Donna Summer Tribute

In a tribute to the “Queen of Disco,” Tavis looks at the legacy of the five-time Grammy winner and one of the most popular artists of the disco era.

Dubbed the "Queen of Disco," Donna Summer enjoyed consistent chart success, selling more than 100 million records in a nearly 40-year career. She was the first female to have four #1 singles in a 12-month period and, with her U.S. debut, "Love to Love You Baby," was also the first artist to create an extended-play song. The five-time Grammy-winning songstress first sang in a gospel choir in her Boston, MA hometown and turned a performance in a German stage production into a launch pad for her career. Summer released her final CD ("Crayons") in 2008 and, last week, lost her battle with cancer.


Tavis: The news of Donna Summer’s passing last week reverberated around the world. Back in 1975, the soon-to-be-superstar released a 17-minute single called “Love to Love You, Baby,” and popular music would never be the same. From there, she went on to a string of number one hits that helped define music for years to come.

In 2008 she joined us here on this program for the release of her first new collection of songs in years, an album that would turn out to be, in fact, her last. During our conversation we discussed how the music industry had changed over the years and why she never tired of hearing the classic hits.

[Begin previously recorded interview]

Tavis: How do you think the music industry has changed for the better and for the worse? Because you’re putting out a project now a few years –

Donna Summer: Well, for the artist, it’s absolutely fabulous. I think it’s an open playing field. I think as a young artist you have the opportunity to establish a populous that, or an audience that you had no contact with before.

For the record company, not so great. But I think that they’ll find their footing and they’ll find the place where they can actually still be very successful with artists, but I think it’s kind of good for one and not as good for the other.

Tavis: Why do this record? Donna Summer is – never mind your new title as the empress, and no longer the disco queen.

Summer: (Laughs) Okay.

Tavis: Never mind that you don’t have to do this anymore, you have made your mark, we are still – I heard your song on the radio, your music, three times coming to the studio, flipping stations. People are still playing your stuff every day. Why for Donna Summer do this now?

Summer: Well, because I have three grandkids and I want them to have some new songs.

Tavis: Yeah, that’s fair.

Summer: That’s it. I just want them to have something new. I’ve been playing these songs, going out on the road, playing the same songs for so long. Last tour that I was on I thought, you know what? I need some new songs. I just felt like it’s time, let’s do it. I didn’t want to record before, but I just got tired of it.

Tavis: To your point now, Donna, I wonder whether or not you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing – when I said a moment ago I’d heard your song a few times over the weekend, the last few days, I meant that. It’s hard to turn the radio on now, because everybody’s got these oldies and goodies stations, and the old school stations.

Summer: Sure, sure.

Tavis: So you can hear Donna Summer, as I’m sure you do, anytime on any station any day of the week. Is that a good thing or a bad thing, that we’re playing – it’s good stuff, but we’re playing it so much now that you almost get tired of the old stuff that was good as much as you get tired of the stuff that comes out now that we play over and over and over again.

Summer: Well, I just think you have to change the channel. (Laughs)

Tavis: But that’s my point, though. When you do that, you’re still hearing – all I’m saying is that whether it’s Donna Summer or Marvin Gaye, run the list, or Stevie circa, you know, the stuff was so good then, it still sounds good now, but you hear it so much on every station that I wonder whether or not we start to – how could I put this – lose an appreciation for the classic nature of the stuff.

Summer: I don’t think so. I just think people are hungry for what they consider meaty and substantial, and I think that a lot of people relate to that music and it’s attached to so many memories in their lives, and in the vernacular of their living, that they want to have access to that memory again.

So when they hear the song, it’s like, okay. I hear Barry White or something, I’m just – I’m right there. I’m 19 years old; I’m having a good time. So it’s all about the moment.

Tavis: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

[End previously recorded interview]

Tavis: Like most iconic artists, Donna Summer’s music resonated around the world. In 1977, while recording his own groundbreaking album in Berlin, David Bowie and producer Brian Eno listened to a new single from Donna Summer called “I Feel Love.” Eno turned to Bowie and said, “This is the sound of the future.”

Summer went on to great success, including multiple number one hits and five Grammys. Despite losing her battle with cancer at the far-too-young age of 63, her rich life and her rich musical tapestry will survive for generations to come.

That’s our show for tonight. Until next time, good night from Los Angeles, and as always, keep the faith.

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Last modified: May 22, 2012 at 4:18 pm