The War on Disco

October 30, 2023 | GBH’s American Experience

In the 1970s, disco dominated American pop music. Originating in nightclubs that featured record players instead of live bands, disco was a major stylistic departure from rock, and its rise to the top of the music charts signaled a cultural shift that some found threatening. Disco’s roots lay in gay urban subculture, and the artists who created it were largely African American and Latino. In the gay dance clubs where it flourished, disco was much more than music – it was an expression of gay pride and a statement about lifestyle. To many outside this community, disco was anathema. Chicago DJ Steve Dahl, who lost his job when the rock radio station he worked for changed to an all-disco format, gave voice to disco-haters by holding “Death To Disco” rallies at local nightclubs. On July 12, 1979, the Chicago White Sox featured Dahl at a “Disco Demolition” event that turned violent as 5,000 people stormed the ballfield, setting fires and ripping up turf; Chicago police in riot gear were needed to restore the peace. It was the first of many anti-disco events around the country that year. WAR ON DISCO explores the cultural movement that gave rise to disco music, and the backlash that tried to destroy it.  Directed by Lisa Quijano Wolfinger.


Nicole London is the Grammy-nominated Producer of Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, a major international documentary on the legendary musician. Recent credits include American Masters Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me, The Talk: Race in America, and 16 short films now playing in the Segregation Gallery of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, DC. Three recent films have been nominated for NAACP Image Awards: Miles Davis, American Masters August Wilson: The Ground On Which I Stand and Firelight Media’s The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, the latter of which was also nominated for a 2016 Primetime Emmy. She is currently directing two films, one on the life of Frederick Douglass, the other on Harriet Tubman. Both will air nationally on PBS.