Summer broke down musical borders as well. In 1979, she was paired with Barbra Streisand, already a veteran star of the stage and screen, for the duet "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)." And when Summer released the double album"Bad Girls" in 1979, her song "Hot Stuff" won a Grammy for best rock vocal performance.
In 1980, Summer left Casablanca to join the newly formed Geffen Records. Her self-titled, 1982 debut for the label featured Bruce Springsteen on guitar in "Protection," a song he also wrote. Summer moved from Los Angeles to Nashville in the mid-1990s, bolstering a lifelong interest in country music; she co-wrote Dolly Parton's country hit "Starting Over Again."
As an actress and TV personality, she had a recurring role on the hit 1990s sitcom "Family Matters," playing Aunt Oona from Altoona, and nearly a decade later was a guest judge on Bravo's music reality show "Platinum Hit." In 2003, she published her autobiography "Ordinary Girl" and had established herself as a visual artist, selling more than $1.2 million worth of Expressionist-style work.
She released her final album, "Crayons," in 2008. It debuted at No. 17 on the Billboard charts, a career high for her, and she performed with the female finalists of "American idol" to promote it.
As she got older, she returned to her gospel roots and Christian faith in her performances, and told The Times in the 1990s: "Gospel is music that's both for yourself and to be shared. It transcends people's circumstances. I think that's what spirituals are all about. We're not just one-sided beings — we tend to nurture the flesh, but it's OK to nurture the soul too."
Today's dance producers and pop singers readily admit that Summer's work, once the victim of the late-'70s disco backlash, set the tone for what is now the most dominant aesthetic in pop — dance music. "I Feel Love" was one of the first hit singles to be made entirely on synthesized instruments, and disco's steady drumming, electronic arrangements and open romanticism formed the sonic template now used by such top pop producers as Will.i.am and David Guetta.
"David Guetta once told me that 'I Feel Love' is the reason he's a producer," said Evan "Kidd" Bogart, son of Casablanca founder Neil Bogart, and a songwriter who co-wrote tracks with Summer for her final album. "You can hear the stuff that Donna, Giorgio Moroder and my dad created in the '70s at a bat mitzvah, a wedding or a birthday party, and it paved the way for what we know as dance music of today. Her legacy is in everything we hear now."
PHOTOS: Donna Summer | 1948-2012