‘Sometimes you can’t communicate in words, but in a song, you can,’ late Queen of Disco told MTV News in a rare interview.
By John Mitchell, with additional reporting by John Norris
Donna Summer’s death Thursday (May 17) at age 63 after a long battle with cancer saddened music lovers around the world. Fans are mourning the loss of one of the greats, a real pioneer, whose innovative use of synthesized backing tracks blazed the path for the dance music we are all so familiar with today.
Hers are some of the most memorable disco songs ever recorded, and her impact on music is almost too large to quantify with words, but for Summer herself, it was all about the voice.
“Music is part of my life. For my judgment, music is the greatest of all the gifts,” Summer told MTV News’ John Norris in a rare 1989 interview. “The voice — not my voice, but the voice — to me is the greatest gift. Having a voice. You need no other instrument, all you have to do is sing. Open your mouth, and it’s there.”
Because her sound was so rooted in the mechanics of disco, with its glittering synths and pulsating beats, some people don’t know that the five-time Grammy winner was also an amazingly accomplished vocalist. Her mezzo-soprano voice transcends even the genre she pioneered. Before she became the Queen of Disco, she sang gospel in church and in her early 20s moved to Europe, where she performed in musicals like “Godspell” and “Showboat” and joined the Viennese Folk Opera.
“When I hear other people singing, I think, ‘God, it’s great, it’s a great gift, what a great gift,’ ” Summer told MTV News. “And probably one of the gifts that people want the most is to be able to sing, and for obvious reasons — it’s soothing, it’s stimulating, it’s encouraging, it’s sad, it covers every spectrum of emotion.”
It was a gift she was lucky enough to have and good enough to share with the world — one that brought her 14 top 10 hits and four #1’s.
“There’s no better way to get into those crevasses, those cracks in somebody’s personality and root out the real person but through singing,” Summer continued. “Sometimes you can’t communicate in words, but in a song, you can.”
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