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Donna Summer (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Bad girl no more

Donna Summer, 1948-2012

Issue: "Effective Compassion," June 16, 2012

Donna Summer, who died of cancer May 17 at 63, was in some ways the anti-Whitney Houston. Whereas Houston began with a clean image that she eventually besmirched, Summer launched her career with the borderline-pornographic disco smash "Love to Love You, Baby" then went on to embrace marriage, motherhood, and the Christian faith. Prior to her conversion, she notched nine top-10 hits (including her 1979 No. 1 single "Bad Girls")-10 if you count "The Wanderer," the title track of the 1980 album that concluded with "I Believe in Jesus." "Jesus was a little lamb," she sang, "his fleece was white as snow. / And everywhere that Jesus went, this lamb is sure to go."

For a time, it appeared Summer had found a way both to diversify her sonic portfolio and to blend a public Christian stance with a successful career. If her 1982 hit "Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger)" might have been a song about her rebirth, there was absolutely no doubt about whom or what she was singing in "He's a Rebel," "Unconditional Love," and her duet with the 2nd Chapter of Acts' Matthew Ward, "Love Has a Mind of Its Own." Then the trouble started. A story broke that Summer, whose Queen of Disco status had earned her a significant homosexual following, had described AIDS as a punishment from God. By the time she denied having done so and sought to mend cultural fences, the damage had been done, and, like Anita Bryant before her, Summer found herself on the professional ropes. Of the nearly 40 singles she released after 1983, only two hit the top 40.

Perhaps she'd merely "had her run." Whatever the case, she kept recording, occasionally hitting the dance charts. For the most part, however, she aged gracefully and, by all accounts, happily-content in her decision years before to have shed her "bad girl" image and to follow the Lamb wherever she believed He was going.

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