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Love To Love Them, Baby: From Donna Summer To Dua Lipa, Meet The Women Singers Who Shaped (And Continue to Shape) Dance Music

(L-R) Dua Lipa, Donna Summer, Loleatta Holloway & Aluna

Photo design: Lauryn Alvarez

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Love To Love Them, Baby: From Donna Summer To Dua Lipa, Meet The Women Singers Who Shaped (And Continue to Shape) Dance Music

Decades before Dua Lipa was born, disco began as a musical movement led by iconic divas like Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor and Thelma Houston to create a sound for spaces in which Black, Latinx and queer audiences sought refuge and escape

GRAMMYs/Mar 30, 2021 - 10:47 pm

Earlier this month, on Music’s Biggest Night, Dua Lipa teleported us from our living rooms and yearlong quarantine to Studio 2054, her homage to New York City’s legendary Studio 54 nightclub where disco thrived from 1977–1980. In a stunning visual display entailing costume changes and dramatic dance interludes, Lipa performed two songs (“Levitating,” “Don’t Start Now”) from her GRAMMY-winning album, Future Nostalgia.

“I wanted to do something that felt fresh and new,” Lipa told GRAMMY.com last year, “something that touched on a memory, something that always rings so true to me, especially in my childhood.” Her dancefloor inspiration was integral to the perfect storm that was a 2020 disco-pop revival, with artists like Doja Cat and Victoria Monet also trying on the groove for size and dancefloor veterans Jessie Ware, Róisín Murphy and Kylie Minogue showing us how it’s done.

Related: Jessie Ware On Returning To Her Dance Roots And Continuing To Learn

The success of these recent releases is validation for strong women vocalists who make dance hits spanning multiple decades, sounds and perspectives. Though the genre has evolved over the years, women singers remain a constant. And while they’re not always given their due, it’s their voices we remember, their lyrics we sing and their legacies we celebrate.

Decades before Lipa was born, disco began as a musical movement of four-on-the-floor rhythms, deep synthesizers and lush melodies combining to create a sound for spaces in which Black, Latinx and queer audiences sought refuge and escape. What started underground made its way to the top of the charts and radio airwaves, thanks in large part to disco divas and their soul-stirring hooks.

The indisputable queen of them all was Donna Summer, who catapulted to international superstardom in the ‘70s with classics including the erotic epic “Love to Love You, Baby,” siren-like “I Feel Love” and the aptly steamy “Hot Stuff.” Together with GRAMMY-winning Italian producer Giorgio Moroder, she brought the sound of urban counterculture to middle America and beyond by simple musical seduction; her voice was warm and sensual, disguising disco’s radical message of liberation to unsuspecting listeners.

Read: Kaskade Talks New 'Reset' EP, Executing Epic Fortnite Show, NFTs & More

“This is it, look no further,” Brian Eno reportedly declared to David Bowie after hearing “I Feel Love” for the first time. “This single is going to change the sound of club music for the next 15 years.” It was an accurate prediction of Summer’s impact. A bona fide hit machine, she charted 32 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 (including four No. 1s) over the course of her career and nabbed 18 GRAMMY nominations, winning five.

While “I Feel Love” radiated euphoria, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”—the first (and only) winner of the Best Disco Recording GRAMMY—was a timeless anthem for hard times. Its message transcended the era and also spoke to the moment. "The problems that we shared during the day,” Gaynor said, “we came together in the evening, to overcome together, or to get away together, and one of the ways we came together was on the disco dancefloor."

Sister Sledge, Anita Ward, Thelma Houston and Cheryl Lynn each had disco hits of their own, cooing in sultry tones across mirrorball-lit dancefloors. But being a disco diva was about more than being a singer: they were powerful, fabulous and aspirational. Long after disco’s heyday, the legacy of their artistry lives on through new-school chanteuses like Lipa, Ware, Minogue and Murphy.

The party eventually came to an end, as disco’s ubiquity in the ‘70s prompted a racist backlash in 1979 that abruptly led to its mainstream downfall. After some time in obscurity, club hits came back with a vengeance in the ‘90s as dance music’s next evolution: house music.

Martha Wash was the powerhouse voice behind two of the decade’s biggest hits, Black Box’s “Everybody Everybody” and C+C Music Factory’s “Everybody Dance Now (Gonna Make You Sweat).” Both songs, released in 1990, topped the Billboard Hot 100 and charted in the Top 10 internationally. While these achievements should have boosted Wash’s profile as an artist, the tracks’ producers had used her vocal recorded from studio demos without crediting her. Adding insult to injury, they cast other women to dance and lip-sync in Wash’s place for their music videos and live performances.

Loleatta Holloway, a vocalist best known from her ‘70s disco hits (including “Hit and Run” and “Runaway” with The Salsoul Orchestra), had faced a similar situation the previous year when Black Box sampled her 1980 single “Love Sensation” without permission on their U.K. No. 1, “Ride on Time.” Believing they were entitled to both compensation and credit for their work, regardless of it being a sample or a demo, Wash and Holloway each successfully sued the artists and their respective labels, winning both credit and financial settlement. Wash’s victory was bigger than herself; it set a precedent enshrining that record labels are responsible for assigning proper vocal credit for all releases, regardless of how the vocal recording was made.

As Holloway and Wash were writing new rules for vocalists, a singer/songwriter named Crystal Waters was working a government job by day while writing her own club hits on the side. Her second single, “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless),” a socially conscious house track based on a true story, has a deceptively simple hook that burrows itself in your brain. Released in 1991, it was the first of Waters’ twelve No. 1 singles on Billboard’s Dance Club Songs chart, including “100% Pure Love” and “What I Need.” Like fellow dance music singers Ultra Naté and CeCe Peniston, Waters took four-on-the-floor tracks to the next level with pop-structured lyrics that were cathartic, catchy and universally relatable.

Related: Janet Jackson's Iconic 'Rhythm Nation 1814' Turns 30 Today & We Still Have Work To Do

During this time, Madonna and Janet Jackson approached the dance charts from a pop perspective. Both known for their theatrical performance style and vocal prowess as much as for their versatility, they could drop a ballad one moment and a club-ready track the next, from Madonna’s “Vogue” and “Express Yourself” to Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” and “Throb.” These expert shapeshifters paved the way for future chameleons like Lady Gaga, Britney Spears and Beyoncé, pop artists who stepped onto the dancefloor with tracks like “Born This Way,” “Till the World Ends” and “Run the World (Girls),” respectively.

Beyoncé dabbled in dance music, but her Destiny’s Child bandmate Kelly Rowland opted for a fully immersive experience, reinventing herself as a solo artist with a fresh, pioneering sound. In 2008, producer David Guetta, a well-established club DJ in his native France, had recently cracked the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time with “Love is Gone” and was looking for a bigger and better sequel.

That summer, Rowland went clubbing in Cannes, France at the club where Guetta was DJing. She became particularly enamored with a track he played during his set, the instrumental version of what would become their 2009 collaboration “When Love Takes Over.” She asked to write and record vocals for it, the final result being a big-room serenade sweetened with his piano melody but commanded by her euphoric, heart-swelling chorus.

“When I finished producing it, we were like, ‘Wow, we have a monster hit,’” Guetta said in a 2009 interview. “We could feel that it was really, really big.” More than an anthem, “When Love Takes Over” was the launchpad for America’s EDM boom, a neon era of radio-friendly dance-pop that could also bang on club dancefloors and festival stages. The song topped 15 charts across 12 countries, including Billboard’s US Dance Club Songs, and was nominated for Best Dance Recording at the 2010 GRAMMY Awards show.

Rihanna was also looking to take her music up a few BPMs after her 2009 album Rated R. Her first venture into EDM, 2010’s “Only Girl (In the World),” produced by Stargate and Sandy Vee, was a success, eventually winning Best Dance Recording at the 2011 GRAMMY Awards show. For her 2011 album Talk That Talk, Rihanna recruited Calvin Harris, a Scottish producer who had achieved critical acclaim and A-list studio sessions but who had yet to break through with a global hit. Harris produced two singles on the album: the winding, acid-electro house track “Where Have You Been” and “We Found Love,” on which Rihanna bares her vulnerable falsetto. They reunited for Harris’ massive summer hit (penned by Taylor Swift), “This Is What You Came For” in 2016.

Watch: Ellie Goulding Talks Songwriting, Loving Skrillex & Björk & Growing Up On Electronic Music

Rowland’s relationship with Guetta, and Rihanna’s with Harris, was symbiotic. Rowland and Rihanna each became early adopters of a fire-blazing dance-pop phenomenon while Guetta and Harris got to increase their profiles with a new, large and lucrative American audience hungry for more. Hoping to find similar success, pop artists like Ariana Grande, Ellie Goulding and Kelis paired with Guetta, Harris, Zedd, Skrillex and more in the early 2010s. As dance music became more popular, the dynamic between producer and popstar shifted and producers became the popstars themselves, though a vocalist was usually not far behind.

In the current second-wave EDM era, where white men still sit at the top, Aluna has made it her mission to change how dance music perceives and treats women artists, especially Black women artists, asserting their importance even when it isn't obvious. “She’s there in the lyrics, she’s there in the voice, sometimes you see her in a video, but you don’t see her right there in the middle,” she told Billboard last year. “That’s really the shift we need to make.”

Aluna was best known to the world as one-half of electronic-pop outfit AlunaGeorge. Her cherubic vocals are instantly recognizable whether she’s singing on their own songs, such as “You Know You Like It” and “Attracting Flies,” or appearing on Disclosure’s “White Noise.”

In 2020, she made a huge statement by embarking on her solo career and releasing her debut album, Renaissance, that October. Tired of fielding daily requests from people who “wanted [her] voice, not [her] face. Not [her] Blackness,” Aluna made herself the record’s focal point as the main artist and producer rather than simply feature on different producers’ songs.

Read More: Aluna On New Album 'Renaissance' & Making Dance Music Inclusive Again

Whereas Aluna has beamed across radio airwaves worldwide, Anabel Englund has long been the voice of dance music’s underground. As a member of tech house supergroups Hot Natured and Pleasure State, the singer/songwriter’s smoldering tone and earworm melodies are the centerpiece of songs like “Electricity” and “Reverse Skydiving,” both of which she co-wrote.

Englund released her debut album, Messing With Magic, last October, and landed her first Billboard No. 1 on the Dance/Mix Show Airplay chart that same month with syrupy house chiller “Picture Us.” “Working with a group, I have to share my energy as part of a whole,” she said. “Being on my own, I’m able to harness my energy into what I have to say.” Like Aluna, Englund assumed co-production duties on the album in addition to singing and songwriting. Her former bandmates make appearances throughout while she remains the marquee name, never being overshadowed.

A more recent arrival to the scene, Lipa dabbled in dance music before diving headlong into Future Nostalgia’s disco-inspired sounds, including on her 2017 self-titled debut album (“Hotter Than Hell,” “New Rules”). In 2018, she collaborated with Harris and Silk City (Diplo and Mark Ronson), respectively, on the ‘90s-house-influenced hits “One Kiss” and “Electricity.” The latter song won Best Dance Recording at the 2019 GRAMMY Awards show and in a big look for dance music, Lipa performed “One Kiss” during the main ceremony. To cap the night, she also won the GRAMMY for Best New Artist. Between house and disco, Lipa has provided two of dance music’s foundational genres a massive revitalized platform in the pop world.

Long after disco’s prime, Summer’s captivating artistry lives on in chanteuses like Lipa. Meanwhile, the voices and lyrics of Aluna and Englund pick up where Crystal Waters left off, and Wash and Holloway’s legacy can be heard in a new generation of house music divas like Karen Harding, Alex Mills and Kaleena Zanders. Just like Lipa showed on the GRAMMYs stage, each of these singers proves that the women on dance records are capable and deserving of the spotlight, hopefully always getting brighter than the ones that shone on the many women before them.

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ReImagined At Home: Watch Ant Clemons Croon The Cosmic Blues In Performance Of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"

Ant Clemons

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ReImagined At Home: Watch Ant Clemons Croon The Cosmic Blues In Performance Of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"

Singer/songwriter Ant Clemons puts his own spin on Bill Withers' immortal "Ain't No Sunshine" in an exclusive performance for ReImagined At Home

GRAMMYs/Jun 15, 2021 - 08:13 pm

Why has Bill Withers' immortal hit, "Ain't No Sunshine," endured for decades? And, furthermore, why does it seem set to reverberate throughout the ages?

Could it be because it's blues-based? Because it's relatable to anyone with a pulse? Because virtually anyone with an ounce of zeal can believably yowl the song at karaoke?

Maybe it's for all of those reasons and one more: "Ain't No Sunshine" is flexible

In the latest episode of ReImagined At Home, check out how singer/songwriter Ant Clemons pulls at the song's edges like taffy. With a dose of vocoder and slapback, Clemons recasts the lonesome-lover blues as the lament of a shipwrecked android.

Giving this oft-covered soul classic a whirl, Clemons reminds music lovers exactly why Withers' signature song has staying power far beyond his passing in 2020. It will probably be a standard in 4040, too.

Check out Ant Clemons' cosmic, soulful performance of "Ain't No Sunshine" above and click here to enjoy more episodes of ReImagined At Home.

ReImagined At Home: Keedron Bryant Powerfully Interprets John Legend's Love Song "Ordinary People"

 

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Ladies Antebellum And Gaga, Jeff Beck, David Frost, John Legend Win Three GRAMMYs Each

Arcade Fire wins Album Of The Year; Esperanza Spalding wins Best New Artist

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

(To view a list of 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards winners, click here.)

The evening began with a tribute to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, but by the time the last of the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards was handed out on Feb. 13, several other singers and bands looked something like royalty. Foremost among them was Lady Antebellum, who walked away with three trophies while the group members earned two more each for songwriting categories.

Lady Antebellum at the GRAMMYs

 

During a show memorable for its range of fully fueled performances, the country superstars sang a pitch-perfect medley of tunes that ended with a quiet rendition of the song that launched them, "Need You Now," and shortly afterward collected the Song Of The Year GRAMMY for it (along with co-writer Josh Kear, with whom they also took Best Country Song). But there was plenty more to come for the trio. They also took home the GRAMMY for Best Country Album for Need You Now. Accepting that award, lead singer Charles Kelley said, "This song has completely flipped our world upside down." By the time Lady Antebellum stood up to collect a trophy for Record Of The Year for "Need You Now," they were in disbelief, and possibly discombobulated: "Oh my gosh, we're so stunned we started walking the wrong direction," said singer Hillary Scott breathlessly.

Also racking up awards was Lady Gaga, who claimed three: Best Pop Vocal Album for The Fame Monster, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Short Form Music Video for "Bad Romance." Never one to miss the chance to make an entrance, she hatched herself onstage from a giant opaque egg. That was a riff on her new single, "Born This Way," and perhaps her bared shoulders, which sprouted a pair of pointy elbows, were too. Her dancers and outfit gave off a Cleopatra vibe, but Gaga can't be stopped from seeming ultra-modern, and her performance of "Born This Way" reflected that; it was a warp-speed whirlwind.

Lady Gaga at the GRAMMYs



 

In keeping with that same modernist — or maybe futurist — spirit, she accepted her award for Best Pop Vocal Album in black body armor. But Gaga also proved she can be an old-fashioned girl with a soft side. In an emotional acceptance speech for that award, she surprised the audience by thanking Whitney Houston: "I imagined she was singing…because I wasn't secure enough in myself to imagine I was a superstar. Whitney, I imagined you."

Leading the nominees with 10 nods revolving around Recovery, an album that detailed his struggles with addiction but also reestablished him as a rap force to be reckoned with, Eminem took home trophies for Best Rap Album — a triumph over rivals including Jay-Z, Drake and B.o.B — and Best Rap Solo Performance for "Not Afraid." Onstage, his swagger proved undiminished.

A flame-haired Rihanna opened Eminem's performance with a searching rendition of their duet "Love The Way You Lie," but it was Slim Shady who came out blazing, spitting the lyrics to that song before raging into "I Need A Doctor" with Dr. Dre and singer Skylar Grey; Adam Levine from Maroon 5 handled piano duty.

Closing the show and likely lifting the Sunday-night spirits of indie kids everywhere was the Canadian collective Arcade Fire, who won the Album Of The Year GRAMMY for The Suburbs and, before the night's final performance, turned in a frothy and fierce rendition of the rocking "Month Of May."

Arcade Fire at the GRAMMYs

 

Other multiple winners for the evening included classical music producer David Frost, legendary rock guitarist Jeff Beck and R&B artist John Legend, who each earned three awards. Among those who won two each were alternative rock band the Black Keys, jazz giant Herbie Hancock, Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, urban/alternative group the Roots, Keith Urban, and gospel singer BeBe Winans.

And in a bit of surprise, jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding won Best New Artist over teen phenom Justin Bieber, as well Canadian rapper Drake, and adventurist rock outfits Florence & The Machine and Mumford & Sons.

Esperanza Spalding at the GRAMMYs

 

The show also featured a few firsts, including a first-time ever GRAMMY performance by Rolling Stone frontman Mick Jagger, who helped pay tribute to fallen R&B singer Solomon Burke.

But if there was also a constant, it was the annual, high-profile celebration of music that the GRAMMYs represent, and the 53rd GRAMMYs fit the bill once again, with performances, pairings and awards presentations that were full of pleasant musical surprises.
 

Click below for more GRAMMY content:

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Chainsmokers, David Guetta & More Announce 2018 Las Vegas Residencies

The Chainsmokers

Photo: Jeff Schear/Getty Images

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Chainsmokers, David Guetta & More Announce 2018 Las Vegas Residencies

Alesso, DJ Snake, Diplo, and many more top-billing DJs have announced they will play 2018 residencies at Las Vegas’ Wynn Hotel and Casino

GRAMMYs/Jan 6, 2018 - 06:53 am

Las Vegas always has a little something for everyone. But for all of 2018, dance music fans will have a buffet of sonic delights to sample all at a single venue.

The Wynn Hotel and Casino has announced its official lineup of DJ residencies at its Intrigue nightclub and day club for 2018, and the list includes just about every sound a dance music fan could ask for.

Alongside the obvious can’t-miss bookings of Vegas mainstays like the Chainsmokers, — nominated this year for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance at the 60th GRAMMYs for “Something Just Like This” — past GRAMMY winners David Guetta, Diplo, and Afrojack, and past GRAMMY nominees DJ Snake and Alesso, will come big room favorites and international superstars like Dillon Francis, Yellow Claw, marshmello, RL Grime, Major Lazer, and others.

For the up-tempo rave heads and deep/tech house lovers alike, there will also be a slate of newer and more select underground names making the billing as well, including electro-step crossover producer Slushii, progressive electropop hit makers Galantis, club night all-stars Jamie Jones, Valentino Khan, and Solomun, and many more.

In announcing the upcoming lineup of residencies, Wynn Nightlife Managing Partner Alex Cordova said in a press release, “With so many superstar long-term resident artists returning, and exciting newly-signed artists joining the Wynn family, we will continue to provide the best night- and dayclub entertainment experience available on the Strip.”

Tickets, reservations, and additional information about the 2018 season of Wynn Nightlife club night and day club experiences can be found on the resort’s official website.

Vote Now: Best Dance Recording Poll | 60th GRAMMY Awards

EDC 2019: Alison Wonderland, TOKiMONSTA, Deadmau5, Above & Beyond, Tiësto, More

Alison Wonderland

Photo: Mauricio Santana/Getty Images

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EDC 2019: Alison Wonderland, TOKiMONSTA, Deadmau5, Above & Beyond, Tiësto, More

The world-renowned EDM fest has released the lit roster of over 240 artists for its 23rd annual event, set to return to its ninth year in Las Vegas from May 17–19

GRAMMYs/Mar 28, 2019 - 04:55 am

Today Insomniac, which hosts the now-global Electric Daisy Carnival and other major EDM events, announced the highly anticipated lineup for its flagship Las Vegas fest, set to take place May 17–19 this year. EDC 2019 is positively stacked, featuring GRAMMY winners Diplo, David Guetta and Tiësto, plus GRAMMY nominees TOKiMONSTA, Paul Oakenfold, Deadmau5, Above & Beyond and Kaskade.

Deadmau5 will be making his first return to the fest since 2010, bringing his new "Cube 3.0" stage setup, and Guetta will be back for his first time since the 2012 event. Australian singer/songwriter DJ/producer extraordinaire Alison Wonderland, plus GRAMMY-nominated rave icons Steve Aoki, Armin van Buuren will also bring fire to the three-day event.

Unlike a typical music festival lineup, EDC lists theirs alphabetically by day, giving way to a treasure hunt to the many gems across the lines of names. Underground techno queens Charlotte De Witte, ANNA and Amelie Lens will all perform at the event, which has eight(!) stages, along with fellow techno heavy-hitter Adam Beyer.

South African DJ/producer and underground house legend Black Coffee will also perform, as well as fellow house heavyweights Green Velvet, Patrick Topping and GRAMMY nominee Eric Prydz. Green Velvet will be offering two sets, one as Get Real, his project with Detroit legend Claude VonStroke.

Several artists will be hopping on the decks together, including Topping, who will be doing a B2B set (a.k.a. back-to-back, or collab set, for those not up on the rave lingo) with fellow British DJ Eats Everything. U.K. dubstep stalwarts Skream and Rusko are on the lineup for an "old skool dubstep set," which, as Your EDM put it, is "absolutely unheard of."

More Vegas Fun: KAOS Las Vegas To Feature Sets From J Balvin, Bad Bunny, Ozuna, Deadmau5, Eric Prydz & More In April

But wait, who are the headliners? Pasquale Rotella, CEO and co-founder of Insomniac, believes that headliners are everyone that attends the festival, spreads the love and makes all the magic possible.

"Being a Headliner means looking at the world a little differently, and seeing beauty and inspiration everywhere you look. It’s about lifting up the people around you and making time for your family and friends. This is a journey we all take together—always connected and committed to one another," Rotella said in a statement on Insomniac's website.

If you want to get your dance on and check out the carnival rides, interactive art and plenty of lights and lasers with EDC in Vegas, you're in luck; tickets are still available. Check out EDC's website for more info.

Woodstock 50 Performers: Jay-Z, The Killers, Miley Cyrus & More Announced