Friday, July 10, 2020

"Deliverance" - Donna Summer + Prince (Part Two)

Both complex and creative superstars, Donna Summer and Prince were marginalized as sex symbols, despite their profound spiritual journeys. Many of their similarities were explored in part one, which covered their childhoods and early success. Much of the research was based on Summer's 2003 memoir, Ordinary Girl: The Journey. 

The remainder of their lives and careers is explored below.

Racism & Music Industry Struggles

Sadly, the oppression faced by Black artists in the music industry, especially in the '70s and '80s, is common. Prince and Donna Summer did not escape that reality. From an early age, Prince sought to circumvent as much of it as he could; he crafted his image, sound and interviews so he could avoid being limited to the "Black" chart (as it was called back then), Black radio and underfunded marketing departments.

Building her career overseas, Donna did not immediately feel the baggage of being Black in the mainstream music world. But that all changed when she moved back home and had her first hit, "Love to Love You Baby," in the mid-70s.

"Although I grew up on and loved R&B music, I was much more of a pop-rock, folk-oriented artist," Summer wrote in her memoir. "But my skin was brown, so I was automatically packaged as an R&B act." Of course, the eternal "Queen of Disco" label didn't make life easier for the songstress.

"No one in America had any real clue that I had an extensive and quite successful European background in live and musical theater, or that I could actually sing other types of music," she continued.

Just as Prince had other talents (fashion, dance, producing/engineering), Summer was also a painter; her work can actually be found on eBay--which is a bit shocking.

As a woman, Summer had it harder than Prince; she said Casablanca Records President Neil Bogart was a "Svengali" figure in her life, controlling what she wore, where she socialized, what staff she hired, how often she toured (relentlessly) and what she sang. He even tried to give away her 1979 No. 1 hit, "Bad Girls"--which she co-wrote--to Cher! She composed both the lyrics and music for "Dim All the Lights," which reached No. 2 that year. But Bogart went behind her back and released "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)," her duet with Barbara Streisand, which prevented "Dim All the Lights" from going to No. 1.

"I'm not overlooking the fact that I now had three songs in the top five," Summer wrote. "My personal goal of achieving a number one song as a singer-songwriter had been short-circuited."

Summer eventually parted ways with Casablanca Records after a legal battle.

Though Prince wrote all of his songs and was able to branch out into different genres, he was still limited by Warner Bros. in many ways. His battle over creative control and ownership of his work was well-documented in the media.

Spiritual Awakenings & Career Changes

In 1979, Summer was at the height of her career, but felt something was missing from her life. She'd struggled with depression in the past, and was taking medication, but she couldn't shake the emptiness until she rededicated her life to God.

"I was finally filled by God's Holy Spirit and gloriously born again," she wrote. "I lived with this impending fear of doom, a fatalism that controlled my life until the day I accepted Jesus into it."

Summer said she was carrying insecurities from her childhood and shame from decisions she made as an adult. While she didn't elaborate on changing her music in her book, she spoke about the influence of her religion in a 1981 interview with the Washington Post.

"I basically do all my songs, but I do them differently," she said. "I don't do them the way I used to do them and eventually I will cast them out. ... I have a commitment to fill and it would be unfair to people who are waiting to see a certain thing; that's what I did and unfortunately I'm stuck with doing it -- until I can get it to the point where it's changed, writing material that I don't mind doing, that's not an infringement on my new beliefs."

Summer's next album, The Wanderer, included the song, "I Believe in Jesus." She also began adding a gospel segment to her tours. She told the Washington Post she had plans to break with longtime producers, Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte because she was looking for someone "born again." She did end up working with other people, but the decision appeared to be more about record label politics than spiritual beliefs.

Summer also cut back on performing to focus on her spiritual development and motherhood.

Prince had his own spiritual awakening in 1987, famously replacing The Black Album with the more uplifting Lovesexy, on which he proclaimed his belief in Jesus. He had a couple "born again" phases, though. After a period of additional spiritual searching in the '90s, he converted to the Jehovah's Witness faith in the early 2000s. He began echoing Summer's sentiments about changing his music, eliminating profane lyrics and retiring some songs altogether. He also encouraged his band and staff to attend Kingdom Hall services.

Passionate about fatherhood, Prince may have also taken a break from performing and recording; he said as much in interviews when his first wife, Mayte Garcia, was pregnant, but their son passed away after he was born.

Final Years & Legacy

It's common for artists to get reflective with age, and both Summer and Prince wrote memoirs, though Prince died of an accidental fentanyl overdose in 2016 before completing his story. Both artists were recording less, though Prince was more prolific overall. They embraced TV appearances, Summer working as a judge on talent shows, and Prince surprisingly guest-starring on "New Girl." They were also working with younger, popular artists.

Summer was passionate about developing her own biographical musical, Ordinary Girl, but it never came to fruition. After she died of lung cancer in 2012, "Summer: The Donna Summer Musical" opened on Broadway. Prince had an interest in theater decades before his death, but towards the end, he was gravitating toward other activities, like writing, more than playing guitar.

Summer did not have the same challenges with drugs, but reflected on the issue in her book.

"I honestly believe that if you are going to be a great singer, songwriter or musician, you must at least be acquainted with pain," she wrote. "There's always a danger on the part of the performer that the pain will be unbearable, which is why, I think, so many performers have substance-abuse problems. They don't really understand or know how to control the emptiness or the pain, and finally it overtakes them."

Both Rock and Roll Hall of Famers are remembered as legends who broke down barriers; for example, they were both among the first Black artists to receive airplay on MTV (Prince with "Little Red Corvette" and Summer with "She Works Hard for the Money"). With her 1977 hit, "I Feel Love," she, Moroder and Bellotte are credited as electronic dance pioneers. And Prince's genius in the studio and onstage will never be seen again.

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1 comment:

  1. Great differences and likenesses between both artist! The most beautiful thing about us as human beings is that we are human and have the ability to love! Love is the thread that allows us all to be woven together! Love4OneAnother always! I enjoy reading your articles! Keep inspiring through your writings and may God bless your journey always....Daryl