‘Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution’ Docuseries Airing on PBS

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This photo of disco star Donna Summer with Casablanca Records president Neil Bogart appeared in the July 1, 1978, issue of Record World

The surprising and overlooked history of disco – one of the most preeminent genres of popular music of the 1970s – will be presented in a three-part docuseries, Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution, coming to PBS. Told by the original musicians, promoters, and innovators – as well as modern-day musical icons – the BBC Studios Production will premiere on June 18, 2024. Part 2 airs on June 25; Part 3 arrives on July 2. Check local listings at PBS.org.

From the PBS announcement: The docuseries captures the story of disco: its rise, its fall, and its legacy. From the basement bars of ‘70s New York City to the peak of the global charts, along with iconic tracks and remarkable footage, Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution offers a powerful, revisionist history of the disco age.

Disco embodied the height of 1970s glamour: a dance floor culture born in New York that went on to take over the world. But its success also obscured its wider significance. Inextricably bound up with the major liberation movements of the 1970s, disco speaks to some of the biggest issues of today: LGBTQ+ identity and female empowerment.

“Charting disco from its inception and global domination to the violent attempts to end the genre, Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution reclaims its roots,” said Sylvia Bugg, chief programming executive and GM, general audience programming at PBS. “Before commercialization, discothèques belonged to the marginalized and the dispossessed, who tapped into the beat-driven music and the disco scene in a battle for community, identity, and inclusivity.”

The docuseries also underscores disco’s survival. Co-opted by the commercial mainstream, the genre dominated and flooded the market – the airwaves and record shops – leading to a subsequent hate-fueled backlash. As a result, the music and its ethos went back underground, where it evolved into an electronic dance sound that laid the foundations for contemporary dance culture.

Related: Surviving the ’70s – 12 Disco Songs Even Rock Fans Enjoy

A brief overview of the three-part docuseries:

Episode 1: “Rock the Boat,” Premieres: June 18

The opening episode of the series looks at the roots of disco – how it emerged from a basic desire for inclusion, visibility, and freedom among persecuted Black, gay, and minority ethnic communities of New York City. It tells the remarkable story of how a global phenomenon began in the loft apartments and basement bars of New York City, where a new generation of DJs and musicians, like David Mancuso, Nicky Siano, Francis Grasso, and Earl Young (The Trammps), pioneered a distinct sound and a new way of spinning records.

Episode 2: “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now,” Premieres: Tuesday, June 25

Set against the backdrop of Black power and sexual liberation, the second episode takes viewers to the high watermark of disco in the mid ’70s. As disco conquers the mainstream, it turns Black women and gay men into superstars and icons. It is a world where the drag queen Sylvester was king, and Black women found a powerful new voice – one that fused Black Power with a call for sexual freedom. It was the birth of the “disco diva” from Gloria Gaynor and Candi Staton to Donna Summer and Thelma Houston. However, mainstream success by the Bee Gees’ soundtrack album Saturday Night Fever, The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You,” Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy,” and Studio 54 took disco further and further from its roots of inclusivity and freedom, as straight, white men started to embrace and repackage the sound.

Episode 3: “Stayin’ Alive,” Premieres: Tuesday, July 2

The final episode documents the wellspring of resentment from white, straight, male-dominated, rock-loving middle Americans, as they targeted disco for its hedonism, femininity, and queerness. A vocal “Disco Sucks” movement began to gain momentum, culminating in the “Disco Demolition Derby” at Comiskey Park Stadium in Chicago, where organizers destroyed thousands of disco records in front of a baying audience of baseball fans. In addition, the hedonism and sexual liberation embodied by disco found itself stopped in its tracks by the AIDS crisis. Pushed out of the mainstream, the pioneers of disco retreated and regrouped. Cult disco DJ Frankie Knuckles left New York for Chicago, where he remixed disco breaks with R&B to produce a new genre of dance music – house. He and other disco pioneers kept disco alive as it evolved into world electronic dance music.

The docuseries is produced and directed by Louise Lockwood and Shianne Brown, and features some of disco’s originators, musicians, promoters, and innovators, as well as modern-day musical icons, including Vince Aletti, Steve Ashkinazy, Bill Bernstein, Joyce Bogart Trabulus, Jocelyn Brown, Carmen D’Alessio, David Depino, Lisa Farrington, Nona Hendryx, Thelma Houston, Marshall Jefferson, Francois Kevorkian, Tina Magennis, Ana Matronic, George McCrae, David Morales, Tom Moulton, Colleen Murphy, John Parikhal, Kim Petras, Mark Riley, Allen Roskoff, Alex Rosner, Michelle Saunders, Jake Shears, Nicky Siano, Candi Staton, Jeanie Tracy, Barry Walters, Dexter Wansel, Anita Ward, Jessie Ware, Sharon White, Victor Willis, Earl Young, Jamie Principle, Robert Williams, Ron Trent, DJ Hollywood, Honey Dijon, and MNEK.

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