How Donna Summer made black female history on the country charts before Beyoncé

How Donna Summer made black female history on the country charts before Beyoncé



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Yes, Beyoncé made history this week by becoming the first black woman to go No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs with her bluessgrassy bop “Texas Hold ’Em.”

But, in the last week of Black History Month, we gotta give props to another African-American diva who broke down genre barriers on the country charts long before Bey made her two-step statement.

That would be Donna Summer, who, when she was the Queen of Disco, made her own history as the first African-American woman to co-write a No. 1 country single in 1980 with “Starting Over Again,” a tune that the late legend wrote with her widower Bruce Sudano for none other than Dolly Parton.

Just one year after dropping her disco classic “Bad Girls” in 1979, Donna Summer made country chart history with Dolly Parton’s “Starting Over Again” in 1980. Redferns

Take a minute and think about that. (We’ll wait.)

That’s also 43 years before Tracy Chapman became the first black woman to be the sole writer of the top tune on Billboard’s Hot Country Airplay chart with Luke Combs’ cover of “Fast Car” last summer.

Summer and Sudano — who got married in May 1980, the same month that “Starting Over Again” became Parton’s 12th country chart-topper — had previously co-written the certified disco classic “Bad Girls” together.

But “Starting Over Again” — a country-pop ballad, from Parton’s “Dolly, Dolly, Dolly” album about getting your giddy up back post-divorce — was a radical departure from the Studio 54 anthems that had made Summer the Beyoncé of the disco generation. 

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“I loved it,” Summer — who died from lung cancer in 2012 at age 63 — once said of Parton’s rendition to Country Music Today magazine in 2003. “It was so exciting to me. You can cut it, but it’s not the the same as when someone else cuts your song.

“I loved it,” said Donna Summer of Dolly Parton’s rendition of “Starting Over Again.” “It was so exciting to me.” Getty Images

“The ability to transform another person’s life or to enter their being is so profound.”

“My parents listened to country music, R&B music and gospel music,” she went on. “They listened to Willie Nelson as much as they would Nat King Cole or Frank Sinatra. I grew up loving country music. My daddy used to play Patsy Cline. We used to watch the [country music] programs on television when we were little.”

“Starting Over Again” would also be covered by Reba McEntire in 1995, but Summer’s own version, while recorded, was never officially released.

Beyoncé became the first black woman to go No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs with her bluessgrassy bop “Texas Hold ’Em.” BeyonceÌ / Instagram

Ironically, Beyoncé — who also released “16 Carriages” from her upcoming country album “Renaissance: Act II,” due March 29 — paid homage to the “Hot Stuff” singer by borrowing from “I Feel Love” on “Summer Renaissance,” the final track on 2022’s “Act 1.”

In fact, after moving to Nashville in 1994, Summer even became a board member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

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So let’s give respect to the black country queens who came long before Beyoncé made the hoedown popping.



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