Donna Summer’s friends gather for disco queen’s funeral

Donna Summer (from ilovethatsong.com)

(CNN) — Several hundred of Donna Summer’s closest friends and family crowded into a Nashville, Tennessee, church Wednesday afternoon to say goodbye to the queen of disco, who died of lung cancer last week.

The family has kept the funeral plans private, but by Wednesday afternoon it was revealed that the service was being held at 2 p.m. in the Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville. While cameras were banned from inside, television crews set up their cameras outside the church.

Summer’s death at age 63 last Thursday began a flow of tributes for the five-time Grammy winner, whose music was a driving beat of the disco era in the last half of the 1970s.

“Her talent was a true gift to the music industry,” said Neil Portnow, president and CEO of the Recording Academy.

“Few singers have impacted music & the world like Donna Summer! It’s the end of an era,” singer Gloria Estefan wrote on Twitter.

“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.”

Summer, born in Boston to a father who was a butcher and a mother who was a schoolteacher, sang from the moment she learned to talk. Her debut performance came in church at age 10 when the scheduled singer didn’t show and the pastor asked Donna to step in.

Summer later recalled that the church performance left worshipers in tears.

While she is iconic in the disco genre, her five Grammy wins were also in the R&B, rock, inspirational and dance categories.

In a 2003 interview with CNN, she said the initial absence of a manager led her to do provocative photo shoots. Her public image as a sex symbol and diva conflicted with her religious upbringing, she said. Her grandfather was a minister and her father a church deacon.

“Yes, it was a big complex and the image was sort of created around me,” Summer said. “I was sort of there, but not consciously there. And I didn’t have anybody sort of on my side at that point, fighting for me, except for me, being in the middle. And then people would say, you know, ‘Lay down here and do this.’ And you know, whatever,” Summer said.

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.

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.

CNN’s Michael Martinez, Todd Leopold and Denise Quan contributed to this report.