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Before Donna Summer was disco queen, she starred in glee club at Burke High in Dorchester

Posted by Roy Greene  May 17, 2012 06:35 PM

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(Jay Connor for the Boston Globe)

Summer entertaining fans on a 2010 summer night at the Bank of America Pavilion.

Before Donna Summer became Queen of Disco, the Boston native was nurtured by the music program at the Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Dorchester.

"When I was at the Jerry, I sang in everything they had and was a permanent member of the glee club. If I couldn't have sung, I wouldn't have gone to school," she told the Globe's Ernie Santosuosso in an interview in 1977, just as the song "Love to Love You, Baby" made her an international sensation.

She got good grades, but decided to leave the Burke only two months shy of graduation to join a touring troupe of the musical "Hair."

Summer, born Donna Gaines, grew up in Mission Hill. She recalled that some in her neighborhood saw greatness in her even at a young age.

"I don't want to seem boisterous but since I was a child, it was almost commonplace for people to tell me, "You're going to be famous,' " Summer told Santosuosso.

"I wasn't doing anything special at the time, either, but I could go to the store and receive credit on the fact that one day I'd be famous," she said. "For example, in my neighborhood store I had a bill over $700. Isn't that funny?"

Music wasn't her only interest, however. In August 1996, when she returned to Boston to perform at Harborlights Pavilion, she told the Globe's Steve Morse that she recalled taking a course in agriculture in ninth grade.

``It was the only school in the city to have a course in agriculture and I used to love farming, don't ask me why,'' she told Morse. ``It's funny, because I own a farm now. I have other houses too, but I purchased a farm this summer. So that course helped out. It didn't make me any less afraid of snakes, but what the hey!''

In 1983, she returned to the Burke to receive her diploma. School officials told the Globe at the time that Summer's life experience and courses in drama, diction and voice would count toward her unfulfilled graduation requirements.

In a short speech to more than 100 students who filled the school's auditorium that day, she stressed that a person's potential is more important than his or her background.

"When I was in this school, I used to have a saying: It doesn't matter where you come from; it matters where you go," she said, according to the Globe story.

After receiving her diploma, presented by School Committee President Kevin McCluskey, Summer zipped a white graduation gown over her striped pants and tunic, balanced a white mortarboard on her head and flashed a victory sign.

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