A year (at least) too late, the hall at last acknowledges the undisputed Queen of Disco. Yet Donna Summer, who died this year after battling cancer, was much more than a dance-floor siren. Trained in musical theater, she got her start in Europe in a traveling production of Hair; it was in Germany that she met the influential producer Giorgio Moroder, who would shape her sound into a worldwide phenomenon. An unintentionally comic tragedy song called “The Hostage” gave way to “Love to Love You Baby,” one of pop’s sultriest moments ever, and thus was a legend born.
Everyone knows Summer’s big dance-floor hits, like “I Feel Love,” “Hot Stuff” and “Bad Girls,” but they may not know that those tunes came from ambitious concept double-albums that reminded listeners of Summer’s flair for the theatrical. And it’s worth noting that even after the disco backlash, Summer surged on with many more Top 10 hits (“The Wanderer,” “She Works Hard for the Money,” “This Time I Know It’s for Real”). But a different sort of backlash proved just as damaging: after allegations that she’d declared AIDS to be God’s punishment of gays (a claim she frequently denied making), she lost a considerable amount of support within the GLBT community. Ultimately, all was forgiven, and the remarkable Donna continued to have hits on the dance charts until her untimely death this May.