“Love to Love You Baby.” “Bad Girls.” “Whispering Waves.” For a generation of African American teenagers and 20-somethings growing up in a soul-laced 70s, they were the songs that defined a new freedom. They were crossover jams and below-the-surface wonders, but they defined Donna Summers, the Queen of Disco, as the voice of coming of age. She lost her battle with cancer Thursday morning at age 63.

View Photo Gallery: Her pulsing anthems such as “Last Dance” and “Bad Girls” became the soundtrack for a glittery age of sex, drugs and dance.

Sure, the classic songs we all know — “Last Dance” and “I Feel Love” — are an embodiment of the disco era and everything cliche that comes along with it — glittery disco balls and platform shoes. But for those who really listened to her outside the roller rinks and night clubs around the country, Summer was more than just a disco icon (although she most definitely was that, too). Look at her and listen to that voice — she was soul embodied with a hint of her roots of rock-and-roll — that took her to different heights beyond her contemporaries. And she was steadfast in defining herself outside the disco movement. Her pop success in the 1980s shows that she was more than just a disco-dancing queen.

As is our way these days, we give tributes on Twitter and Facebook (see below) to the greats based on their iconography — in this case Donna Summer, the Queen of Disco. And we should. But in Summer’s case, as in many others, let’s not forget she was at heart another pure embodiment of the soulful yet eclectic 1970s, one that defies easy definition.

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