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Black History Month artist spotlight: Donna Summer

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Few trips to the record store are complete without finding stacks of Donna Summer albums on the shelves. 

Her colorful and glamorous vinyl sleeves are easy to spot and catch the eye; most record stores typically stock multiple copies of albums like “Bad Girls,” “Once Upon a Time” and “Greatest Hits: Vol 1 & 2.” The abundance of Summer records in vinyl shops across the country is proof of her prolific career and impact in the music industry. 

Dubbed the “Queen of Disco,” Summer maintains her status as one of the highest-selling recording artists of all time, releasing music from 1968 until her death in 2012. She has sold 100 million records since the start of her career, putting her in a top-selling category with artists like Beyoncé, Coldplay, Prince and Britney Spears.

Sales do not define an artist’s career, however, and they certainly do not define Summer’s impact and influence on many genres of music. 

Primarily a vocalist and songwriter, she frequently collaborated with electronic music producer Giorgio Moroder, and together they created iconic disco tracks like “I Feel Love,” “Love to Love You Baby,” “No More Tears (Enough is Enough) ft. Barbra Streisand” and “Hot Stuff.” 

The incredible music the pair created defined the disco genre in the early 70s. They left a stamp on the music industry forever, influencing many artists, both in disco and other genres, like pop. 

“Donna Summer made music that moved me both emotionally and physically to get up and dance. You could always hear the deep passion in her voice,” wrote Beyoncé after Summer’s death. “She was so much more than the queen of disco she became known for, she was an honest and gifted singer with flawless vocal talent. I’ve always been a huge fan and was honored to sample one of her songs. She touched many generations and will be so sadly missed.”

Summer was able to sustain her career throughout her life and established herself as a highly versatile, creative woman. Not only did she sing and write disco, but she also made rock music and emotional ballads. She sang and acted on television and in musicals. During her musical career, she released 18 studio albums and performed on 13 concert tours. 

“It’s common for Summer appreciators to insist that she was so much more than the Queen of Disco,” wrote Ann Powers for NPR. “She herself fought to show her range throughout her career, incorporating rock and country, jazz standards and show tunes, into her astonishingly varied discography. But as one of disco’s most powerful and intelligent pioneers, Summer represents the richness of that music, now finally being celebrated as the wildly innovative and inspiring force that it was.” 

allison.harris@mail.umkc.edu

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