American Experience: The War on Disco

Explore the rise of disco and the backlash that tried to destroy it.

Monday October 30 9:00pm

The War on Disco, a new documentary produced by Lisa Q. Wolfinger and Rushmore DeNooyer, explores the culture war that erupted over the spectacular rise of disco music. Originating in underground Black and gay clubs, disco had unseated rock as America’s most popular music by the late 1970s, fueled in part by the 1977 film Saturday Night Fever, starring John Travolta. But many diehard rock fans viewed disco as shallow and superficial. A story that’s about much more than music, The War On Disco explores how the powerful anti-disco backlash revealed a cultural divide that to some seemed to be driven by racism and homophobia. The hostility came to a head on July 12, 1979, when a riot broke out at “Disco Demolition Night” during a baseball game in Chicago. Executive produced by Cameo George, The War on Disco premieres on AMERICAN EXPERIENCE on Monday, October 30, 2023, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET (check local listings) on PBS, and the PBS App.

In the 1970s, disco began to dominate American popular music, taking over clubs, radio stations, and record sales. Its roots lay in the urban subculture, and the artists who created it were predominantly African American and Latino. In the gay dance clubs where it first flourished, disco was much more than music — it was an expression of pride.

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