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Critic’s Notebook

For Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a last dance with Donna Summer

Donna Summer performing in 2009. Her influence on music goes well beyond disco.

Chris Helgren/Reuters/file 2009

Donna Summer performing in 2009. Her influence on music goes well beyond disco.

When I interviewed Donna Summer last year, she had just been passed over again for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I asked if it was, as is so often said, just an honor to be nominated.

“That’s a bunch of baloney,” said Summer with a laugh. “I don’t care about the honor of being nominated, honor me and let me win! After about the third time, stop nominating me, I’m starting to feel like a loser.” Summer, a Boston native, continued to laugh a robust laugh and added, “I’m just kidding. It is an honor to be nominated, seriously.”

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When the inductees for the 2013 Rock Hall class were announced this week, I was excited that Summer’s name was finally on the roster. I was also sad — and to be honest, a little angry — that she was not here to experience the moment, having passed away earlier this year at 63 after a battle with cancer. Even though she clearly understood that no one is entitled to any particular honor and had a sense of humor about it, the induction was obviously meaningful to her.

In the wake of the disco/pop/R&B/rock/gospel singer-songwriter’s death, many artists spoke lovingly of her influence on popular music. Yes, she was known as the “queen of disco,” but that title was reductive given that her reach extended beyond the dance floor.

Her work with Giorgio Moroder made an indelible imprint on dance, rock, pop, and new wave artists from Prince to Duran Duran to Madonna to contemporary pop tunesmiths like Max Martin. Harder-edged jams like “Hot Stuff” were pioneering in terms of marrying rock guitars and dance music in ways that artists like Michael Jackson would adopt as the norm. And her mighty voice was the type to which many pop and R&B singers still aspire.

Among those paying homage earlier this year were artists already ensconced in the Hall including Aretha Franklin, Elton John, and Madonna, as well as fellow 2013 inductee Quincy Jones. Others bowing to the queen included acts as diverse as Beyoncé, Dolly Parton, Questlove of the Roots, Kylie Minogue, Nicki Minaj, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Mary J. Blige, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Timbaland, and Summer’s former duet partner Barbra Streisand. Even President Obama weighed in, saying that he and the first lady were fans.

Before we parted, I asked Summer what she was listening to lately. She said she had just discovered an Iranian pop singer. She couldn’t put her finger on the artist’s name in the moment, but she exulted in how the tune she was listening to moved her, literally.

“I was dancing around in my bathrobe, I was jiggling around and thinking, ‘If somebody could see me they would think I was insane!’ But it was really cool,” she said with another laugh, demonstrating a few moves.

In an appreciation I wrote at the time of her passing, I talked about how Summer had a similar effect: “That’s the way Summer’s music made many of her fans feel, too: safe in a bubble of beats and beauty, and moved to dance like no one was watching.”

Wherever she is, I hope that’s what she is doing now.

Sarah Rodman can be reached at
Follow her on Twitter @GlobeRodman.
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