In the two-family house where I grew up in Bensonhurst, the two musical acts I heard most often, blasting from stereos at the top and bottom of the house, were the Beatles and Donna Summer.
The former was more my parents' speed, although my teenaged cousins who lived downstairs played the Fab Four plenty, too. But for me, my sister and my cousins, Donna was omnipresent. More than a disco queen, Summer was a deity we could call our own, a Boston native who recorded with Italians, married a Brooklyn paesano and fronted a group called Brooklyn Dreams. With that powerful, breathy-to-guttural-to-rafter-shaking mezzo-soprano, she recorded music of both florid grandeur and hard precision, the very essence of urban life in the 1970s.
She was, in short, an honorary New Yorker. Which I imagine is how hundreds of born-and-bred New Yorkers unconsciously regard the news today of her untimely death at age 63 from (reportedly) lung cancer. Regardless of where her upbringing and musical training had taken hera childhood and adolescence singing in churches in Dorchester, salad days in Germany in the musical Hair before she met her Berlin-based studio collaborator Giorgio MoroderDonna, to the end, belonged to all of us: outerborough ethnics; Manhattan velvet-rope aesthetes (and those who pretended); the gay, black and Latino communities.
Of course, if you're reading this in Detroit or Las Vegas or Minneapolis or Atlanta or Los Angeles or London, Donna spoke to you, too. Considering her lifelong association with a communal, hedonistic pop-culture moment, it's remarkable when one plays back her oeuvre how intimate, almost solitary her great works really were. Call her the Wanderer, for her ability to stretch, adapt and transmogrify dance music until it embraced everyone and everything.More »