Disco goddess whose hit 'Love to Love You, Baby' was banned by the BBC, and who became a born-again Christian
Donna Summer, who died on Thursday aged 63, exploded on to the pop scene in 1975 with Love to Love You, Baby a song whose combination of cutting edge electronic beats and simple mantric lyrics spearheaded the strobe-lit disco craze.
Love to Love You, Baby, recorded in Germany, was notable for its eye-watering 23 seconds of faked orgasm, which Donna Summer performed gyrating suggestively with her microphone stand, and was considered so shocking that it was banned by the BBC and by radio stations in the United States.
Donna Summer later claimed to have been so embarrassed recording it that she demanded to be left alone in the studio with the lights dimmed, and she recalled that when she performed it live, it provoked riots: "I was in a tent in Italy, 5,000 men, almost no women and I was doing Love to Love You, Baby and I was fairly scantily clad ... And the guys got so ... wrapped up they began to push the stage back. And I had to run off the stage to my trailer out the back. And they came to the trailer and started to rock it. Five thousand guys in a little village in Italy! I just thought, 'I'm going to die today, I'm not going to get out of here.'"
With the song banned on the airwaves, the record producers went to the discos, where it became an instant hit, establishing Donna Summer as "the First Lady of Lust". The album Love to Love You, Baby -- released in 1975 -- became a Eurodisco favourite, but its title track also appealed to a much wider pop audience. In six weeks the album sold 400,000 copies.
Donna Summer's work with the German-based Italian producer Giorgio Moroder introduced the world to a new sound. Combining his clinical but infectiously danceable computer rhythms with her lush and overtly sexual vocal delivery, it became the blueprint for much of the music that dominated the charts. By 1979, Donna Summer had clocked up 10 singles that sold a million or more copies, including the risque I Feel Love, making her the biggest-selling female artist in the world.
The late Seventies were a whirl for Donna Summer. Her hits included Last Dance (1977) and Bad Girls (1979), she partied at Studio 54 in New York and dabbled in drugs. But the pressure eventually became too much. In 1979 a string of family bereavements, a row with her record label Casablanca, chronic insomnia and a growing dependence on antidepressants led her to consider taking her own life: "I thought I was going to kill myself, so I cried out to God to help me, and He did."
The following year, after joining a prayer group, Donna Summer became a born-again Christian; and though she continued to perform, she put her raunchy past behind her. "History is history, you can't unwrite it," she told an interviewer. "I accept that's where I was then, but I consider myself beyond that point and forgiven by God. But I also recognise that was the song [Love to Love You, Baby] that brought me my first success, so He must have known that would happen."
She was born LaDonna Andrea Gaines into a lower middle-class family in Boston, Massachusetts, on December 31, 1948, one of seven children. She was fond of her father, who worked as a butcher, electrician and buildings caretaker, but recalled him being a dominating figure. As a child, she sang in various church choirs in Boston and idolised Mahalia Jackson. Aged 16, she became the lead singer in a local rock and roll band called Crow.
It was at that time that she began taking drugs, later recalling: "I finally went so far that when I was 18 I said, 'Enough -- God didn't intend me to live my life this way.' And so I quit, abruptly, after two years."
To her father's great displeasure, she walked out of high school before graduating and left Boston for Europe to join a production of the musical Hair that was being staged by a German touring company, taking the part of Sheila. When the show came to an end she remained in Europe, working as a model and singer, principally in Germany.
Her break came when she encountered the owners of Oasis Records, Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, with whom she released Hostage and Lady of the Night, both of which became European hits. In 1973 she married her first husband, Helmut Sommer, an Austrian actor whose name she took in Anglicised form and with whom she had a daughter.
Love to Love You, Baby was her first hit in America and she said that without that success she would probably have remained in Germany: "I'd sworn to my mother, 'When I come back to this country I'll be somebody.' Until that song, there really wasn't any reason to come back." As it was, she returned home in 1975, and immediately found herself hailed as the "disco sex goddess". Her marriage broke up the same year.
In 1980, after returning to her roots in the church, she married a fellow Christian, Brooklyn Dreams musician Bruce Sudano, and went on to have two more daughters. She continued to perform, surviving the demise of disco by adapting to changing musical tastes.
In the Eighties, she released still-catchy staples such as State of Independence, She Works Hard for the Money and This Time I Know it's For Real, though in the middle years of the decade she became embroiled in controversy, when allegations that she had described HIV-Aids as a punishment from God led to protests from homosexuals who burnt her records and picketed her shows.
Bringing up her children lowered her professional profile, because she was determined to spend time at home; and in 1994 the family moved from Los Angeles to Nashville, where Donna built up a subsidiary reputation as an artist.
In recent years she had returned to the recording studio. In 2008 I'm a Fire, a single from her pop-dance album Crayons, gave Donna Summer yet another No 1 in the dance charts, making her the first artist to reach the slot in the Seventies, Eighties, Nineties and in the 21st century.
Donna Summer won five Grammy Awards, six American Music Awards and charted three multi-platinum albums. In the UK, 29 of her singles reached the Top 40. In America she was the first artist to have three consecutive double albums reach No 1 on the Billboard chart.
At the time of her death from cancer she was said to be finalising her latest album.
She is survived by her husband, Bruce Sudano, and by her three daughters.