Summer's family released a statement saying that they "are at peace celebrating her extraordinary life and her continued legacy. Words truly can't express how much we appreciate your prayers and love for our family at this sensitive time."
Summer left school in 1960 to pursue her music career and landed a role in the Broadway musical Hair when it moved to Germany. She lived in Germany for several years and learned to speak German fluently.
Despite being involved in a number of groups in Europe, Summer's first hit in the US did not happen until 1976 with the release of 'Love to Love You Baby,' which reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Her first No. 1 hit in the US came just two years later with the release of the single, 'MacArthur Park,' from her album, "Live and More," also her first album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200.
Summer's success came as the 1970s disco sound was gaining popularity, and her star rose with it. She became a icon of the era. But unlike some other disco stars, Summer's success carried into the 1980s and into pop rock. Her 1983 hit, "She Works Hard for the Money" became a heavily played MTV video, and an anthem of the women's rights movement.
Summer went on to be nominated for 12 Grammy Awards, winning five. She was also an accomplished painter who sold over $1 million worth of original artwork during her life.
In 2010, Summer was nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but was ultimately not chosen.
The Associated Press gathered quotes about Summer from the music business. Here's a sampling:
"So shocking to hear about the passing of Donna Summer. In the 70s, she reigned over the disco era and kept the disco jumping. Who will forget "Last Dance." A fine performer and a very nice person." — Aretha Franklin.
"I was shocked to hear about Donna. She was so vital the last time I saw her a few months ago. I loved doing the duet with her. She had an amazing voice and was so talented. It's so sad." — Barbra Streisand.
"Donna and I had a friendship for over 30 years. She is one of the few black women I could speak German with and she is one of the few friends I had in this business." — Chaka Khan.
"She not only made her mark in my heart as well as others, but she forever changed the way of how America danced and enjoyed themselves. She may have had her 'Last Dance' here on earth, but 'Heaven Knows' it is dancing with joy for her arrival."— Gloria Gaynor.
"Few singers have impacted music & the world like Donna Summer! It's the end of an era. Peace & prayers 2 all who loved her." — Gloria Estefan, who posted a photo of herself with Summer on Twitter.
Donna Summers is survived by her husband, three daughters and four grandchildren.