Born into a devoutly Christian middle class, African American family in Boston, Massachusetts, Summer first became involved with singing through church choir groups before joining a number of bands influenced by the Motown Sound. Influenced by the counterculture of the 1960s, she became the front singer of a psychedelic rock band named Crow and moved to New York City. Joining a touring version of the musical Hair, she spent several years living in West Germany, where she married Helmut Sommer, an anglicised version of whose surname she adopted as her stage name.
Returning to the United States, Summer co-wrote the song "Love to Love You Baby" with Pete Bellotte. Music producer, Giorgio Moroder, convinced her to sing it herself, and it was released in 1975 to mass commercial success, particularly on the disco scene. Over the following years Summer followed this success with a string of other disco hits, such as "I Feel Love", "MacArthur Park", "Hot Stuff", "Bad Girls" and "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)". Becoming known as the "Queen of Disco", she regularly appeared at the Studio 54 club in New York City while her music gained a particularly large following within the gay community. Struggling with depression, she subsequently became a born-again Christian in 1980.
Diagnosed with lung cancer, Summer died on May 17, 2012, at her home in Naples, Florida. She was posthumously described as the "undisputed queen of the Seventies disco boom" who reached the status of "one of the world's leading female singers." Moroder described Summer's work with him on the song "I Feel Love" as "really the start of electronic dance" music.
In 2013, Summer was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
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