On May 17, 2012, music lovers were saddened to learn of the passing of LaDonna Adrian Gaines—better known as Donna Summer, the legendary singer and songwriter famous for a vast array of iconic disco and dance classics such as “Bad Girls,” “Hot Stuff” and “Love to Love You Baby."
Felipe Rose, Lakota, the Native American member of disco heavyweights the Village People knew Summers as a respected colleague and Casablanca Records label-mate. He took some time to reminisce about the late disco diva with Indian Country Today Media Network.
What's your earliest memory of Donna?
We were on the same label at Casablanca Records, we met her when we were on the label and she came to greet us because she did not live that far away from us. I remember a really funny moment when we were just staring at her because we could not believe she was standing there in the same office with us and one of the guys said to me, "are you going to tell her?" I said, "No, you tell her." and they said, "no you tell her." She asked what was wrong, and I said "Your wig is crooked."
She fixed it and we all laughed. From then on it was a very admirable and artistic relationship.
Another time we saw her is when we went to go see Dolly Parton perform and she was with her husband, Bruce Adano of the group Brooklyn Dreams. The thing about the Greek theater is when a major concert is going on is right before the lights go down they always put a light over to what would be their stage left and our stage right—a spotlight. They bring out all the celebrities that are going to take their seats and at that moment celebrities were being walked out. Of course Donna walked out with Bruce and there was huge applause—we walked out after her and it was insane because people could not believe we were all together and breathing the same air.
How well did you know her?
We would see each other at concerts and stuff. I do remember one time just before the public had the album "Bad Girls,” I drove to Casablanca records because I needed to pick up some cassettes - remember when we had to use cassettes? I had to pick up 10 copies and I had a convertible Mustang. I grabbed my cassettes, said goodbye to the PR guy - I remember opening it, it wasn't even wrapped and then "Hot Stuff" came on.
Lookin' for some hot stuff baby... I cranked up the volume and I was driving down Sunset Boulevard and people were looking and saying, "is that the new Donna Summer album?" I was like, "Yes, It's brand new!" I loved it, it was wonderful.
How has Donna's passing affected you?
It was shocking because we also lost Dick Clark about a month ago. I feel like my life is in a transition right now where I feel like we need to move into enlightenment because I am reliving my past because of the passing of many of my friends. Especially with Donna. Who can't say they don't have their favorite Donna Summer's music or song? I have several, "MacArthur Park," "The Deep," "Could it be Magic?" "Bad Girls"—the list goes on and on.
What was interesting about Donna is that she went through her phases. If you listen to "I Feel Love," that trans-European sound at that time was light years ahead.
I think her music is a soundtrack to our lives. A lot of people didn't know her, but I turned on a lot of radio stations the day she passed, a lot of people were crying as if they actually knew her. I was stunned at the outpouring of love.
The day the news broke, I was contacted by Larry Flick of Sirius radio, and he asked if he could speak with me. He told me they were doing a four-hour tribute to Donna Summer. I was interviewed on his show and was there to basically remember Donna, her beauty, her artistry, her family and the legacy of music she left behind.
Undisputedly, there is one song that will play at night anywhere in a club called "Last Dance." At that moment in the clubs, if you didn't have your date or your smush for the night by that time that that song started—you were out. The minute that song would start, people would start running around, trying to find someone for the night.
What is Donna Summer's legacy?
I think her impact was the art form of dancing on the dance floor. She was able to transport everyone and keep us on the dance floor. She was able to be herself and not sell herself out and be true to herself and her artistry for 30-plus years of her life. You look at "She Works Hard for the Money," which became an anthem for women.
She was a very generous woman as well as very beautiful and very talented—needless to say a beautiful voice. She kept that instrument intact up until her passing away. From what I have heard she recorded two albums just before she passed—her second project was not finished and was recorded with Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Madonna. They were working on an all-out dance album with other women in the industry who looked up to her. Donna Summer is the precursor to Madonna. When you listen to Madonna's music and a lot of the arrangements you can hear instrumentally, that they are so Donna Summer it is ridiculous.
I am still praying for her family and Bruce. Donna lost two other sisters to cancer. I pray that her soul is at peace, which I'm sure it is. I am really honored that she left us with a legacy of music that is going to live on 100 years from now.
Follow Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) - ICMN’s Arts and Entertainment, Pow Wows and Sports Editor Follow @VinceSchilling