Humble queen of disco

Donna Summer still has more dances in her

Fairfield Daily Republic ©

FAIRFIELD - The phone rings at exactly 9 a.m. on a Wednesday when I realize I'm nervous.

On the other end is the legendary Donna Summer, the same woman who took 16 minutes of erogenous sounds on "Love to Love You Baby" to the forefront while introducing the true meaning of "extended play" on an album.

"Hi, this is Donna Summer," she says from her home in Nashville. I begin to babble like a girl on her first date.

"Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. In fact, I couldn't sleep last night thinking about this interview. I'm such a huge fan of yours!" I respond, realizing I am defying every ounce of professionalism in my line of work. But I can't stop.

"I downloaded some of your songs this week, like 'MacArthur's Park,' 'Heaven Knows' and 'Last Dance,' although when I hear that song I know the party's over so I really don't want to hear it," I continue. Thankfully, she interjects with laughter.

"No, thank you for sharing that, it means a lot to me to hear that. I think it's great," she replies sincerely and I suddenly feel relaxed. I soon realize this conversation with Summer will be more than interviewing the queen of disco.

She is genuine; not a woman living off her fame. And she's humble, considering she pioneered the sound of European synthesizer-based music with American soul during the 1970s and was the first artist to garner back-to-back multiplatinum double albums.

Her title of "Queen of Disco" wasn't mere hype either. She recorded eight albums in four years, all of which at least went gold. To date, she holds five Grammy Awards and six American Music Awards, none of which she exhibits in her house, she says. And her song, "Last Dance" from the 1978 motion picture "Thank God it's Friday," won an Academy Award for best song.

But her career has not been without controversy. Soon after announcing she was a born-again Christian in the '80s, Summer was accused of making anti-gay remarks (later proven to be false), which led to a boycott of her music in dance clubs.

Regardless, she managed to gather 21 No. 1 hits on the Billboard charts over a period of 25 years while raising three girls with her husband, Bruce Sudano of the group Brooklyn Dreams ("Heaven Knows").

My phone conversation with Summer, a preview to her performance at Cache Creek Casino Resort June 30 (performing her dance hits mixed with new music), was an incredible interview with unfeigned answers. Here's an excerpt of our conversation:

I heard your knee was injured. How are you doing?

It's getting better. I didn't opt to operate, I wanted to do a different form of therapy that's more effective. But I'm getting there. The summer is hot and thick and it's hard to breathe when you're on stage. You have to get your lung capacity up and that's aerobic. But when you're carrying a booty bigger than before it's hard!

You've been quoted as saying you don't like to called the "Queen of Disco." Is that true?

It's not that I don't like it because it's not a bad name. I just don't want it to limit me. I have five Grammies in different categories. I don't think people realize it's not my goal to be a disco singer. All along I've been singing quite a mix of music, not one genre. I love music and I'm an artist. I get bored doing the same thing over and over again.

Do you feel you're trapped in that image?

I do a little bit. (Chuckles). It's like they went to a party, had fun and can't stop talking about it. It's not a bad thing, it's just that we have to move on.

There are those who mock disco. What's your take on that?

It's not their taste. I think people think disco is easy but it's not. It has some classical elements to it meshed with rhythm, Latin and African music. It's not easy to perform on stage.

Will you ever perform "Love to Love You Baby" on stage again?

I do a teaser now but I didn't do it for many years; it incited so many things. I'm safe now - that generation is older and mature. I do a snippet of it now in a controlled way, but it was a scene on stage before!

Is it true you had the lights dimmed in the recording room when taping that song?

Yes! I couldn't get into the mood with two men staring at me in bright lights! It had to be dark.

You became a Christian during the '80s. How has that changed you?

Oh, so many ways. I was very depressed and suicidal before I became a Christian. I couldn't see any reason to be alive. You'd think with everything going on I was fine but I was so exhausted. You can't catch up, there is no private time. You're not a person, you're a business and people look at you as an object. You have to find yourself and love yourself, not your money or fame. This helped me to get to that place.

It really has changed my outlook, my way of loving others, I'm less selfish and a lot wiser. It doesn't mean I don't have my bad days.

Your favorite song?

"There Will Always Be You," I think, because I wrote it. On stage it's "Last Dance."

Do you think you'll do another album with producer Gorgio Moroder?

We were talking about it. I have an album to do in the next few months which will be with him on earlier stuff. It's just trying to hook our lives together. I'm thinking of moving to Los Angeles for a while.

When can we expect another album from you?

The beginning of 2007.

Are you launching a Broadway musical based on your life?

Yeah, I'm working on that. It was starting to happen in 2001 but 9/11 happened and everything went haywire. I went home with my tail between my legs. I didn't want to put it out there when people were struggling. But it's starting to heat up again.

Is the man in the song "Heaven Knows" your husband?

No, that was his group but not him. We were dating at the time that was recorded and we were so in love.

Who is Donna Summer?

I think she's a coat of many colors.