Disco! Donna Summer’s Awards History

Paul Grein
Stop The Presses!

Disco dominated the 21st annual Grammys in February 1979. The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack won for Album of the Year. For their work on the album, Bee Gees won five awards, including Producer of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group. A Taste of Honey, which had a #1 smash with "Boogie Oogie Oogie," won for Best New Artist. Donna Summer's "Last Dance" won for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female. That last-call anthem, written by Paul Jabara, won for Best Rhythm & Blues Song.

There was just one little problem. Even with 52 categories that year, the Grammys didn't have a category devoted exclusively to disco. Feeling a little bit "out of it," the Trustees ratified a new category, Best Disco Recording, which was introduced at the 22nd annual Grammys in February 1980.

The competition was fierce: Donna Summer's "Bad Girls," Rod Stewart's "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy," Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough" and Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" and "Boogie Wonderland" by Earth, Wind & Fire and the Emotions.

The winner was Gaynor's "I Will Survive." Jackson's hit won for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male. Earth, Wind & Fire's instrumental version of "Boogie Wonderland" won for Best R&B Instrumental Performance.

Summer was expected to sweep the Grammys that year. Her Bad Girls was nominated for Album of the Year. She was thought to have a good chance of winning in the new Disco Recording category. She was also vying for female vocal performance honors in pop (for the album), rock (for "Hot Stuff") and R&B (for "Dim All The Lights"). But when all the envelopes had been opened, Summer won just one award that night—the rock prize for "Hot Stuff." Grammy favorite Billy Joel took Album of the Year for 52nd Street. And, in an upset, Dionne Warwick won both the pop and R&B awards for her comeback hits "I'll Never Love This Way Again" and "Déjà vu." (I still remember Summer cheering as Warwick won those awards. They clearly meant a lot to Warwick, who had struggled on the charts for several years before her convincing comeback.)

(Summer left it to Michael Jackson to become the first artist to win Grammys for pop, rock and R&B in one night. Jackson won the male performance awards in those fields in February 1984 for, respectively, Thriller, "Beat It" and "Billie Jean.")

Summer won two Grammys in the category of Best Inspirational Performance. She in February 1984 for "He's A Rebel," a track from her album She Works Hard For The Money. She won again the following year for "Forgive Me" from her album Cats Without Claws.

Disco hits had been winning Grammys in other categories for several years, even before the big Fever year.

In February 1976, Van McCoy & the Soul City Symphony's "The Hustle" won for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. Silver Convention's "Fly, Robin, Fly" won the equivalent R&B award.

In February 1978, Thelma Houston's cover of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes' "Don't Leave Me This Way" won for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female.

Alas, 1979 was the only year that the academy had a category devoted exclusively to disco. Media pronouncements of the "death of disco" led the academy to drop the category the very next year and fold those entries into existing pop and R&B categories.

In 1997, the academy added a similar category, Best Dance Recording. The first winner: "Carry On" by Donna Summer & Giorgio Moroder. Moroder produced the session. In 2004, the academy added a second dance category, Best Electronic/Dance Album. The first winner: Basement Jaxx's "Kish Kash."

Neil Portnow, the Recording Academy's President/CEO, issued a statement on Wednesday: "Five-time GRAMMY winner Donna Summer had a dynamic voice and unique musical style that helped define the dance music genre in the '70s. She also was an artist who crossed many musical genres, as evidenced by her GRAMMY wins in the R&B, rock, inspirational and dance categories."