To My Invisible Mentor With Love

I can still remember the Saturday my Mom and I made the drive from Lompoc, CA to Los Angeles to pick my dad from LAX. For someone growing up in Lompoc in the 70’s prior to high speed internet and premium cable stations, going to L.A. was a supreme pilgrimage. It was a chance to see the big city.

It was exciting to me to see the highways, people, tall buildings, sea of cars and smog. More importantly it was a chance to hear some R&B! Lompoc had its country, rock, classical and top 40 which allowed a few R&B artists to filter through, but there wasn’t a station that provided a full serving of artists and groups that I was weekly teased with in an hour on Soul Train. Lompoc also didn’t provide a generous R&B selection in the local record stores. If we did get a full and steady source, it was after the sun went down – which magically allowed the AM radio stations (look AM up on Wikipedia) to appear on the radio dial. Yes, a trip to L.A. definitely was something to be excited about. I could hear some music outside of the typical Lompocian box!

While driving to L.A. during the day this AM radio magic didn’t happen until you drove over the seemingly endless Conejo Grade that separates Camarillo and Thousand Oaks. Once over this mountain the flood gates were opened. Suddenly I was inundated with the style of Parliament, Grace Jones, The Commodores, and all kinds of R&B and funk I had never heard before. I was in heaven. It was during the heaven that I shown my personal nirvana. With only two recognizable instruments, the bass drum and a voice, I was totally dumbfounded to what I was listening to. Ethereal sounds that individually would make no sense on their own, blended into an fusion of non stop sound driven by a non stop beat. My mind was close to short circuiting as I desperately tried to discern the instruments that made this song. As infectious as this task was, there was something equally, if not more compelling – the voice.

Lyrically simple in its repetitive cadence, it wasn’t so much what was being sung but how it was being sung. During my more adventurous radio listening moments in Lompoc, I remember dialing into the classical stations and hearing lush symphonies and operatic voices. At the time I could appreciate it, to a certain limit, but couldn’t identify with it’s sound. However the voice in this song excited my mind, excited my imagination.

Her performance infused the necessary cold robotic operatic delivery and at the same time supplied the emotional urgency newly discovered feelings. A concept that I now see
played over and over, a machine with emotions. The song was I Feel Love. The first time I heard Donna Summer.

Since then I’ve been captivated by her character driven vocal styling, technical prowess, artistic integrity, and perennial popularity. I’ve been amazed to watch this singer come to popularity in her own genre, watch that genre abruptly disappear only to surpass it and thrive for some time when most of her counterparts didn’t. I’ve been captivated to listen to her sensuous falsetto of Love To Love You Baby flow into the operatic style of I Feel Love, the vocal strength of Mac Arthur Park, the sassiness of Bad Girls, the rocker in Hot Stuff, and the deep warbler of The Wander, the passion of Forgive Me or Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, to thee joyful radiance of This Time I Know It’s For Real. Her diversity in her song style are just as diverse as the Grammy’s she’s received in R&B, Rock, Dance, and Inspirational categories.

To an only kid she’s been my big sister. To a young man she became the ideal woman – I’ll understand the giggles for several reasons. To a person who wanted life and fame, she taught me a craft and a gift that I can always carry regardless of my obvious lack of fame for it. To a lost soul who didn’t see life as compelling as it should be, she gave me inspiration for hope. For an instant mood elevator, she can be my best friend who’s ready to hit the road. Over the years through song, “You To Me” are everything. For this, I offer a humble thank you. You are missed and loved.

Seeing your children and grandchildren blossom into talented and blessed individuals is a testament to Donna & Bruce and hope you don’t mind if we share that zealous fandom with them. It all started thanks to you Donna.


Keith Howard



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