The concept of the Donna Summer Roller Disco Party is simple: head to Boston City Hall Plaza this Friday, strap on some wheels, and show off your best moves. If you don’t have your own skates, the city even has some for you (we recommend showing up early).
But beyond that basic idea, which will be rolled out (pun intended) this week for the fifth time in five years, is a robust musical and family legacy built on the memory of one of Boston’s greatest performers of all time. We spoke with Robert Grant, a nephew of Donna Summer who helps run the annual roller bash, for some critical background…
Five years is a long time to be throwing a major outdoor roller disco. Was this originally planned as a one-off? Or was the goal to keep it going for a long time?
It’s very exciting that people still love disco and love to roller skate. … The event gets bigger and bigger every year and the demand is insane, so I thank Marty Walsh and his staff for continuing to honor her in this way. It’s now known throughout the world and is a must-go-to event for the summer for Donna Summer fans locally and globally. I have been contacted by people all over the world for this event.
When Donna Summer was doing her thing during the disco era, where was the spot to go dancing in Boston? Are there any clubs in particular where she would perform before she got big enough to do stadiums?
Donna was in the church and sang in the church until she was 18. She didn’t perform until she auditioned for the play Hair. From there she moved to New York then was off to Europe. She did used to go to a place called the Sugar Shack to see the stars perform.
For those of us who weren’t around back in the day, please fill us in on just how hot of a trend roller skating actually was. Any favorite spots to skate come to mind? Any that Donna Summer may have frequented back when she was at the Burke? Was it Chez Vous even back then?
Chez Vous was definitely the spot back then, but like I said, Donna was heavily involved in the church when she was younger and didn’t go out much.
I know that family members, including you, help run the roller skating jam these days. Can you tell us a little bit about the role you all play and about how this event has evolved and grown through the years?
I’m the only family member that works directly with the city of Boston for this event. As a vendor with the city, I coordinate and collaborate with them on all aspects, from marketing promotions and performances to music selection.
This event has become a staple in the community thanks to Marty Walsh and the city. Each year the demand gets bigger and bigger. When people come for the first time, they experience so much fun and love and affection from our family but also dance their butts off! It’s an experience like no other. When they leave all they say is, I’m telling everybody about this event and I can’t wait till next year!
What can you tell us about the effort to build a Donna Summer memorial in Boston? Where should it go? What should it look like?
This still is a work in progress, and that is the big question we are working on. Donna had so many different looks throughout her career. It’s really hard to pinpoint, but I would like it to resemble her the most natural and accurate as possible. She was a beautiful woman inside and out.
DONNA SUMMER ROLLER DISCO PARTY. SAT 6.22. 6-10PM. FREE.