Donna Summer, Queen of Disco, dies at 63

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NEW YORK (AP) - Disco queen Donna Summer, whose pulsing anthems such as “Last Dance,” “Love to Love You Baby” and “Bad Girls” became the soundtrack for a glittery age of sex, drugs, dance and flashy clothes, has died. She was 63.

Her family released a statement saying Summer died Thursday morning and that they “are at peace celebrating her extraordinary life and her continued legacy.”

The family did not disclose the cause of death. She had been living in Englewood, Fla., with her husband Bruce Sudano.

“Words truly can’t express how much we appreciate your prayers and love for our family at this sensitive time,” the statement said.

Summer came to prominence just as disco was burgeoning, and came to define the era with a string of No. 1 hits and her luxurious hair and glossy, open lips.

Disco became as much defined by her sultry, sexual vocals _ her bedroom moans and sighs _ as the relentless, pulsing rhythms of the music itself.

Elton John said in a statement that Summer was more than the Queen of Disco.

“Her records sound as good today as they ever did. That she has never been inducted into the Rock `n’ Roll Hall of Fame is a total disgrace especially when I see the second-rate talent that has been inducted,” he said. “She is a great friend to me and to the Elton John AIDS Foundation and I will miss her greatly.”

“Love to Love You Baby,” with its erotic moans, was Summer’s first hit and one of the most scandalous songs of the polyester-and-platform-heel era. The song was later sampled by LL Cool J, Timbaland and Beyonce, who interpolated the hit for her jam “Naughty Girl.”

Unlike some other stars of disco who faded as the music became less popular, Summer was able to grow beyond it and later segued to a pop-rock sound. She had one of her biggest hits in the 1980s with “She Works Hard for the Money,” which became another anthem, this time for women’s rights.

Soon after, Summer became a born-again Christian and faced controversy when she was accused of making anti-gay comments in relation to the AIDS epidemic. Summer denied making the comments, but was the target of a boycott.

Religion played an important role in her life in later years, said Michael Levine, who briefly worked as her publicist.

“She was very committed to God, spirituality and religion. Her passion in her life, besides music, was God, spirituality and religion. She held a bible study class at her home every week,” he said.

Summer, real name LaDonna Adrian Gaines, was born in 1948 in Boston. She was raised on gospel music and became the soloist in her church choir by age 10.

“There was no question I would be a singer, I just always knew. I had credit in my neighborhood, people would lend me money and tell me to pay it back when I got famous,” Summer said in a 1989 interview with The Associated Press.

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