‘She Works Hard For The Money’: Donna Summer’s Classic Song

By 1983, Donna Summer was a bona fide global star. She’d followed up the success of her 1975 gold-selling single “Love You Love You Baby” with Grammy wins and record-breaking chart action. And, at the start of the following decade, Summer had teamed up with renowned producer Quincy Jones on an album that earned her two more Grammy nominations.

Nonetheless, the singer was always on the hunt for inspiration. Even in the unlikeliest of places. That was definitely the case with “She Works Hard for the Money.” Summer was attending Julio Iglesias’ Grammys after-party at West Hollywood restaurant Chasen’s when she stumbled across the person who would spark the idea for the iconic song.

Listen to the DJ John Michael remix of Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money” now.

“I went to the ladies’ room with my manager [Susan Muneo], and there was a little woman [in there],” Summer explained on US TV show You Write The Songs in 1986. “We peeked around the corner, and there was a little lady sitting there with her head tilted to the side, and she was just gone – she was asleep […] I looked at her, and my heart just filled up with compassion for this lady, and I thought to myself, ‘God, she works hard for the money, cooped up in this stinky little room all night.’”

Summer quickly realized she was onto something with that observation, wrote down the future title, and took it to producer Michael Omartian the next day. Together, they came up with the song – the final track to be written for Summer’s 11th studio album. “She works hard for the money, so you’d better treat her right,” the star sang in the chorus and paid tribute to that restroom attendant, Onetta Johnson, in its line: “Onetta there in the corner stand.” Johnson would also be photographed with Summer for the album’s back cover, with both wearing matching waitress outfits.

“She Works Hard For The Money” took Summer back to the top of the Billboard Hot R&B Songs chart for the first time in three years and gave her a Top Three finish on the Hot 100 and Dance Club Play charts. It was nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 1984 Grammys, where Summer opened the show with a live performance of the track.

The Brian Grant-directed music video made a splash, too. The visual – which showed women working jobs from cleaners to waitresses and taking on domestic labor at home – became the first by a Black female artist to be put into heavy rotation by MTV. Both the song and video connected with female listeners across the globe, becoming an anthem for working women everywhere.

Listen to the DJ John Michael remix of Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money” now.

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