was the intense privacy with which she managed her illness.
She believed she succumbed to the disease as a result of breathing in particles of dust and deadly asbestos from the September 11th terrorist attacks.
Summer was in New York at the time and, according to The Mirror, felt this was the cause. Whether it developed from the debris, or from being exposed to fumes from the smoky nightclubs in which she sung back in the day, or even from being a previous smoker, we will never know.
Whatever the cause of her cancer and, ultimately, of her passing, Donna Summer should be remembered as the woman who redefined what it meant to be a black woman in the music industry in the 1970s.
The irresistible beat and pumping rhythms filled dance floors the world over and got even the most nervous of movers onto the dance floor!
Summer, like Nina Simone and Billie Holliday before her, owned her music and made it her own. In doing so she became a powerful symbol of black womanhood.
It was a sensual symbol, one which meant black women were for the first time in charge of defining their own sexuality rather than being harnessed with an image given to them by the media or the music industry itself.
The confidence and sensuality with which singers like Beyoncé, Rihanna and Nicki Minaj take to the stage today, owes much in part to pioneers like Summer.
Pioneers who weren’t afraid to celebrate their sexuality and let it take centre stage alongside their music.
Rest in peace Donna Summer.