Donna Summer, the indisputable "Queen of Disco," died Thursday at age 63 following a battle with cancer. The five-time Grammy winner, who released a string of chart-topping hits in the '70s and '80s, is credited with blazing a trail for future female singers by fearlessly owning her sexuality on tracks like "Bad Girls" and "Love to Love You Baby." Here's a look back at Summer's life through song:
"Love to Love You Baby" (1975)
After growing up in Massachusetts, Summer began performing musical theater in Germany, starring in shows including Hair, Godspell, and Porgy and Bess. Her first single, 1971's "Sally Go Round the Roses," did not go unnoticed, but it was her groundbreaking 1975 hit "Love to Love You Baby" that made her a disco star. Summer's iconic hypersexual moaning on the epic 17-minute track was so ecstatic and erotic that radio stations refused to play it. Nevertheless, says Alex Needham at the U.K.'s Guardian, the single, "charged with feelings of liberation, [expressing] a pre-AIDS world of pansexual freedom and adventure," became monstrously popular.
"I Feel Love" (1977)
David Bowie recalls legendary producer Brian Eno storming into a room to tell him, "I have heard the sound of the future." He put on Summer's ethereal, yet seductive "I Feel Love," and predicted that it would "change the sound of club music for the next 15 years." He "was more or less right," Bowie says.
"Last Dance" (1978)
Summer scored the first of her five Grammys for "Last Dance," a track that was recorded for her film Thank God It's Friday and won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. (Her final trophy came in 1997 for "Carry On.") What, asks Josh Grossberg at E! Online, "would weddings and bar mitzvahs be like without 'Last Dance' to send drunken partygoers out into the night?"
"Bad Girls" (1979)
With a "toot-toot, hey, beep-beep," Summer launched one of her most successful years in music with the highly danceable "Bad Girls." Of course, says Dodai Stewart at Jezebel, her songs "weren't just for dancing." They were emotional anthems "full of pain, hopes, dream, love." That signature blend of get-on-your-feet electronic production and emotional heft set a standard for future stars, "from Janet Jackson to Aaliyah to Beyonce," says Needham.
The energetic "Hot Stuff" marked Summer's transition from disco queen to pop-rock goddess, rocketing straight to No. 1 and making Summer the first African-American winner of Best Female Rock Vocal Grammy. Summer's blockbuster run in 1979 was remarkable, says Kyle Anderson at Entertainment Weekly. In addition to "Hot Stuff" and "Bad Girls," she scored with "Heaven Knows," "Dim all the Lights," and the Barbra Streisand duet "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)."
"She Works Hard for the Money"(1983)
Summer shook the disco sound for good with "She Works Hard for the Money," her last mainstream smash. (She released her last studio album, Crayons, in 2008 — her first in 17 years — after denouncing the "sinful" nature of her earlier hits.) All told, Summer had 14 top 10 singles, including four number one hits. "In a genre that was filled with many one-hit wonders and fly-by-night studio acts," Summer kept the disco inferno burning longer than anyone else, says Kaufman. Asked in 2008 if she'd always be the queen of disco, Summer responded, "No, actually, I'm trying to change it to empress now. I've been the queen long enough. I'm older, I'd like to be an empress, OK?"