Category: Donna Summer

Library of Congress names new entries for National Recording Registry

Donna Summer's 'I Feel Love' has been chosen for the National Recording RegistryLeonard Bernstein's debut conducting the New York Philharmonic has been chosen for the National Recording RegistryDolly Parton's 'Coat of Many Colors' has been chosen for the National Recording Registry

Donna Summer's throbbing 1977 hit "I Feel Love"; Prince's 1984 "Purple Rain" album; the first known commercial sound recording, dating to 1888; the Sugar Hill Gang's watershed rap record "Rapper's Delight"; and 1930s and '40s news reports and speech excerpts from journalist Edward R. Murrow's "I Can Hear It Now" radio program are among 25 sound recordings newly enshrined in the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry, library officials announced Wednesday.

Among the other new entries are Dolly Parton's 1971 hit "Coat of Many Colors"; Parliament's 1975 funk classic "Mothership Connection"; Stan Kenton and His Orchestra's 1943 recording of "Artistry in Rhythm"; and Leonard Bernstein's debut performance conducting the New York Philharmonic, also from 1943. Plus, the new registrees include field recordings with the voices of former slaves made from 1932 to 1941; Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man" and "Bo Diddley," both from 1955, and Booker T. & the MGs' 1962 soul instrumental "Green Onions."

"America's sound heritage is an important part of the nation's history and culture and this year's selections reflect the diversity and creativity of the American experience," Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said in a statement.

Case in point: The first commercial sound recording is a version of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" from a small cylinder created in 1888 by Thomas Edison's company for use in a talking doll that was a commercial failure. The recording, discovered in 1967, was considered unplayable until 2011, when it was scanned in three dimensions using digital mapping tools created at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in collaboration with the Library of Congress.  

The latest batch of inductees expands the registry's total to 350 recordings that are "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" and which span the history of recorded sound. The recordings must be at least 10 years old to be eligible. A full list of this year's songs chosen for the registry can be found on the library's website.  Each year, 25 recordings are added to the registry. The public can nominate recordings at www.loc.gov/nrpb.

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-- Randy Lewis

Left photo: Donna Summer. Credit Universal Music Group

Center photo: Dolly Parton. Credit: RCA Records.

Right photo: Leonard Bernstein. Credit: Vandamm, N.Y.

Dance music that gets feet and emotions moving

In honor of Robin Gibb, Chuck Brown and  Donna Summer, we list five heavy-hearted dance tunes.

Dance-trio

Getting on the good foot got a little harder last week with the deaths of three important dance-music stars: disco queen Donna Summer, go-go godfather Chuck Brown and Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees. Each leaves behind a legacy of exuberance, even as their passing demands a moment of reflection. In that spirit, here are five heavy-hearted dance tunes.

Junior Boys, "Birthday"

"You've gone and then you missed my birthday," Jeremy Greenspan mumbles in this typically forlorn (but icily beautiful) number by his Canadian electro-pop duo. For Junior Boys, the dance floor is just one more place to be alone.

Robyn, "Dancing on My Own"

That sentiment reaches full miserable flower here, with Robyn eyeing her crush across the room as he cuts the rug with another. "I'm right over here," she implores over an increasingly desperate groove, "Why can't you see me?"

ABBA, "The Winner Takes It All"

The Swedish popmeisters' early-'80s tear-jerker starts out small, narrating the demise of a relationship. By the end, though, Agnetha Fältskog is lamenting injustice on a grand scale: "The judges will decide / The likes of me abide."

Michael Jackson, "She's Out of My Life"

This ballad from Jackson's disco-era "Off the Wall" contains what might be the most vulnerable vocal performance in his catalog. Beware the voice crack in the outro -- it's a killer.

Pet Shop Boys, "Beautiful People"

Given a lush orchestral sweep by the brilliant U.K. production team Xenomania, the Pet Shop Boys' 2009 single sounds like a dream. But its lyric -- about the lie of consumer-culture perfection -- turns the music melancholy.

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-- Mikael Wood

Photos: Robin Gibb, Chuck Brown and Donna Summer. (Credits: Gibb - Patrick Kovarik / AFP/Getty Images; Brown - Jason Moore / Zuma Press/MCT; Summer - Jeff Christensen / Reuters)

Founders of A Club Called Rhonda remember Donna Summer

A Club Called Rhonda organizers Loren Granic, on sign, center, and Gregory Alexander, on sign, right, are joined from bottom left, in clockwise order - Lisa Katnic, Matty Pipes, Adelaide Bourbon, Natalie Martins, Maurice Harris, Ryan Granich, Phyllis Navidad, Steven Castillo, Russ Lee, Cody Fitzsimmons, Sebastian Hull.

Donna Summer left us many legacies, and one of the most fascinating is the way her music brought gay and straight audiences together on the dance floor. For decades, her music has been a staple in gay club playlists while also topping mainstream pop charts.

Her music blended the sexual and the spiritual with sonic invention that forever changed the way we party. That contribution is perhaps nowhere more evident than at A Club Called Rhonda.

The peripatetic L.A. club is famous for its polysexual hedonism and mix of classic disco and adventurous electronic dance music. We asked the club's founders to assess her legacy, and how it informs today's nightclub culture.

Continue reading »

Donna Summer ruled majestically, if uneasily

Donna-summerx

Donna Summer's controversial international hit "Love to Love You Baby" was, according to her, recorded as something of a joke. It wasn't supposed to be the singer's calling card on the world stage. It wasn't meant to be one of disco's canonical tracks. And it wasn't supposed to set the mold for her public persona.

Summer and her siblings were raised in a deeply religious family, but she displayed her independent streak when, in 1967 at the age of 18, she took off for Germany as a member of the touring cast of the musical "Hair." There she modeled, sang, and performed -- and got married, had a daughter and became a divorcee. In 1975, she released the steamy "Love to Love You Baby" with producer Giorgio Moroder, helping ignite the disco craze and setting the stage for the battle between her gospel roots and her new public image.

The tension between her conservative upbringing and the unbridled sexuality of the disco era echoed the faith vs. secularity conflicts of artists such as Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye. Like them, she straddled the tensions to create a sound and style all her own.

PHOTOS: Donna Summer | 1948-2012

Though she grew up in the church, hers wasn't a conventional gospel voice; it was a bit more naturally polished, a bit more pop. What she took from her gospel training was the ability to invest a lyric with precise soulfulness, burrowing right in for the emotional truth, whether she was singing show tunes, pop standards, New Wave or her own disco classics.

In her music, she forged a home. In her image, she was often uncomfortable, sometimes making it clear that the genre she'd helped define was her albatross.

When people say Donna Summer was the Queen of Disco, it's not just BPMs, drugs in the backroom and sexual hedonism they're talking about. The dance music culture of the late 1960s through the late '70s, with disco as one of its most powerful and influential manifestations, is the revolutionary music-based culture that neither rock 'n' roll nor hip-hop is, or can ever be.

VIDEOS: Classic Donna Summer

Disco was rooted in the cutting-edge sounds and aesthetics of black America and gay America (keeping in mind that the two are not mutually exclusive). But it was also refuge and mecca for all races, genders, sexual orientations and classes. All you had to do was show up. You didn't have to plead your case, didn't have to hide or be ashamed of any aspect of your being because its core identity was fluid and permeable. Flaming queens, working-class straight men, suburbanites and devout club kids all called the music and culture theirs.

Donna Summer ruled majestically, if uneasily, over it all.

Her work with the production team of Moroder and Pete Bellotte includes the "Four Seasons of Love" EP (1976), the concept double-album "Once Upon a Time" (1977), the Grammy and Academy Award-winning pop classic "Last Dance" (1978), the concert double-album "Live and More" (1978) and the Grammy-nominated "Bad Girls" album (1979), which is arguably her masterpiece.

Though she did fantastic work after breaking with the Svengali-like Moroder (including teaming up with Quincy Jones and working with one-time powerhouse British producers Stock, Aiken and Waterman), her best work was without a doubt with Moroder and Bellotte. She was their muse. They created sweepingly orchestrated tracks that run circles around 90% of what's being made now, and she brought a dazzling humanity -- sensuality, playfulness, soulfulness -- to the grooves, from the hypnotic repetition of "I Feel Love" to the swirling romanticism of "Heaven Knows," and dozens beyond.

PHOTOS: Celebrities react to Donna Summer's death on Twitter

A gifted songwriter (she wrote or co-wrote a lot of her material), she was known as the consummate professional, with her only real publicized battles concerning label interference after she signed to Geffen following her break with Casablanca Records, where she recorded her most famous and influential music. Still, a famous bit of diva lore trailed her after she went toe-to-toe with Barbra Streisand on the camp classic "No More Tears." The competitive recording session quickly became the stuff of legend after Summer reportedly strained so hard to keep up with Streisand on one note that she fell off the stool she was sitting on, while Streisand chirped merrily on. But make no mistake, her own voice was one of the most glorious and powerful in pop.

Controversy dogged her already faltering post-disco career after word spread that, following a concert in 1983, she told gay fans that AIDS was divine retribution for a sinful lifestyle. She steadfastly denied saying it, even suing New York magazine in 1991 when they reprinted the allegation. (The case was settled out of court.)

She's not referenced much now outside of conversations about disco (many of which take place in the bloodless realm of academia), but while she was that genre's undisputed queen, she was also -- for a while -- the queen of pop. Her legacy undoubtedly suffers from the fact that disco never received its due, was always shortchanged in terms of mainstream critical respect, and Summer herself often seemed conflicted about her own relationship to the music, its culture and what it represented.

If you want to really hear her at her best, and at the peak of disco's creativity, put on the 17 minute-plus "MacArthur Park Suite," from the "Live and More" CD. In the middle of it, and with the most exquisite ache, she sings the passage: "There will be another song for me / And I will sing it / There will be another dream for me /Someone will bring it / I will drink the wine while it is warm / And never let you catch me looking at the sun / And after all the loves of my life / After all the loves of my life, you'll still be the one…"

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Donna Summer: The sonic seduction lives on in today's beats

Donna Summer dead: Her voice soared through disco and beyond

-- Ernest Hardy

Photo: Donna Summer performs at the Universal Amphitheatre on July 28, 1983. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

Donna Summer: The sonic seduction lives on in today's beats

Donna Summer, who died Thursday
If you drop a needle on the original version of “Love to Love You Baby” just as you're beginning this appreciation of Donna Summer, the so-called Queen of Disco who died Thursday at age 63, you would probably be finished reading long before the song ended. It has to be that long -- there's a world of impact there.

The epic 17-minute jam introduced Summer to America with some of the most memorable moans in pop music history, and over the following decade the Boston-born diva went on to become one of the most popular vocalists in the world. Her influence on pop music -- especially during the birth of electronic dance music -- goes far beyond those moans, and even they helped tilt American culture.

Summer and her early producer-collaborator Giorgio Moroder's not-so-subtle message of sexual freedom was a sonic seduction, and when a shortened version of the song was released, it climbed to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. That such a brashly sexual work could reach a national audience during “American Top 40” with Casey Kasem on Sunday mornings says a lot about America in the 1970s. In hindsight, its success arguably marks as important a cultural shift as Elvis shaking his hips on Ed Sullivan's show. If Presley suggested male sexuality through visual cues, Summer confirmed it through a series of faked orgasms --  the BBC once tallied it at 23.

PHOTOS: Donna Summer | 1948-2012

The message of the song's lyrics may have been simple -- this feels good, and I love it -- but its saucy sense of freedom expanded the notion of what was acceptable on the airwaves in the mid-'70s; hearing it even today, it's shocking to learn that the single was so successful. But it makes sense given the times.

Continue reading »

Classic Donna Summer: Online catalog shows top singer in control

Donna Summer performs on stage in Berlin . Disco legend Donna Summer died in Florida aged 63 on May 17, 2012 after a battle against cancer.

A computer screen or television set has never been the best place to experience Donna Summer's music (the correct venue is a packed dance floor, obviously).

But the late disco siren had several clips that were staples of the early music video era. She helped define dance floor fashion aesthetics with an eye for the dark glamor of city noir -- "She Works Hard for the Money," in particular, lent a seedy and seductive visual style to a song that would become a pop culture staple.

For Angelenos, songs such as "Sunset People" and "MacArthur Park" became local DJ necessities. And "I Feel Love" is widely credited as one of the first -- if not the first -- hit techno singles. 

For those delving into her catalog online today, live videos from her peak years show an excellent singer in total control of her unique voice. She was known for breathy sighs that built tension and sex appeal, but she could also rip through a piano ballad with the best of her pop peers, and she had a wide songwriting range -- among other things, she co-wrote Dolly Parton's "Starting Over Again."  

Below are a few staple music videos and some of her best live performances.

"I Feel Love"

Without this song, there would be no Electric Daisy Carnival, no Sahara Tent or pop-techno wave at all. To modern ears, it's hard to imagine how revolutionary this song was at the time -- its long-form synth arpeggios and languid vocal repetitions predicted a genre to come.  

Continue reading »

Donna Summer dead: Her voice soared through disco and beyond

Donnasummer_opt
Donna Summer died Thursday after a battle with cancer. The 63-year-old Summer was known for her soaring voice and sensual purrs that made her a queen of disco when the genre was in its heyday in the 1970s. And it was a title she held well beyond those years.

A statement from her family called Summer "a woman of many gifts, the greatest being her faith."

"While we grieve her passing, we are at peace celebrating her extraordinary life and her continued legacy," according to the statement released by Universal Music, her record label. "Words truly can't express how much we appreciate your prayers and love for our family at this sensitive time."

PHOTOS: Donna Summer | 1948 - 2012

Summer had been living in Englewood, Fla., with her husband, Bruce Sudano.

She was a five-time Grammy winner. Although best remembered for her songs decades ago, Summer continued to tour and record, including a stint last year as a guest judge on the Bravo reality show "Platinum Hit."

Born LaDonna Andrea Gaines in suburban Boston on New Year’s Eve, 1948, Summer was one of seven siblings in a church-attending family who encouraged studies and singing in equal measure. 

An early fan of gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, Summer sang in a Boston rock band called Crow in the late 1960s, and left home for New York City at age 18 to find work on Broadway, which she did quickly by landing a role in a touring version of the hot Broadway show “Hair.”

She spent the next three years living and touring in Europe. There she met and married the singer Helmut Sommer, whose last name she adapted as her stage name.

While in Europe she also met Italian music producer Giorgio Moroder, whose early dance tracks were making an impact across Europe. Moroder and Summer started working together, resulting in their first hit, the seductive 17-minute-long dance floor epic “Love to Love You Baby.” On it, Summer moans in ecstasy throughout, seeming to climax with the music. A shortened version of it was released by then-hot label Casablanca in 1975, and peaked on the Billboard singles chart at No. 2.

That was the first of a string of songs that not only helped bring disco to the mainstream, but predicted the rise of both techno and house music. Among those were “I Feel Love,” “Bad Girls,” “She Works Hard for the Money” and “On the Radio.”

But unlike some other stars of disco who faded as the music became less popular, she was able to grow beyond it and later segued to a pop-rock sound. She had one of her biggest hits in the 1980s with "She Works Hard for the Money," which became an anthem for women's rights.

Soon after, Summer became a born-again Christian and faced controversy when she was accused of making anti-gay comments in relation to the AIDS epidemic. Summer denied making the comments but was the target of a boycott.

Still, even as disco went out of fashion she remained a fixture in dance clubs, endlessly sampled and remixed into contemporary dance hits.

Her last album, "Crayons," was released in 2008 and marked her first full studio album in 17 years. She also performed on "American Idol" that year with its top female contestants.

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VIDEO: Classic Donna Summer

PHOTOS: Donna Summer | 1948 - 2012

PHOTOS: Celebrities react to her death on Twitter

-- Randall Roberts (the Associated Press contributed to this report)

Photo: Donna Summer in 1979. Credit: Larry Bessell / Los Angeles Times

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