With the death of disco icon Donna Summer, we remember the top ten “divas” of the disco era — female artists who symbolized the times with their style and who sang their way the hearts and consciousness of fans across the globe.
1. 10) ANITA WARD
This Memphis born singer’s name is virtually synonymous with her huge, outsized 1979 disco hit, “Ring My Bell.” Like so many disco divas of the era, Ward (b. December 20, 1956) was never able to replicate the gargantuan success of her first single.
2. 9) VICKI SUE ROBINSON
Vicki Sue Robinson (May 31, 1954 – April 27, 2000) performed one of the iconic early hits of the disco age, “Turn The Beat Around,” which went Top 10 on the Billboard pop charts and received a Grammy nomination. In 1994, “Turn The Beat Around” was remade by Gloria Estefan.
3. 8) JANICE MARIE JOHNSON and HAZEL PAYNE (A TASTE OF HONEY)
Most disco divas conveyed a somewhat dainty image, so the sight of Janice Marie Johnson and Hazel Payne rocking the electric bass and electric guitar, respectfully, was a headcracker. Johnson and Payne, who were the frontwomen of the group, were responsible for two huge hits of the late disco era: “Boogie Oogie Oogie,” and the classic slow-jam “Sukyaki”.
4. 7) ANNI-FRID LYNGSTAD and AGNETHA FALTSKOG (ABBA)
The two “A”s in the Swedish group Abba voiced some of the most well known disco hits of all time: “Dancing Queen,” “Mamma Mia,” “Take A Chance On Me,” “Voulez-Vous,” and many more. Abba continues its cultural currency today with the Broadway and movie musical “Mamma Mia.”
5. 6) THELMA HOUSTON
Thelma Houston — born Thelma Jackson in Mississippi on May 7, 1946 and raised in Southern California — became an icon of the disco era with her hit remake of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes’ “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” Houston was one of the few disco divas who recorded successfully in the post-disco era, teaming with Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis on “You Used To Hold Me So Tight” in 1984.
6. 5) NORMA JEAN WRIGHT, LUCI MARTIN, ALFA ANDERSON (CHIC)
You may not know their names individually, but as the lovely ladies who fronted the disco supergroup, Chic, you’ve heard their powerful voices and grooved to their music. Wright left the band after singing on Chic’s first hits, “Dance, Dance, Dance” and “Everybody Dance.” Martin and Anderson were the team that took Chic to the top with “Le Freak,” “I Want Your Love,” and “Good Times.”
7. 4) CHERYL LYNN
Cheryl Lynn — born Lynda Cheryl Smith on March 11, 1957 — recorded one of the most famous disco songs of all time, “Got To Be Real,” which in some ways foreshadowed the funk era that would succeed disco in the 1980s. The song was composed and recorded by the studio musicians who comprised the group Toto, and Lynn voiced the chorus for their famous disco/soul song, “Georgy Porgy.”
8. 3) DIANA ROSS
True, Diana Ross was an international superstar well before the dawn of disco. But it’s incontestable that Ross not only rode the disco wave into a compelling comeback, she also fed the genre with credible and incredible music: “Love Hangover,” and the Chic-produced “Upside Down,” and “I’m Coming Out.” Ross’s Motown-era glamour was a perfect match for disco’s classy, upscale feminine ethos.
9. 2) GLORIA GAYNOR
Gloria Gaynor — born Gloria Fowles on September 7, 1949 — gave the women of the 1970s their anthem, “I Will Survive.” But even though Gaynor is best known for that 1979 #1 pop hit, she was actually one of the first disco artists, having remade “Never Can Say Goodbye” into a dance floor smash in 1974.
10. 1) DONNA SUMMER
Arguably the most successful female artist of the disco era — and surely its foremost icon — Donna Summer (born LaDonna Adrian Gaines on December 31, 1948) actually helped kick off the disco revolution with her seminal 1975 record “Love To Love You,” produced by Georgio Moroder. Summer’s songbook contains: “Last Dance,” “On The Radio,” “Bad Girls,” “I Feel Love,” “MacArthur Park” just to name a few.