Donna Summer's career has spanned decades and crossed musical genres. Incorporating R&B, rock, gospel and, let's not forget, disco, this artist was the first to have three consecutive double albums hit #1 on the Billboard charts. "Heaven knows" that Windy City Times had to talk to the original bad girl.
Windy City Times: Hello, Donna. I have been studying up on your career and you originally started in musicals such as Godspell and Show Boat. Have you thought of doing any recently?
Donna Summer: I did write a musical about my life called "Ordinary Girl," and it's been going around and around for close to 10 years now. Last time it was going into production it literally blew apart because of 9/11. I just put it sleep for a while because it was very frustrating.
It's like having a baby and it doesn't come out. It's like, "I am pregnant, give me birth!" After a while, you just have to get over it. As of late, I have another group of people that are interested in putting it on.
WCT: "Love to Love You Baby" was your first hit and then you career took off. Did you always want to be a singer?
DS: I wanted to be an actress and then singing came along. That's the thing that opened the door for me. I went from singing in church to singing in a rock band. After that I went from New York to Europe, where I was acting. I got to do both sing and act in a musical called "Hair" which is now popular again. I was in the first German cast of that. From there I did four or five other musicals in Germany and then had my first hit record. Read more story below....
WCT: "I Feel Love" was so ahead of its time. Is there any musical genre that have wanted to try but haven't?
DS: I would love to do an opera. I had written one with a friend, Nathan, and been kicking it around for a long time. [ It is ] a combination of real opera, rock and roll and every other kind of voice that you can imagine, all within the structure of this one musical piece. I think young people don't like to go to the opera because they don't like the way people sing, but it's all the same. We should learn to teach our children to appreciate all of it as opposed to one thing or the other.
WCT: I love your most recent CD, which includes reggae. Crayons has crossed musical barriers, charting on dance and adult contemporary.
DS: That was the concept of the whole album. I kept thinking where do I go from where I have been? I do a little bit of everything. That is what music is really about. It is not about everyone dictating to you what you should be writing. It should be about the influences in your life and how you integrate those into the music that you do make and how you play with it. It's supposed to be fun but it can also be cathartic and can be the cure for all kinds of ills. When you don't feel good you sing, when you feel good you sing! Music is a medicine and no artist should be limited from exploring the medications.
WCT: Were you able to attend Michael Jackson's memorial?
DS: I was supposed to go but, unfortunately, I had a show in Paris. It was originally scheduled for the Thursday before but they kept shifting the date and it was impossible for me to go. The show had been sold out for so long I couldn't cancel.
WCT: You recorded with him before on "State of Independence." Any thoughts on Michael?
DS: I am heartbroken. For the first two weeks my brain was not even able to grasp the concept of no Michael. I was constantly breaking down crying and my husband was like, "Don't go there." I couldn't fathom the thought of Michael being gone. I think it hit everyone the same way. It hit in waves. People couldn't cope with the idea of his absence.
WCT: I like the fact that you have stuck to your guns as an artist over the years, sometimes disagreeing with music labels. It has been nice to not see you get pigeonholed.
DS: A lot of people think so because they go, "Here's the queen of disco!" What I want to say is no. I am actually the first womannot Black womanbut woman, period, to get a rock-and-roll Grammy. I don't take it as an insult but I am still working and there are fields that I haven't conquered yet. I won't stop until someone says, "It's over." I am not going to say it, so I am going to keep going until I get there.
WCT: Talk about working hard for the money! So you never plan on retiring?
DS: I don't think as a singer you need to retire unless you have health issues that prohibit you from performing at your max. I think if you are able to take care of yourself, you could probably sing for the rest of your life. It's a joy.
WCT: Your gay audience has been loyal to you. You headlined "Gay Days" at Disney World. We appreciate your support to our community.
DS: Well, thank you.
WCT: Is there anyone you want to work with but haven't?
DS: There are so many young and old musicians that are talented. I would like to work with James Taylor, John Mayer and Beyoncé. I can't even name them all that I would like to with, there's just too many.
WCT: I just saw Beyoncé in concert.
DS: I sure the show was fantastic. She's quite the diva.
WCT: So, what about your concert? What songs can people look forward to when you play at The Venue?
DS: I think this is a real well-rounded show. It has both old and new songs. The new is presented in a way that doesn't get on your nerves. [ Laughs ] Where you don't feel that you want the other songs. The way that it's done is engaging enough so that people are brought into the new songs, they get the melodies quickly. That's always an issue when you are breaking a song into an audience that has not heard it. They sort of sit frozen, like what is this? Why is she playing this? Why isn't this "Bad Girls?" Over the years I have learned to maneuver people in and out of new things, they grasp them and they get them and hold onto them. I think that's key. I try not to bombard people with new stuff and the second half is old stuff. I don't believe in that technique and approach. You have to give them little doses of what they came to hear.
WCT: What I like about Crayons is that it sounds fresh and doesn't sound like you are trying to do any of your older tunes. It sounds like you are stepping it up.
DS: Well, I am trying to. I have kids and I have ears and I see where music is going. I don't want to stay back there. What's the point? You have to try to be as current as you can be. Obviously the music industry has changed tremendously. It isn't nearly as easy to have a hit record as it used to be. In my day they didn't have the internet and people weren't downloading your songs for free. Now to have a hit is extremely difficult. For people to manage to do that is a bigger feather in their cap.
WCT: Do you currently live in Nashville? That's where I grew up.
DS: You're kidding!
WCT: My parents live in Gallatin, Tenn.
DS: I have been out there many times. I love it out there. We originally looked out there to live because the farms are so nice. With where the schools are, for our kids, we decided that drive was not going to be pretty. So we moved closer to where the schools were at in Old Hickory.
WCT: I know where that is. It has been so great talking to you! I can hardly wait to come see your show.
DS: Well, you better…
"Stamp Your Feet" for Donna Summer when she plays at The Venue, Horseshoe Casino ( 11999 Casino Center Drive SE, Elizabeth, Ind. ) Sunday, Aug. 23, at 7 p.m. For tickets, visit www.horseshoehammond.com .
Donna Summer and GLBTs
Singer Donna Summer has been an LGBT icon for well over two decades, but the relationship has been bumpy.
In the 1980s, it was alleged that Summer made anti-gay comments, saying that AIDS was God's punishment for homosexuality. The reaction by the gay community was overwhelmingly negative, with many individuals returning her records.
However, Summer has always denied making such statements. According to a 1999 issue of Gay Times, Summer issued a press statement years earlier, stating: "It is a source of great concern to me that anything I may have said has cast me as homophobic. … All I can ask is for is understanding as I believe my true feelings have been misinterpreted." Summer even sued New Yorker magazine when it reprinted the rumors, according to Wikipedia. According to A&E, Summer settled for an undisclosed amount.
Summer has performed for numerous gay- and AIDS-related events.