Summer was a rarity in the 1970s disco scene because her career began before the disco explosion, and continued afterward. Even though she is one of the best-known artists of the disco era, Summer has covered different genres including R&B, rock and roll and inspirational music, earning her Grammy Awards in those categories. Her work is still critically acclaimed and remains one of the few disco artists accepted by modern rock critics.
Born LaDonna Adrian Gaines in Boston, Massachusetts, Summer began performing in her church's choir. She later joined a rock group called the Crow. A few months before graduating high school, Summer dropped out and joined the German production of Hair. She eventually settled in Europe, joining the Viennese Folk Opera and participating in numerous musicals.
After resettling in Munich, Germany, Summer married Helmut Sommer ("Summer" is an anglicization of his last name) and did various musical jobs in studios and theatres for several years. In 1971, Summer released "Sally Go 'Round the Roses", her first solo recording. The single was unsuccessful, however, and Summer had to wait until 1974 to launch a solo career. In that year, she, Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte (who met assisting Three Dog Night in the studio) worked together to produce "The Hostage", a European hit. Lady of the Night, Summer's first LP, was released in 1975 with moderate success in Europe.
Summer recorded "Love to Love You Baby" which was a huge European hit. Casablanca Records soon began distributing the album in the United States, and it became a sensation there as well. This was followed by an album, Love to Love You Baby, critically acclaimed then and now, notable for including a seventeen minute version of the titular hit. This established a pattern that made Summer unusual in the disco world: she focused just as much, if not more, on full-length albums instead of singles.
Continuing to work with Moroder and Bellotte, Love Trilogy (1976) and the concept album Seasons of Love (1976) were hits, though not as popular as Love to Love You Baby. I Remember Yesterday (1977) included the memorable hit single "I Feel Love", the first hit song recorded with an entirely synthesized backing track. This song, which became a major hit, is enormously influential in the development of disco, electronica and techno music, thanks to Moroder's innovative production.
Once Upon a Time was released soon after I Remember Yesterday; it was another concept album, concerning the fairy tale of Cinderella. After acting (and releasing a Grammy-winning song on the soundtrack) in the comedy Thank God It's Friday, Summer released a live album Live and More, which became another smash hit album and included a cover of "MacArthur Park". Summer's songwriting was showcased on Bad Girls (1979), which included a hit single in the title track, as well as "Hot Stuff", which won Summer the Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocalist. When a greatest hits album, On the Radio, became a #1 hit, Summer was the first artist with three consecutive #1 double albums.
Summer then decided to leave Casablanca and sign to Geffen Records, then just starting up.
Her first Geffen album was The Wanderer (1980), which included more rock and roll and R&B influences. The follow-up album, I'm a Rainbow, was not released until 1996 because Geffen did not think it was good enough. Instead, Geffen had Summer drop Moroder and Bellotte, her long-time songwriters, and paired her with music sensation Quincy Jones on the self titled album "Donna Summer", which produced the dance hit "Love is in Control (Finger on the Trigger)", a Top 40 hit "Woman in Me" and the Vangelis penned "State of Independence", which became a huge hit in Europe with its New Age feel and star chorus that included Christopher Cross and Michael Jackson. This song was the inspiration for Quincy Jones to later create with Michael Jackson "We are the World".
Summer continued her work with Geffen, later releasing the smash hit She Works Hard For the Money, which included a well-remembered hit in the title track.
Summer's career began to slow down drastically in the mid 1980s but was revamped in 1989 with her Stock Aitken Waterman collaboration "Another Place and Time". The first single "This Time I Know It's For Real" became a huge hit, first in Europe and later in the United States, and brought her back to the top of the charts.
In the 1990s, Summer has continued to work, producing numerous dance hits such as "Melody Of Love", which became the Billboard number one dance hit of the year, "I Will Go With You", the dance version of the beautiful Andrea Bocelli song "Con Te Partiṛ" and "You're So Beautiful", a club anthem she co-wrote with legendary DJ Tony Moran. A new remix of "I Feel Love" was a big UK hit all over again in 1995.
In June 2004, Donna Summer released a greatest hits compilation in the UK called "The Journey", which rocketed into the top 10 thanks to her appearance on ITV1 show Discomania.