Crawford: The lasting impact of Donna Summer

Colin Crawford, Assistant Opinion Editor

If you listen closely to the final track on Beyoncé’s critically acclaimed house album, “Renaissance,” you may recognize a familiar techno synth melody. On “SUMMER RENAISSANCE,” Beyoncé’s honeyed vocals soar and blend beautifully with a sample of Donna Summer’s futuristic 1977 single “I Feel Love.”

This homage to an international superstar is so fitting considering the impact Summer has had on the music industry. She carved out a unique space on the charts as disco became exponentially more popular in the 70’s.

Summer died in 2012, but she’s still making waves in the music world a decade later. Her reemergence in Beyoncé’s artistic work should be seen as a recognition of a Black female artist whose music had a great impact on the house genre.

Summer first smashed radio norms with her 1975 breakthrough hit, “Love to Love You Baby.” Her groans and extensive moaning were revolutionary, challenging notions of what was socially and morally acceptable for radio. Her orgasmic utterances made her a global star and she became the face of disco.

The explicit and erotic nature of “Love to Love You Baby” was extraordinarily different from other songs of the time. In fact, though the track’s unexpected popularity brought it to No. 2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1976, Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” kept it from being in the top spot. Simon’s ballad was arguably the antithesis of Summer’s sultry sex song.

This success marked the beginning of a string of hits in the ‘70s including “Last Dance” and “Hot Stuff” which crowned Summer the “Queen of Disco.” But Summer was also known as a mainstay on the Dance/Club charts — yet another reason Beyoncé included her song on “Renaissance.”

After her death, Summer remains an inspiration. In 2020, Kygo released a remix of “Hot Stuff” and in 2021 her estate released the re-edited version of her 1981 album, “I’m A Rainbow: Recovered & Recolored.” The 40th anniversary edition of her eponymous 1982 album was released just this month.

Beyoncé has channeled Summer’s soulful spirit especially.

In 2003 on her debut solo album, “Dangerously in Love,” Beyoncé includes an interpolation of “Love to Love You Baby” in the song “Naughty Girl.” She even starts the song with lyrics from Summer’s classic disco hit.

It is clear that from the start of her career, Beyoncé’s inspiration to be sexy and lustful was Summer. So, it makes sense Beyonce included “I Feel Love” on an album that she said is meant to bring joy and move people.

Beyoncé’s inclusion of Summer’s music in her projects forbids us from forgetting an icon of the music industry and forces us to recognize Summer as the trailblazer she was.

Summer spoke about Beyoncé with Extra TV in one of the last interviews she did — and she made it clear the respect and admiration was mutual. She said she loved Beyoncé and wanted her to “blossom.”

It is important to recognize the titans of the music industry who paved the way for the artists of today. Beyoncé sampled Summer’s discography to pay tribute to an incomparable Black woman who has changed music and radio forever.

Summer’s reemergence in Renaissance is a call back to the beginning of Beyoncé’s solo musical journey. It’s an acknowledgement of where Beyoncé has been, sonically, as she moves forward in her groundbreaking, larger than life career.

Donna Summer is and always will be a musical legend. She remains to this day the only artist in Grammy history to win awards in four different genres: rock, dance, gospel and R&B. Her impact is widespread and despite being a decade after her death, her soul still has a hold on the music industry and a home in a top album this year.

Colin Crawford is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.