reclassified afro-punk: donna summer
By Sound Check
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
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.
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.”
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