reclassified afro-punk: donna summer

April 26, 2010

Let’s get one thing straight, I love Donna Summer. The hair, her sound, all of it. That being stated, you can understand my frustration with her being overlooked as the true punk artists that she is/was during her prime years. This curly haired vocal power house released a double album called “Bad Girls” which mixed rock, funk, blues and soul to electronic beats for crying out loud, but as music history has it, Donna was part of the artists during the 70s that got locked in the disco category. Well, I want to reclassify Ms. Donna Summer into the Afro-punk community. And I’ll tell you why, too.

Reclassified Afro-Punk: Donna Summer
Because Amari Eaglin said so

Original post and comments can be found here

Born LaDonna Gaines, in Boston, Massachusetts Donna Summer was just a college student when she was asked to join the European production of the musical “Hair.” After production ended she settled in Munich, Germany; where she sang back up for bands like Three Dog Night. It was during this time she met her long time collaborators Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte.

In 1974 Denver Dream was the first recording released under her stage name Donna Summer. Also released in 1974 was her first full length album.


With tracks like Hostage, Wounded, and Born To Die, you would never guess Donna Summer’s first release fell into the folk rock/pop category. For some reason the track titles don’t seem forced or out of place, and you can thank Donna’s powerful vocal delivery and command of every lyric and note for turning standard 70’ soft rock songs into a respectable debut.

Hello, did I mention that Donna became the first African-American woman to win a Best Rock Vocal Grammy for “Hot Stuff.” Some may only know Donna Summer for her disco hits, but this record is a collection of art rock, pop, and new wave material. With the popularity of disco music on the decline, Donna decided to move her sound in a new direction.

Along with long time collaborators Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, Donna created an album that was the culmination of all her previous work. The result is amazing, and Donna uses her experience as a front woman for rock band The Crow, and her versatile voice, to carve out a new niche for herself in the industry.
Unfortunately despite critical acclaim, four stars from Rolling Stone, and her second Best Rock Vocal Female nomination for “Cold Love” an ode to the classic days of rock and roll, “The Wanderer” was a commercial failure. With songs like “”Running For Cover,” “Night Life,” “Stop Me,” ‘Breakdown,” and “Grand Illusion” I think this classic recording deserves another listen.

In 1981 Donna decided to follow up “The Wanderer” with the double album “I’m A Rainbow.” Once again she called on Giorgio Moroder, and Pete Bellotte. This record was designed to be a double album; more danceable, without losing the artistic growth of her last effort. When Geffen heard the finished recording they shelved the project, and called in Quincy Jones for a new sound. “I’m A Rainbow” was not released until 1996, but tracks from the album wound up finding their way onto some memorable movie soundtracks. (“Highway Runner” was featured in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and “Romeo” on the soundtrack to Flashdance).

Yes this clip is cheesy, but it’s one of the few times you get to see Donna Summer rock out, and it’s so fun and ladylike.

Another standout track “Leave Me Alone” evokes Pat Benatar’s “Treat Me Right” in style and fierce female empowerment.

In an interview for VH-1’s celebration of the 1970’s, Donna remarked that without disco, she would have become a rock and roll singer “which would have been difficult, because there aren’t many black female rock and roll singers.” That was the 70’s, but by the 80’s Donna Summer was a genuine rocker, even if few took notice. It’s a shame, she couldn’t have been marketed better, because Donna’s musical reinvention should have put her on the same level as artists like Pat Benatar, and Stevie Nicks. She was nominated alongside them; three times to be exact. Her third nomination in the Best Rock category came for the song “Protection” a collaboration with Bruce Springsteen from her self titled 1982 album.

While Donna Summer’s music may not be punk in sound or appearance; she’s definitely punk in spirit, and as the AP community expands isn’t that what it’s all about. Although she may not have gotten her respect as a rocker, we can remedy that here and now. I believe Donna Summer should be reclassified Afro-Punk if not for her career highlights mentioned above but on principle alone for this 1971 cover of “Sally Go Round The Roses.”