vulture remembers

The Music and Legacy of Donna Summer

Donna Summer
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 01: Photo of Donna SUMMER Photo: Richard E. Aaron/Redferns/Getty Images

Over her four-decade career, Donna Summer, who died of cancer this morning at age 63, amassed five Grammys, three consecutive double albums at No. 1, four chart-topping hits in just over a year, and uttered 22 simulated orgasms in a single song. But the numbers were only an aside to the music itself, a boundary-pushing, disco-defining collection that spans seventeen studio albums. Here, a spin through the oh-so-danceable signposts of Summer’s legacy.

A 1978 Rolling Stone cover story began by classifying Summer’s oeuvre as “brilliantly packaged aural sex.” The story’s most affecting moment was Summer’s summation of megastardom, as relevant today as ever: “Sometimes it gets to the point where you’ve been pushed for so long, by this motorous, monstrous force, this whole production of people and props that you’re responsible for, by audiences and everything that rules you, until you take it upon yourself to be a machine. And at some point a machine breaks down.” Tell us you can’t picture any one of today’s divas feeling similarly.
The Music and Legacy of Donna Summer