It’s been almost two months now since Donna Summer died of lung cancer at the age of 63 in Florida.
Since her passing, I’ve listened to many of her greatest hits on the double-disc “The Donna Summer Anthology” to “Another Place and Time”, the 1989 out of print album that generated her last top 40 radio hit, “This Time I Know It’s For Real”. I have “Donna Summer: the Dance Collection”, her last album, “Crayons”, and “Christmas Spirit” sitting out to listen to soon.
When she died, I blogged about her death and then on that Friday, I featured my three favorite Donna Summer videos from the 1980s in my “Peeps’ Friday ’80s Flashback”. So, why two months later am I writing about her? It’s to show that I loved the woman and I never had any hard feelings toward her, as a gay man, when others in the 1980s (and even today) took issue with her about something she may or may not have said.
We all know that LaDonna Adrian Gaines became “Donna Summer” and scored her first radio hit in 1975 that peaked at #2, “Love To Love You Baby”. That song hit #1 in the dance club. While Donna Summer would go on to score 20 Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, she had much more success in the clubs with a total of 16 #1 dance hits! While radio stopped playing new Donna Summer music in 1989, she was still scoring one #1 dance hit after another through 2010. Her last club hit, “To Paris With Love” reached the top of the charts two years ago.
Radio started changing in the 1980s and Donna Summer was ready to move from being a “disco” singer to a pop and rock & roll artist. Her early 1980s hits like “The Wanderer” and “She Works Hard For The Money” proved that.
At the same time, many of Summer’s loyal fans in the gay community, that made her an icon, started dying off to a new disease that was ravaging their bodies. It was the “gay cancer” that would be named AIDS.
It’s widely known that Donna Summer found God in the 1980s and in a 1983 concert, the born-again Christian allegedly said that AIDS was a punishment from God for the immoral lifestyles of homosexuals.
When she found out about the comments, she denied it, but the damage was done. More and more people in the gay community stopped supporting her and in the late-1980s, the activist group, ACT UP, even started protesting at Summer’s appearances. There was even a protest at the 1989 Boston Pride event when the disc jockey played one of her songs.
Once Summer found out, she sent this letter to ACT UP in 1989 telling her side of story.
That same year, as she was promoting her new album, she told the gay activist magazine, “The Advocate”, that “A couple of the people I write with are gay, and they have been ever since I met them. What people want to do with their bodies is their personal preference.”
In 1979, as a teenager in Kentucky, I was still listening to country music. However, there was a pop song that reached #2 that I fell in love with. My sister, Tammy, bought the 45 rpm single for me that Christmas. It was “Dim All The Lights” by Donna Summer. That song became a turning point for me musically as the 1980s started and it’s still one of my favorites today.
I wasn’t at the 1983 concert and I don’t know if Donna Summer said those things about gay men and AIDS. In the bottom of my heart, I don’t think she did and only “Heaven Knows”!
Donna Summer is dead and it’s time for everyone that remembers that dark period with the AIDS pandemic and the Donna Summer controversy to let it die, too. I still love Donna Summer. I will still listen to her music, and it was rumored that she was working on a new album when she died. I’ll buy that, too, when it’s released.
I love you Donna Summer and I hope you’re at peace with the good Lord above.