May 17 2012 – the death of one of the great voices of the past 5 decades was silenced by cancer and I was absolutely heartbroken. When she passed, it was a total shock because her illness wasn’t public knowledge.
Donna Summer was one of my musical idols – an icon for all time. That voice was eternal – no melisma needed, no vocal pyrotechnics necessary, no fancied runs – that became the métier of wannabe pop divas for decades to come – to annoy. She opened her mouth and sang the melodies, straight, declaratively and with a gale force matched by few. She empowered you, she broke your heart and she made you dance, sometimes simultaneously.
Stuck with the disco lapel (as if “disco” was something to be ashamed of – and not to mention that one of her biggest hits of the disco era, “Hot Stuff” – and the BAD GIRL album in general – was a Rock N Roll record through and through) she never sustained her peak commercial success despite putting out some stellar work, but with some big hits throughout the 80s, she remained a viable force on the dance charts through the aughts. Through it all, she was respected and beloved – across the generations. And across time.
Here, Summer performs “Last Dance” on the 1978 Mac Davis special called “You Put Music In My Life,” which aired on May 11 of that year on NBC. The variety special also featured KC and the Sunshine Band and legendary actor Art Carney. (I remember staying up late watching this. It aired at 9pm here in New York, on channel 4. I watched it specifically for Donna, though Mac Davis was a favorite in our Country music saturated home.)
Summer and her band rehearsed in Las Vegas before arriving in Los Angeles on April 22, the date the special was taped.
No backing tracks, no gimmicks, no studio trickery. Just Donna, her solid band, and her once-in-a-lifetime, singular voice singing a “new” song, which, of course, became an indelible classic, written by the late Paul Jabara for the film “Thank God It’s Friday.”
RIP to a woman – and a supernatural voice – for the ages.
(Forgive the quality – it is, after all, 41 years old!)