The enduring soul of Black music

My background music for cleaning, dressing, cooking, grooving, exercising, and dancing is 70’s Disco/Funk and R&B. This music makes me feel alive! It makes me smile. It keeps me young. When I’m moving to the beat of this music, I feel free in every way.

These thoughts came to me while I was watching Episode 3 of The 1619 Project titled, “The Birth of American Music.” Black people interviewed for this episode used the word “freedom” in describing the effect of Black music on them. Artists talked about how Black music continues to be created and evolved by sampling and building on the styles and sounds of historic Black music.

During the episode on music in America, I learned why Disco music became less popular and nearly faded from the airways. The story, as revealed in this documentary, of the demise of disco music is a sad one that keeps being told in every phase of Black progress.

Nile Rogers saw the backlash against Disco as the fear of an integrated America. Co-founder of Chic and developer of some of the most popular music for White performers after disco was literally blown to pieces, Rogers said that at New York clubs such as Studio 54, when music such as “Everybody Dance” and “Freak Out” was played, literally everybody was on the dance floor, all getting along.

Wesley Morris, film critic and podcast host, noted that “funk and disco were revolutionary, sexy, rebellious, and politically unafraid. [Funk] was a rebellion against broken promises of the Civil Rights Era.”

Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park with explosion, crowd on field, and "Disco Sucks" sign

What began as the antics of a White radio DJ—and spread to other radio DJs who didn’t want to play disco because it was not the music that they believed was real or pure—turned into “Disco Demolition Night” at Comiskey Park, home of the Chicago White Sox, on July 12, 1979. Hordes of White people brought records by Black people and gay people to the field and blew them up between the games of a scheduled double-header. The playing field was so damaged by the explosion and by the ensuing riot on the field of some 40,000–59,000 people that the White Sox were required to forfeit the second game to the Detroit Tigers. This violent act gave birth to the “Disco Sucks” movement.

In the interview with Nikole Hannah-Jones, Rogers said in reference to the riot at Comiskey Park, “It felt to us like Nazi book-burning. This is America, the home of jazz and rock, and people are now afraid even to say the word ‘disco.’”

Despite the attacks and the campaigns against Black music, according to Morris, the “soul of Black music is the soul of freedom, constantly moving, being transferred, a feeling, a spirit. You have to know it when you feel it. It’s too deep, too fast, too elusive, you can’t catch it.”

2 responses to “The enduring soul of Black music

  1. Charlotte Loveless

    Gwen Thank you for the history of Disco. WOW I must have been asleep in 1979. I had no idea of what happened on Comiskey field. Of course I’m not a constant follower of National Sports teams. I loved the smooth,swing and twirl that Disco provided in the movements of dance. I know I had learned some of the steps and moves and then it was gone. Not knowing what really happened, I just assumed that I was late getting on board as usual. Thank you for filling me in. Both an amazing and tragic story. Leaves me with Why? I thought our society had moved beyond that senseless. shameful behavior. Your blog provides a sense of reality. Thank you again

  2. Black music has sustained me mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally throughout my life: period. It has been and continues to be a great great gift to me and to the world, and to tell you the truth, I don’t know where I would be (or the world would be) without it.

    In reference to the seventies: The Ohio Players “Fire”, “Brick House” by the Commodores, Sly and the Family Stone’s “Dance to the Music”… Oh My Goodness: Irresistible!!! And one of my most favorite dance numbers of all time is Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up”! I still CAN NOT bear to sit still when I hear it.

    I never knew about Disco Demolition Night (how awful), but as one who loved Disco and the Hustle, whenever I mentioned it to many of the people I knew, they responded with a kind of “holier than thou” expression of contempt. I just figured they had never experienced the thrill of dancing to Donna Summer as you were sent out in a spin on the dance floor, and then pulled back into the delicious safety of your partner’s arms. Their loss.

    Black music in all its varieties is priceless. It will never be silenced, and I am forever grateful. Thank you for writing about it, and for bringing back some wonderful memories.

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