At the age of 18, Donna moved to New York, where an audition to replace Melba Moore in the Broadway hit 'Hair' led to a prime spot in the show's road company. She landed the part of "Sheila" in the German production of this classic musical theater work. After a year, she switched to the Viennese cast of the show. That led to her joining the Vienna Folk Opera, appearing in productions of 'Showboat' and 'Porgy And Bess'.
While on vacation in Switzerland, Donna met Austrian actor Helmut Sommer. They toured in a production of 'Godspell' and eventually married. Their daughter, Mimi was born soon after and the three of them settled in with Helmut's parents in Vienna. Helmut worked long hours and Donna was alone most of the time, leaving a void in her life which could only be filled by music. After less than two years, Donna and Helmut separated. Mimi was sent to live with Donna's parents in Boston, while she stayed on in Germany and continued her budding musical theater career, performing in productions of 'Godspell' and 'The Me Nobody Knows'.
By 1974, Donna was working as a part time model and backing vocalist, and it was during a demo session for Three Dog Night that she met Pete Bellotte and his associate, Giorgio Moroder. They were impressed with her powerful voice and signed her to their tiny 'Oasis' label. Her first single was called "The Hostage", but there was a spelling mistake on the label and Donna Sommer became Donna Summer. "Hostage" went to number one in France, but lived a short chart life in Germany. A Berlin politician was kidnapped and held for ransom. Since the subject hit too close to home, "The Hostage" was soon taken off German radio playlists.
Donna recorded more singles and an album for Oasis called "Lady Of The Night". They sold well in Holland, Sweden, Belgium and Germany, where Folk Rock was all the rage. The one thing that she lacked was professional promotion of her records. Donna and company pretty much had to plug the songs themselves, stopping at radio stations and doing a quick promo. All of that would be changed by a song called "Love To Love You, Baby".
Donna had heard the song, but was unsure of the lyrics. With the tape rolling, she made up a sexy voice, just as a joke, and filled in the words as best she could. Moroder and Bellotte liked what they heard and after a little polishing, they released the song in Europe in late 1974. When the track began stirring up club reaction in France, American record executive Neil Bogart took notice and licensed it to his fledgling Casablanca label. When edited down to the length of a seven-inch single from its original 16-plus minutes, "Love To Love You Baby" became a European smash.
When Donna returned to America, she was already a star. Capitalizing on her good looks, a publicity photo of Donna in a sexy pose was sent to all the Discos in New York city, along with a copy of "Love To Love You Baby". The song soon rose to number two on the Billboard Hot 100. An album of the same name was released in late 1975 and it too went gold.
Donna was never comfortable with her "Sex Goddess" image, but her producers convinced her that it was all part of the hype. The success of "Love To Love You Baby" triggered a series of Donna Summer albums that would brilliantly blend the primal groove of disco and funk with symphonic strings and soaring, dramatic vocals. Hardcore club DJs took delight in expansive epics like "Spring Affair", "Try Me (I Know We Can Make It)" and "Could It Be Magic", while pop radio programmers indulged in less lengthy but equally compelling songs like "I Love You", "MacArthur Park", "Hot Stuff" and "Last Dance". Summer recorded eight albums in four years, all of which went gold. The last four went platinum. She also won an Oscar and a Grammy for "Last Dance" as the theme to the movie "Thank God It's Friday".
In 1980, with disco on the decline, Donna left Casablanca Records and signed to Geffen Records. Her first album was a rock/new wave wailer "The Wanderer". Her style changed to gospel and soul. This formula proved less successful on the self titled "Donna Summer" LP, but she would score another huge hit with her next album, "She Works Hard For The Money".
She recorded "Cats Without Claws" (1984) and "All Systems Go" (1987) then left Geffen in 1989. "This Time I Know It's For Real", the Stock/Attkien/Waterman produced dance tune, reached number two on the charts. The album "Another Place And Time" went platinum on Atlantic Records. In the 90's, Donna released "Mistaken Identity", "The Donna Summer Anthology", "Christmas Spirit", "Endless Summer" and "I'm A Rainbow".
"Carry On", collaboration with old friend Giorgio Moroder won the Grammy for 'Best Dance Tune' in 1998. Now signed to Epic Records, Donna released a sensational concert album "VH-1 Presents: Donna Summer Live And More Encore". The CD and VHS cassette feature the classic hits like "Mac Arthur park", "I Feel Love" and "Dim All The Lights" as well as studio hits "I Will Go With You" and the techno wonder "Love Is The Healer". Fans who re-discovered Donna said that she'd come back, but the diehard fans knew that this Diva never left the building.
In 2004, Mercury Records released The Journey: The Very Best Of Donna Summer.
In the summer of 2008, Donna added another accomplishment to her list with the success of "Stamp Your Feet", which rose to #1 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play Charts, making it her 14th #1 single to top the club charts and her 20th #1 charting single across all charts. Only a few weeks before, her first single "I'm A Fire" from her new CD "Crayons" topped the Billboard Hot Dance Chart marking Donna's first #1 hit in almost 10 years. She embarked on the Stamp Your Feet Summer Tour starting on July 5th, 2008.
On December 11th, '09, Summer performed at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway, in honor of US President Barack Obama, where was backed by the Norwegian Radio Orchestra. In August, 2010 Donna released the single "To Paris With Love", which topped the Billboard Dance chart that Fall. On September 15th, Summer appeared as a guest celebrity singing alongside the outrageous Prince Poppycock on the television show America's Got Talent.
On June 6, 2011, Summer was a guest judge on the reality competition series, Platinum Hit in which twelve singer-songwriters compete through challenges that will test their creativity. In July of that year, Donna was working at Paramount Recording Studios in Los Angeles with her nephew, the rapper and producer O'Mega Red, on a track entitled "Angel".
The music world was shocked to learn that Donna had died of cancer on May 17th, 2012 at the age of 63. Over the course of her amazing career, she had 32 hit singles on the Billboard Hot 100, including four that reached number one.