Remember that time Kenny Rogers and Donna Summer performed a duet at the 1980 Grammy Awards? Probably not. But we’ve got video evidence that it happened.
Rogers, who was a huge superstar at the time, hosted that year’s show. He announced that he was going to perform a medley of all eight Song of the Year nominees.
Kenny began singing the Peaches & Herb classic “Reunited.” When it came time for the female verse, disco legend Donna Summer emerged to thunderous applause, looking like Cleopatra in her wig and outfit. They sang together on the chorus. Then suddenly, the pace picked up and Summer began singing Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” another nominee.
Kenny and Donna continued the medley with other tracks nominated for Song of the Year. including Rogers’ own “She Believes in Me,” plus Earth, Wind & Fire’s “After the Love Has Gone,” Billy Joel’s “Honesty,” Rickie Lee Jones’ “Chuck E’s in Love,” and two tracks by the Doobie Brothers, “Minute by Minute” and “What a Fool Believes.”
They closed again with a portion of “Reunited” to round out the performance. Nowadays, you would never see a performance like this at the Grammys. The award show (correctly) believes that it’s better for the original artist to perform their songs instead of just allowing one pair to sing them all.
The fact that there were eight nominees was also strange. Normally, at that time, the major categories only had five (or sometimes six) contenders. Song of the Year would not have eight nominees again until 2019, when the Recording Academy changed its rules so all of the major awards would have eight nominees.
Song of the Year in 1980 ultimately went to Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald, who wrote “What a Fool Believes.” That track also won Record of the Year. Rogers and Summer were each nominated for Album of the Year but lost to Billy Joel’s 52nd Street. Kenny did win Best Country Vocal Performance, Male for “The Gambler,” while Donna took home Best Rock Performance, Female for “Hot Stuff.”
Here’s the video. It’s not great quality, but few old award show videos from 40 years ago are great quality.