Summertime – The Vocal Career of Donna Summer, A True American Idol

Donna Summer

In the realm of singing, there are 3 words that separate the kids from the grown ups, the amateurs from the professionals, as well as the green from the seasoned and experienced: THE NATIONAL ANTHEM or STAR SPANGLED BANNER, whichever one likes to call it.

A person can either sing the a capela piece or they can’t.

Performing America’s theme song in front of a live audience can either make an entire crowd teary eyed with patriotic pride or can have people in tears from being subjected to a vocal train wreck that never should have been put in front of a microphone in the first place.

The National Anthem is one of the best tools to gauge how experienced a vocalist is and clearly determines whether a singer is a vessel of voice in their own right or a record company conglomeration that isn’t able to produce anything musical without technological assistance.

The National Anthem leaves a singer vibrantly alive or barely breathing. You are given no assistance and must perform it vocally naked for its entire duration. If your vocal instrument begins to show signs of trouble, nothing can save you from vocally drowning. There may be throngs of people all around you but no one can do a thing if at any point during that minute and a half of thoroughly exposed vocal vulnerability, you simply can’t go on.

Nor can one’s manager smooth things over in the recording studio by cleaning up the multitudes of pitch problems that are accentuated by an absence of high, and just as importantly, low notes.

The National Anthem transcends musical genres, style categorization and popular fads. It doesn’t matter what kind of music one associates themselves with, America’s most strongly identified song requires only that whomever sings it have a solid voice with an even more solid vocal technique.

Whenever asked whose rendition of the National Anthem is my favorite not only do I provide the name of a particular vocalist but also recommend that every aspiring singer should study her performance of that special slice of vocal Hell.

This particular interpretation is testament to an iconic music career meticulously formed through decades of hard work, built by a singer whose vocal technique was so consistently solid, her voice transcended beyond any particular music genre to become a timeless treasure – Donna Summer singing  “The National Anthem” at the 2004 World Series at Fenway Park in Boston.

In astrology, Saturn is the planet of seasoned experience. Seasoned experience that’s gained strictly by the constant application of hard work. The ringed planet rules Time itself and never grants its rewards too soon or ahead of schedule. In fact, Saturn prefers to delay the passage of sand through its hour glass in order for experience to be gained before famed notoriety or recognized success make their presences known.

Success can arrive by a variety of other ways such as being in the right place at the right time, nepotism, or even sheer luck, but these are of no interest to Saturn. Success in Saturnine standards is based in such experiential things as learning from one’s mistakes, not only to ensure they are never repeated, but transforming them to be one’s most effective teachers. Rather than providing an environment of bounty as Lady Luck usually does, Saturn would rather see how well one does based on how little one is initially given. Saturn’s version of success rewards a person with a healthy constitution to withstand the passage of Time where one isn’t quickly forgotten but is instead cherished and appreciated by others as they become richer in both wisdom and valuable experience.

With the above just said, should it be any surprise that the great Donna Summer is herself, a daughter of Saturn?

Unlike the rest of the Zodiac, Life for the sign ruled by Saturn, aka Capricorn goes in reverse. Not only with their work but pretty much with every facet of life those born beneath the sign of the Mystic Mountain Goat pay their dues early on. Despite grueling toil being nearly always involved, the children of Saturn usually gain valuable experience and overall wisdom before the rest of us even actively begin to mature.

Many people, even fans of Ms. Summer, whose birthday alone is probably one of the most challenging to have (December 31st) probably aren’t aware of the actual location where the “Queen of Disco” first got her big break as a vocalist along with getting her singing feet soaking wet by diving head first into the experiential waters of live theater and nightclubs.

NYC? LA? Detroit? Nashville?

The locales listed above would be far too easy, if merely for the simple fact the primary language spoken in each place is English. In true Saturnine style, Donna Summer got her start singing in such musical venues as “Godspell”, “Hair”, and “Porgy and Bess” in a part of the globe where by night she performed in nightclubs while by day she tried to decipher her  neighborhood butcher’s northern accent as he brusquely told her the price of Blutwurst – Munich, Germany.

Because Liebling, if you can make it here, you can make it uberall, I mean, anywhere!

From the 1970’s through the 90’s if an American singer wanted to prove to record companies and/or agents they had what it took to establish a singing career in either opera, jazz, or musical theater – they went to Germany. Back then, every semi-large German hamlet had a local “Festspiel Haus” which cranked out nightly performances ranging from Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” to “Grease” allowing many a vocalist much needed stage experience they probably never would have gotten in the States. But, if not monitored wisely, German stage life was notorious for grinding singers (in particular their vocal cords) into hamburger meat.

If a singer’s audition was accepted, not only did they perform in the show they initially tried out for, it was also expected they would be singing 9-15 times a week in every production that particular Deutsche Theater was presenting for the entire season. German impresarios were well aware how hard most young American singers were willing to work and for barely any pay just so they could have the experience of performing a supporting lead role in front of a live audience. Unfortunately, many American singers with budding talent would end up State bound after 6 or so months due to losing their voices from grueling overuse after singing 2, and on some days, 3 shows in one day.

Not so, if that American singer with budding talent is a Capricorn.

The work ethic of the Capricorn is rivaled by no other sign of the Zodiac. What the other signs whine about as “hard work” is what the typical Cappie does on their day off. And the motivational source behind such a  daunting work ethic you may be wondering?

Two words – THE GOAL.

It doesn’t matter how high up or far off their chosen goal may be, when established the aspiring Capricorn has the ability to focus their energies on that distant goal as if it was a pinnacle flag on top of Mt. Everest and steadfastly work their way up their individualized mountain of Ambition one step at a time. Like a goat whose hooves cautiously scale each rocky step of a high altitude mountain range, the Capricorn will work and work and work – steadily gaining experiential knowledgeable and wisdom as their labors bring them ever closer to their desired goal of tangible accomplishment

Saturn best prefers bestowing its merit badges of experiential reward through an atmosphere of loss and challenge. Donna Summer’s music career began in the most Saturnine of ways. The Capricorn singer initially moved to NYC from her native Boston in the late 1960’s, auditioning at every possible opportunity. When the young Capricorn thought her big break had come through the role of Sheila in the original casting of an out there but very exciting new musical called “Hair” – Donna lost the role at the last minute to another talented performer named Melba Moore.

The Capricorn Crooner eventually sang the role of Sheila but with the on-tour cast of “Hair” in Germany and Austria in 1967 . Her mountainous goal of establishing a career for herself in music remained in tact but for the next eight years of Donna Summer’s life the pinnacle flag was temporarily placed in the Alps rather than the Rockies.

In true Saturnine fashion, the Goat Girl singer not only became fluent in German, Donna embraced the challenges of her early singing career by virtue of her first recorded single – a track from the musical “Hair” sung entirely in German.

Which leads us full circle back to a certain Capricorn singing a ditty called “The National Anthem” in her home town of Boston some 40 or so years later…..

Listen to the Capricorn artist sing the Star Spangled Banner in the video shown below. The notes aren’t nervously staccato’d by a no name singer with no breath control, nor are they sloppily glued together by a lazy vocalist with barely any vocal technique claiming to have “gospelized” their rendition of the most challenging piece to sing in the presence of a live audience.

Donna Summer sings “The National Anthem” with a tone that is full voiced and vocally pure. She expertly crafts each note  with the clearest diction through vowel production that is perfectly pitched in both the high and low registers which unto itself is the end result of a rock solid vocal technique made fully seasoned by experience and proper use.

As stated earlier, Life goes in reverse for the Capricorn.  While the aging process may be viewed as an unkind enemy to some, the passage of Time acts as a gentle friend for the Capricorn. I suggest everyone  re-play Donna singing The National Anthem once more, but on the 2nd listen, be aware that at the time of performance, Ms. Capricorn was a few years shy of being 60 years old.

(Christina Aguilera might wanna take a few performance notes, just sayin’.)

Donna Summer is a national treasure of vocal talent who unto her solitary self represents an entire era of music history. She was born with an immense reserve of talent  which the Capricorn diligently honed to perfection through her many years of dedication and hard work. Hard work that culminated with her rendition of America’s theme song performed a capela in a massive stadium filled to capacity outside in the freezing cold at nearly 60 years of age back in 2004.

Not only should Donna Summer’s incomparable voice be studied by young singers everywhere, her Capricorn work ethic should be emulated as well.  With that in mind, I propose one of Donna’s biggest hits from 30 years ago be made the Goal-attaining theme song for every hard working Goat Guy and Girl  and aspiring vocalist out there:

Donna Summer Money Shot

SHE WORKS HARD FOR THE MONEY

DONNA SUMMER
December 31, 1948 – May 17, 2012

 

 

*Brad Kronen’s book “Love in the Stars” published by Llewellyn Worldwide, Inc.  is available for purchase at your local book seller or online at amazon.com at the link listed below.

Brad Kronen’s guide on Astrology and Relationships “Love in the Stars” for purchase on amazon.com

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