Disco queen Donna Summer dies at 63

Story highlights

NEW: "We won't forget all those many hits she put out there," Aretha Franklin says

She was suffering from cancer, publicist Brian Edwards says

Summer was "a woman of many gifts, the greatest being her faith," a family statement says

She rose to pop music fame starting in 1975 with "Love to Love You Baby"

CNN  — 

Donna Summer, the “Queen of Disco” whose hits included “Hot Stuff,” “Bad Girls,” “Love to Love You Baby” and “She Works Hard for the Money,” has died, a representative said Thursday. She was 63.

Her publicist, Brian Edwards, said Summer was suffering from cancer. She died surrounded by her family in Florida, he said.

“Early this morning, we lost Donna Summer Sudano, a woman of many gifts, the greatest being her faith,” a family statement said. “While we grieve her passing, we are at peace celebrating her extraordinary life and her continued legacy. Words truly can’t express how much we appreciate your prayers and love for our family at this sensitive time.”

Summer first rose to fame the mid-’70s, thanks to “Love to Love You Baby.” The song, with Summer’s whispered vocals and orgasmic groans helped define the mid-‘70s disco trend and hit No. 2 in 1976. Summer followed the song with such hits as “I Feel Love,” “Last Dance” and a disco-fied version of the Richard Harris hit “MacArthur Park,” which outdid Harris’ version by hitting No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart. It was Summer’s first of four chart-toppers.

Fans, friends react to Summer’s death

But with her 1979 album “Bad Girls,” Summer broke out of the disco mold as the genre, which had become renewed by the success of the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack, was feeling a backlash. “Bad Girls” demonstrated Summer’s vocal and stylistic range and produced two No. 1 hits, “Hot Stuff” and “Bad Girls,” as well as a Top 10 ballad, “Dim All the Lights.”

However, Summer had some trouble adjusting to the changing times. Her next album, “The Wanderer,” went for more of a rock feel. It produced a Top 10 hit in the title track but fared relatively poorly on the charts – especially after the success of “Bad Girls,” a double album that spent five weeks at No. 1.

It wasn’t until 1983’s “She Works Hard for the Money,” which became a ubiquitous video as well as a big radio hit, that Summer’s fame approached its late ’70s zenith.

Watch 2008 Donna Summer interview

The Recording Academy, which presented five Grammys to Summer, said she “had a dynamic voice and unique musical style that helped define the dance music genre in the ’70s.’”

“She also was an artist who crossed many musical genres, as evidenced by her Grammy wins in the R&B, rock, inspirational and dance categories,” Recording Academy President Neil Portnow said. “Her talent was a true gift to the music industry, and our thoughts and sympathies are with her family, friends and fans throughout the world during this difficult time.”

“I don’t like to be categorized because I think that I am an instrument, and if you play me, I’ll make whatever particular sound is supposed to come out for that color,” Summer told CNN in a 2008 interview. “And so, in the overall spectrum of things, I’m just trying to be true to my – what I feel my mission is.”

Hollywood publicist Michael Levine said he was hired in 2002 to help Summer “rebrand and reinvent her image.”

The legacy of Donna Summer, America’s disco queen, is lasting

“She was a victim of her own success,” Levine said. “The disco diva imprint was so great that she wanted to break beyond that.”

“She would always bring a gift when she came to our office, which is not common,” he said.

Celebrity reaction to news of Summer’s death was immediate.

Share your images or memories of Donna Summer

“I can’t believe we’ve lost another wonderful singer,” Dolly Parton said. “Donna, like Whitney (Houston), had one of the greatest voices ever. I loved her records. She was the disco queen, and will remain so. I knew her and found her to be one of the most likable and fun people ever. She will be missed and remembered.”

Chaka Khan said she was Summer’s friend for three decades.

“She is one of the few black women I could speak German with and she is one of the few friends I had in this business,” Khan said. Summer moved to Germany in the early ’70s to perform in several musicals.

“I was shocked to hear about Donna,” singer Barbra Streisand said in a statement released by her publicist. “She was so vital the last time I saw her a few months ago. I loved doing the duet with her. She had an amazing voice and was so talented.”

“She will be terribly missed. She was truly the #Disco Queen!” Singer La Toya Jackson said in a Twitter posting.

“We will miss Donna Summer! She changed the world of music with her beautiful voice and incredible talent,” Janet Jackson told Twitter followers.

“Whitney. Tina Marie. Vesta. Now Donna Summer. The choir in heaven has a new member. They will be singing up a beautiful storm:)” actress Niecy Nash tweeted.

“Rest in Peace dear Donna Summer. Your voice was the heartbeat and soundtrack of a decade,” music producer Quincy Jones tweeted.,

“I thought she was a very gracious and a very nice person. Always beautifully gowned and well spoken. I liked her,” said legendary soul singer Aretha Franklin. “A very good singer. We won’t forget all those many hits she put out there. You know, ‘Bad Girls’ and ‘Last Dance’ and all the hits. We won’t forget those. My heart goes out to her family and to her friends and fans. It’s really a sad day.”

The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Summer’s honor to the Salvation Army.

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CNN’s Todd Leopold, Josh Levs and Rachel Wells contributed to this report.