Donna Summer, the Grammy-winning Queen of Disco who ruled the pop charts in the '70s with "Last Dance" and "Hot Stuff," died Thursday morning after a battle with cancer, according to her family. She was 63.
Summer brought a booming, gospel-trained voice and high-fashion style to the repetitive, electronic dance music of Europe in the mid-'70s to help shape the international phenomenon of disco, starting with "Love to Love You Baby" in 1975. At the height of that era, she racked up four No. 1 hits in 13 months, setting a record for female artists at the time.
In a statement, her family said they are "at peace celebrating her extraordinary life and her continued legacy."
Summer, a finalist for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011, had been living in Englewood, Fla., with her husband, Brooklyn native Bruce Sudano. She died in Naples, Fla., according to The Associated Press.
Born LaDonna Adrian Gaines in Boston in 1948, Summer got her start in show business in a German production of the musical "Hair." It was in Germany where she first teamed with producer Giorgio Moroder and they developed the sound that would become disco.
"Donna Summer had a dynamic voice and unique musical style," Neil Portnow, the Recording Academy's president and chief executive, said in a statement. "She also was an artist who crossed many musical genres, as evidenced by her Grammy wins in the R&B, rock, inspirational and dance categories. Her talent was a true gift to the music industry." The academy hands out the annual Grammy Awards, of which Summer won five.
Though dance music, as well as her career, came in and out of pop culture fashion, Summer always believed in its power. Her impressive string of 19 No. 1 dance hits is surpassed only by Madonna, and it stretched five decades after she landed another No. 1 hit last year with "To Paris With Love."
"I think dance music is happy music," she told Newsday in 2008, before headlining Nikon at Jones Beach Theater to support "Crayons," her first studio album in 17 years. "It makes you euphoric. When I go to a dance floor, I want to hear something that will help me shake off every negative thing and all the work from the week before, and all I can think about is being free for a minute."
Summer wrote her share of anthems, including "She Works Hard for the Money," for female equality. But it was the euphoric, escapist feeling that she worked to keep in her music that helps explain why her career endured while so many of her contemporaries seemed to vanish.
Summer's songs are still heard nightly on Broadway in "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" and they were an integral part of the Off-Broadway play "Dogeaters." Her influence is still evident in both today's R&B and dance music, with high-profile admirers ranging from Beyoncé to Moby offering their condolences.
"We will miss Donna Summer," Janet Jackson said on Twitter. "She changed the world of music with her beautiful voice and incredible talent."
Summer's Top 5 hits
Donna Summer reached No. 1 with the dance hit "Love to Love You Baby" in 1975. And at the height of the disco era, between 1978 and 1980, she racked up a stunning nine Top 5 hits:
"Last Dance" (No. 3, 1978)
"MacArthur Park" (No. 1, 1978)
"Bad Girls" (No. 1, 1979)
"Dim All the Lights" (No. 2, 1979)
"Heaven Knows" (No. 4, 1979)
"Hot Stuff" (No. 1, 1979)
"No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)" (No. 1, 1979)
"On the Radio" (No. 5, 1980)
"The Wanderer" (No. 3, 1980)