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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And finally, this hour, we remember disco superstar Donna Summer. She died today of cancer at her home in Florida. She was 63. Summer is best known for hits including "Last Dance," "Love to Love You Baby" and "Bad Girls." As NPR's Sami Yenigun reports, she helped changed the sound of popular music.

SAMI YENIGUN, BYLINE: The '50s were the age of the doo-wop groups, and the '60s, it was girl groups, but the '70s belonged to the disco diva. And the undisputed queen of disco was Donna Summer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE TO LOVE YOU BABY")

DONNA SUMMER: (Singing) I love to love you, baby. I love to love you, baby.

YENIGUN: Summer's disco hit "Love to Love You Baby" was just one of many sexually charged groovers to ride the charts in the 1970s and '80s. She was born LaDonna Gaines on New Year's Eve in 1948. Summer's luxurious voice sat atop icy, fast-paced dance rhythms created by her producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte revolutionized the dance floor. Alice Echols is the author of "Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture."

ALICE ECHOLS: I think she's especially important today because we live in a pop music universe, which is dominated by the dance floor. Not everyone may like that, but it is dominated by the dance floor.

YENIGUN: Not everyone liked it back then either. Disco was discarded by many as cheap and lyrically insubstantial. But Echols says that many of disco's critics missed the point.

ECHOLS: The music that carries the biggest wallop very often is not music that is lyrically very hefty.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I FEEL LOVE")

SUMMER: (Singing) I feel love. I feel love.

ECHOLS: The new rhythms, the new beats, the new sound socialize us and get us to move and think about ourselves in different ways. And I think that certainly for gay men in particular, disco music, Donna Summer's music was music that encouraged them to rethink their own relationship to masculinity and to their sexuality.

YENIGUN: Summer's sexuality was central to her image. TIME magazine counted 22 audible orgasms from the star in "Love to Love You Baby." The BBC counted 23. In a 2003 interview with WHYY's FRESH AIR, Summer said it was an image that she didn't always like.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

SUMMER: When I did the interviews or whatever, people - guys would be so nervous, like they thought I was going to, you know, just - I don't know - jump on them or something. And I think the image was really pretty hard to live up to at some point.

YENIGUN: Summer's superstardom eventually took its toll. In a 1978 interview with Rolling Stone, the singer describes her career as a monstrous force that broke her down. Again, Alice Echols.

ECHOLS: One of the things that Summer very much felt at the height of her fame was that she had become a commodity, and that's why she pulls back very radically. And she becomes a Christian, and she refuses to do certain kinds of songs. She refuses to look certain ways.

YENIGUN: Still, Donna Summer continued to perform and record. Her last hit, "To Paris with Love," went to number one on the Billboard dance chart. Sami Yenigun, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LAST DANCE")

SUMMER: (Singing) ...last dance, let's dance this last dance tonight. Last dance, last dance for love. Yes, it's my last chance for romance tonight.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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