The First Ladies of Disco is a new book giving a great deal of attention to the female artists of the genre.
During the last half of the 1970s, disco music took over the Top 40 charts, easing out rock and roll. This was chiefly due to rock fans having migrated to the new format of FM album rock, leaving Top 40 to wallow among the depths of such pop atrocities as "You Light up My Life," a number one hit in 1977, the same year that rock gave us Rumours, Hotel California, Cat Scratch Fever, and debuts by The Clash, Cheap Trick, The Sex Pistols, and Motorhead. 1977 was also the year of the movie "Saturday Night Fever" which caused a major jump in disco music sales.
Disco had its detractors among rock fans, getting so intense by the end of the decade that there were anti-disco rallys throughout the USA, most notably Steve Dahl's Disco Demolition night at Chicago's Comiskey Park in July of 1979. Dahl told listeners of his popular radio show that they could get into the game for 98 cents and a disco record album. The albums were collected, and in between a White Sox-Tigers double header, Dahl took to the field and destroyed the collected vinyl with an explosion. This stunt was accepted to assist a lackluster attendance season for the Sox, but the result was an estimated 90,000 fans jamming the Park, throwing records like frisbees and storming the field between games. Once they were dispersed by police, there was too much damage to the diamond to continue. The Sox had to forfeit the second game to the Tigers.
While this backlash against disco music by rock and roll fans resulted in such events, disco remained quite popular for a comparatively brief time. In 1975-1976 its popularity grew, and by 1979 when Dahl's event took place, it had almost completely overtaken the Top 40 charts. By the 80s, it faded as quickly as it had emerged.
Now, decades later, even those who hated disco have made enough peace with it to recognize it as a cultural phenomenon. Hence, James Arena's new reference book "The First Ladies of Disco," which includes capsule biographies of the women who became stars performing the music. The late Donna Summer is here, of course, while forewords by Gloria Gaynor and Claudja Barry add greater authenticity, as does the afterword by Harry Wayne Casey (KC, of KC and the Sunshine Band).
The book is very thorough, at an encyclopedic level, with long biographical sketches on each of the entrants. The stories behind the likes of Maxine Nightingale, Yvonne Elliman, Carol Williams, and Evelyn "Champaigne" King are interesting and informative reading. Groups are not overlooked, as the book includes entries on The Andrea True Connection, The Ritchie Family, and The Boys Town Gang. The focus is on women, so this is not the place to find info on KC himself, despite his welcome afterword.
Media studies that attempt to be inclusive will often overlook some cultural phenoms as mere fads. Disco was an extension of the existing rhythm and blues music of that time, especially the Motown sound, and it influenced subsequent R&B artists who may not specifically call their music disco, but the beats and the methods are easily traceable to that sound. A book such as this, covering some of the most important artists, is most highly recommended to students of 20th century popular music.