On May 17, 2012, I was at work, sitting at my desk when my phone rang. It was a co-worker who worked at a different location than I did. “Jimmie! Did you hear the news?”, is what I remember her saying when I answered the phone. “No. What news?”, I said. “Donna Summer died!”, she replied. I think, I responded instantly with, “No, I didn’t know!”, but it seemed like, in retrospect, that I froze before I spoke. I’m pretty sure, I didn’t, but it felt like I did, know what I mean? I thanked my co-worker for letting me know and hung up. I couldn’t believe it! Almost everyone who knows me, knows that Donna Summer has been my number one favorite singer since I was a kid. My Facebook friends REALLY know it! Even my boss that day said, I could go home, if I wanted to. It was sad news, indeed, but I stayed at work in constant thought about Donna’s passing. I didn’t really cry about it until I got home and finally heard the full version of “Adonai” that someone had posted on Facebook. To hear the voice that I loved so much sing a spiritual song like that and sound so, so marvelous doing it brought tears to my eyes. I would never hear that voice, again, on a new song. It was difficult to get new material from her when she was alive. It’s not any easier now that she’s gone either. How anyone could keep Donna Summer’s voice in a vault, collecting dust, makes me shake my head. I don’t get it!
Hers is a voice that should be heard. I play Donna’s music every single day. I even feature a song of hers every Sunday on my Facebook page. I call it “Donna Summer Sunday”. It’s my way of honoring her memory and my way of sharing a voice that I believe people should hear. Even though Donna was versatile genre-wise, it’s her voice that sets her apart from all of the other female vocalists, not just her musical versatility. Her actress-like vocals are unmatched, so far. I could talk about going to my first and only Donna Summer concert. Or, I could talk about the moment I spoke to her on the phone when she was promoting “All Systems Go!”, but the thing that is always a Donna Summer moment for me is just hearing that amazing voice. Whitney Houston was referred to as “The Voice”, but I disagree, of course. To me, “The Voice” was, and always will be, Donna Summer.
When I first got into Donna Summer, “Bad Girls” was her latest release. She sang like no other black female singer that I was aware of. No other female vocalist’s voice captured my attention like Donna Summer’s voice did. This still remains the truth for me to this day. She was a black singer who did a rock songs. She could sing in a thin whispering voice that made her sound like a different singer. She acted out her lyrics in character. She could be R&B, Pop, Rock, Country, Easy, Jazz, Blues, and Dance. Her vocal approach and range was just mesmerizing to hear. The mystery of how she would sing a song was always on my mind when I would listen to a new album for the first time. She was almost everything a music lover and singer could ask for in one person. I am reminded of this every time I listen to a Donna Summer song. That’s how my Donna Summer moments have been to this very day.
Every now and then, some unreleased song snippet gets out and fans are able to hear it. It’s so nice to be able to hear those treasures in today’s world of technology and social media. However, as a die-hard fan of Donna Summer, hearing unreleased songs only makes me want to be able to have them. It’s the issue of keeping that voice locked up all over again. Why keep those songs in a dusty hiding place? I believe, Donna would want us to have them, but I know it’s not always that easy. Especially, for legal reasons.
I will always love Donna Summer and her music. I never met her in person, but from what I’ve seen of her and read of her, she appeared to be an amazing, humble person. Her faith was a big part of her and it came through in her music. So much so, I even thought “Dinner With Gershwin” was a spiritual song. It, likely, was not, but the point is, it became such to me because it would not be far fetched to assume so from a song that Donna Summer recorded. Needless to say, all of hers songs were not spiritual, but some of them were. It’s just another reason I like her so. I believe, she tried to love others as God wants us to love each other. Such a spirit was evident in her interviews and personality. Her music reflects this as well. Her vocal approach, her musical versatility, her tone and range, her personality, and her spirituality all make for a great combination that captured my heart and attention. Who knows why we like who we like, musically? It could be because the artist manifests a version of who we are ourselves and/or who we seek to surround ourselves with? Who knows? All I do know is that I caught Summer fever when I was a young boy and I’ve learned that it’s an incurable state that I am oh so happy to be in. Thank you, Donna Summer for seeking your dream and never giving up. Had you not done so, I could be a slightly different person than I am now. That’s how much you have influenced me and I thank you over and over. God bless you. I love you. Someday, I will see you. I will want to sing together, so be ready!
– Jimmie Lee