I’m betting many 38 year old dance freaks will relate to this reflection on the beloved Donna Summer, Queen of the dance floor, who passed away this week at the age of 63 from complications due to cancer and heart problems. My love affair with her music began at the age of 5 when I grabbed a hair brush and did the whole Last Dance song, starting at the top of the steps, working my way down to the living room, un-prompted, un-coached, and very amusing to my own Diva mom, Philly Jazz legend, Donna Jean Cocchia.
Before there was kindergarten, there were jazz rehearsals taking place in front of this nursery school drop out. I was not ready for nursery school for some reason. Thus, my afternoons before Mr. Magoo and Mighty Mouse episodes came on, were filled with music that permeated my soul -music with so much emotion and feeling I’m sarcastically surprised at how emotional and sensitive I turned out to be ;) (thanks mom). So, I sat on the couch and listened to my mom belt out these jazz tunes during rehearsals with her talented trio several times a week. My mom had some music industry success, like Best Female Jazz Vocalist in Philadelphia 1978, winner of the Villanova Jazz Festival and was runner-up to Dionne Warwick for a music contract with Burt Bacharach. Naturally, from my perspective, I totally had the best of these two Donna Divas in my life early on- both made me wanna get up and get down!
Now, insert into the dancing freak equation, the other end of my parental spectrum, my father, who has been a dancing fool since I can remember and still is to this day at the age of 68! He is an accomplished Latin Ballroom Dance Host and Instructor out of Sarasota, Florida. My dad was on roller skates, entertaining people to disco music as a professional dancer in the late 70′s early 80′s. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of being with my dad and dancing up a storm waaayyyy before my permanent teeth came in. I had it made growing up musically, and it makes perfect sense that I fell in love with Donna Summer and her music.
The death of Donna Summer has left an enormous hole in my heart for so many reasons. I went on to becoming a Dj and a dancer, and have always stayed connected to the amazing disco sound of Donna Summer all my life. Dance music has come and gone so much over the past 30 years that rarely has anyone had this kind of prolific musical career that Donna Summer has had. In addition to all of this, if there was one person who meant the world to one particular genre of music, and made the genre what it is, it is Donna Summer to Disco music.
Today’s Progressive House music and Neo-Disco Soul scene owe their success to Donna Summer’s music. Electronica, Trance, and Techno, also owe their success to Donna Summer. Why not the Bee Gees you may ask? Simple: Not much dance music today uses anything else but a female vocalist… it’s very clear who the model is: someone only with talent similar to Donna Summer because she is the benchmark for dance music vocalists hands down. As for Disco music itself, besides Rock and Roll, there is no other genre to get you up and jamming so easily and appeal to your inner musical aesthetics at the same time. Beautiful melodies, beautiful string arrangements, jamming horn sections, outstanding rhythm sections, Latin percussion…. no other music combines all of this with beats and grooves that make one’s booty go out of control.
As a Dj who has Dj’ed clubs and for private parties, I know I’m not alone in saying that the music of Donna Summer is close to being the number one requested dance music no matter what the occasion. Her songs are the songs that teenage girls, college girls, and older, bond together over and share in the sisterhood the music creates for women. Girls like to dance, no matter what age, it’s really not a secret ;) Compared to what we see going on today with females in pop music, and what we witnessed with the tragic and ultimately fatal drug addiction of Whitney Houston, who has made us dance freaks prouder than Donna Summer?
Just recently in 2009, at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert, she gave the most outstanding performance of Last Dance we could have ever imagined would come out of her. Yet, this was Donna Summer and when the crowd sat so still in the beginning, you knew they had no idea what was about to hit them… True fans can see this easily in the video…. Donna knew it, the band knew it, and Will Smith, the MC for that night, knew it too. You have to watch for yourself though to get the full effect- At the end of the video, you will see that as much as Will Smith knew how Donna could get down, he was blown away and didn’t know quite what to do when she was finished. All Hail the Dance Floor Queen!!! RIP ANGEL DONNA!