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Donna Summer’s powerful voice was the soul of Dorchester

Donna Summer performed in Boston in 1978.
Donna Summer performed in Boston in 1978.Globe File Photo/1978/Boston Globe

Every dance track on the radio today, every wedding that ends with the anthem “Last Dance,” owes a debt to Donna Summer, the Dorchester-born singer and songwriter who died this week at 63. Summer’s big, smooth, confident voice, honed through years of singing gospel as a child at Grant AME Church in the South End, helped catapult her to stardom. As a singer and a lyricist, Summer channeled emotion and empathy. To generations of young people in dance clubs, her songs represented power, sensuality, and freedom.

Summer also represented Boston, though that wasn’t always known to the larger world. To many people outside New England, the image of the Boston music scene is bound up with white artists such as Aerosmith, the Cars, or New Kids on the Block. Summer was as much a product of her hometown, if not more so: a symbol of the many urban children who grow up singing, and never stop. She visited her old church over the years and sang at the 2004 World Series. As recently as 2010, she raised money for Action for Boston Community Development, the antipoverty agency that provided her with services as a child. In 2008, Summer told the Globe that Boston “is a part of me.” The opposite is just as true, and always will be.