Sometimes, it is not easy getting an audience with a diva. After four attempts to chat with Donna Summer in New York about her new album Crayons, her first studio work in 17 years, it’s now an hour past the time when she was due for the fifth attempt.
Just as it seems a lost cause, the phone rings and the voice down the line is unmistakably Donna Summer, the queen of 1970s disco. She is full of apologies for the delay, explaining a flu had sidetracked her schedule for the past week.
While battling the sniffles, she laughs a little wearily. I gotta tell you, it’s not easy being a diva these days.
After 42 years in show business, Summer, 59, would know. One of the main tracks on Crayons is even titled, The Queen Is Back, which she claims is as tongue in cheek as it is making a statement about her return.
On Crayons, the voice that helped create some of the defining songs of the disco days of the 1970s like I Feel Love and Last Dance and the pop era of the 1980s on She Works Hard For the Money is back in all its glory -” and it has to be said, sounding as good as ever. She tackles anthems with I’m A Fire, samba with Drivin’ Down Brazil and is in dancefloor territory with Stamp Your Feet.
Of all the tracks on the new album, she says the one she is sure will most appeal to her gay fans in the clubs is The Queen Is Back. As she makes the comment, she realises the joke on the word queen.
Oh, I didn’t mean it like that, she quickly explains. What I meant is it is a good dance track, and everyone who has heard that one likes it. I think they will also like I’m A Fire, which seems to get people dancing.
It’s understandable that Summer is cautious that anything she says about her gay fans might be misconstrued. In the early 1980s, the born-again Christian was alleged to have made anti-gay comments associated with the AIDS epidemic. She has been fighting the accusations ever since, always maintaining she had been badly misquoted.
When asked about that period now, the diva is firm. I don’t discuss it any more as I think it is redundant, she says. It is not something you want to talk about. It is a dead issue.
I can’t follow every negative that has been said about me -” I say let my activity and the actions of my person speak more than what you read in the papers.
In recent years, Summer has been doing just that, performing for the Elton John AIDS Foundation, as well as New York’s Carnegie Hall for GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis).
She has also been working on writing a musical, Ordinary Girl, and was a backer of the Broadway hit, Jersey Boys. She is also in talks to turn her collection of hits into a musical, in the same fashion as Mamma Mia did with ABBA tunes.
While she will be performing concerts in the US to support the release of Crayons for the rest of this year, Summer says she hopes to make her first visit to Australia as part of the tour. If she is in Sydney during February, she wants to perform at Mardi Gras -” and already has two local divas in mind to take to the stage with.
I would love to do Mardi Gras and, if I am down there at that time, it is something I would really want to work out, she says. I sang with Tina Arena on one of my TV specials, so she could do the Barbra (Streisand) part again on Enough Is Enough, or I would love to do it with Marcia (Hines). Summer and Marcia Hines grew up together in the 1960s in the same Boston neighbourhood.
For Mardi Gras, I would want to do a song they will move to. I would also want everyone to sing with me because, after all, it is a party.
Crayons is out now through SonyBMG.