Donna’s legacy in spotlight on Friday: ‘Celebration of Summer III,’ City Hall Plaza

Tonight's annual event known as the Donna Summer Memorial Roller Disco Party returns to City Hall Plaza with a little word play in its name: “Celebration of Summer III,” hailing both Boston’s highest-grossing recording artist and the hottest of seasons.

This event brings together thousands of fun-lovers, perhaps the most diverse and active crowd of any city event. This both family- and gay-friendly dance party comes a few days before the official Solstice. It’s a time to look back on disco fever and forward to planned tributes to Summer, including the upcoming Broadway musical about her life and a long-talked-about permanent memorial here in the Hub.

From 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., the normally bumpy plaza bricks will disappear under by a brightly colored floor and will be transformed into an oversized Chez Vous Roller Rink. Food trucks and water stations, interactive art exhibits, appearances by the dangerous dames of the Boston Roller Derby, will all whirl together in the mad mix that is Government Center’s own inline inferno.

You work hard for your money, so the mayor has made the whole event, including skate “rentals,” totally free (while they last).

“I am pleased that our Donna Summer Roller Disco party has proven a success and we are able to bring it back for the third consecutive year,” said Marty Walsh in a press release. “We are committed to providing our families and residents with free, fun events all year and the roller disco party honors Donna Summer and her Boston roots while energizing City Hall Plaza.” 

Once again providing the mesmerizing music is Dorchester’s very own DJ Kon. Born Christian Taylor, Kon has been a member of Boston’s hip-hop scene for decades, and he is widely recognized as a re-edit and rework pioneer. Joining Kon will be members of Donna Summer’s extended family, including another proud Dot native, Robert Grant, professionally known as O’Mega Red. He is Donna’s nephew and flag-bearer for her legacy. Kon is an American rapper, CEO, and record producer of The Stay Grindin Music Group. He’s proud of his roots in St. Matthew’s Parish.

“That the mayor shows this respect to Donna each year is something the family truly appreciates,” said O’Mega Red. “My aunt was very much a true diva and her legacy survives and grows larger with each passing year.” Summer died at age 62 on May 17, 2012.

Other event sponsors and collaborators also keep alive the memory of the former LaDonna Adrian Gaines.

“No Boston-born musician has sold more albums than Donna Summer,” observed Holly Thomason of the Boston Roller Derby, which will again support the event. “As the Roller Derby, we obviously pay our respects, but as a woman, Donna represented a bold, courageous, and fearless artist.”

“To us, Donna Summer is as big as Elvis,” added David Day, creative director and co-founder of Together Boston, a promotional partner, working for that permanent memorial. “She was a pioneer of modern music and approached technology with a confidence few have seen since.”  

Different parts of the city lay different claims to being part of the Donna Summer myth. But let the record show that Summer did attend Jeremiah E. Burke High, where she starred in the school musicals and was very popular. She was also something of a troublemaker as a teenager, sneaking out despite her parents’ curfew. In 1967, at the age of 18, only weeks before her high school graduation, she moved to Germany to appear in Hair and other rock musicals.

Sometimes called “the Beyoncé of her time,” Summer garnered five Grammys and one Oscar and is still remembered throughout the world for her truly era-embodying voice and personality.