Dorchester's Donna Summer dead at 63

By 
Reporter Staff
May. 17, 2012

Dorchester native Donna Gaines, who became famous as "Queen of Disco" Donna Summer, died on Thursday morning. The five-time Grammy winner was 63.

The news was first reported by TMZ.com. The celebrity news site said she had died of lung cancer.

Joyce Ferriabough, who went to Jeremiah Burke High School with Summer, described her as a "Dorchester girl who never forgot her roots."

Ferriabough, a local political activist, recalls Summer "getting on my case" because she smoked cigarettes. "She was very particular about her health, even at a young age," Ferriabough said.

She said Summer rarely went to class, choosing instead to focus on her singing and appearing in nightclubs, as early as age 16. Ferriabough said Summer came to her before she dropped out and told her, "Joyce, I can't do the school thing."

Before Summer left school, she sang a song for the class she and Ferriabough shared. (Ferriabough and Summer also shared a crush on the teacher, a Mr. Buckley, Ferriabough remembered.)

Ferriabough said Summer still has family in the area. She last saw Summer around five years ago, when the singer took a swing through Boston.

"I'm just totally struck," Ferriabough said. "I didn't even know she was sick."

Summer returned to Burke High School in 1983 to speak to students and receive a diploma from the system's superintendent, according to Ferriabough, who met her at the airport.

CNN's John King, a fellow Dorchester native, responded to Summer's death on Twitter. "The old neighborhood lost a trailblazing legend today," he wrote.

City Councillor At-Large Ayanna Pressley, a Dorchester resident, once met Summer when Pressley got separated from her mother at a department store. "Donna Summer found me, took me to security and waited with me until my mom came," Pressley said on Twitter.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This post was updated at 5:58 p.m. with comments from Ferriabough based on an interview with news editor Gintautas Dumcius. Further updated with information from Ayanna Pressley's tweet.