The Night White Folks Rioted Against Disco Music

The time? July 12, 1979. The place? Comisky Park, Chicago, Illinois. On this night, an angry crowd of mostly white folks rushed Camisky Park’s ball field.

What sparked the anger, you ask? Police brutality? Home team losing or winning? Forced bussing? No, these angry white folks steamed over something far more sinister, something so sinister it threatened taking over traditional mainstream America as we know it. Actually, it almost succeeded. What was this foul threat? Disco music.

In the 1970s, disco ruled the airwaves. After the success of disco movie Saturday Night Fever, many people were dressing up and shaking their booties at local discotheques.

Disco was so strong, rock stars started performing it. Rolling Stones created “Miss You”. Rod Stewart created “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy”. The last straw before the storm may have been KISS’s “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”.

I know some rock fans that are still pissed A Taste of Honey won Best New Artist over Elvis Costello. February 1979, this happened during the 21st Grammy Awards

As America continued shaking their groove thang, some rock stations turned disco. On Christmas Eve 1978, after changing formats from rock to disco, radio station WDAI fired radio jock Steve Dahl. Dahl didn’t take that too well. After being hired by rock station WLUP, Dahl mocked his former bosses. With broadcast partner Garry Meier, Dahl spawned the slogan Disco Sucks.

Before Disco Demolition Night, Dahl hosted several mini anti-disco events. Some events downgraded into unruliness. After a discotheque in Linwood, Indiana changed from rock to disco, Steve Dahl and his fans appeared. Later on, police were called. Dahl once urged listeners to throw marshmallows at a WDAI promotional van that appeared at a teen disco. People cornered the driver and the van. Yet, violence didn’t happen. When listeners couldn’t enter a sold-out promotional event in Hanover Park, Illinois, fights broke out, leading to the cops being called.

During anti-disco fever, some genius hatched the idea of using anti-disco fever to promote an upcoming White Sox game. Mike Veeck, son of White Sox owner Bill Veeck, contacted Steve Dahl. The ingenious idea these two hatched? Blow up crates of disco records at Comisky Park. Anyone bringing a disco record to the July 12 White Sox game could enter for ninety-eight cents. Then, Steve Dahl would blow up the records. The game was a double-header against the Detroit Tigers. So, the records would be blown up between games.

Dahl promoted the event weeks before the game. The event sold out. At least twenty thousand people were still outside. Some folks climbed fences, leaped turnstiles and entered through opened windows.

During the first game, people threw records, bottles, cherry bombs, etc. at the field. The game had to be stopped several times. Banners saying “Disco Sucks” could also be seen.

Some folks were even smoking weed in the stadium.

After the first game, wearing army fatigues and a helmet, Steve Dahl entered the ball field riding in a jeep with Gerry Meier and WLUP model Lorelei. Before blowing up the records, Dahl and Meier encouraged fans to yell “Disco Sucks”.

Soon, Dahl did what he promised. He blew up disco records, tearing a huge hole in the outfield grass. Then, a crowd of mostly white folks rushed the field tearing up more grass, stealing bases and burning records. Folks also destroyed the batting cage. Plus some genius or geniuses started a bon fire in center field.

Earlier, I said this was mostly white people. Yet, late African-American actor Michael Clark Duncan stole a baseball bat. In my honest opinion, I think this was more opportunist than ant-disco, not to say some black folks didn’t hate disco.

Police arrived in riot gear. Thirty-nine people were arrested for disorderly conduct. The second game was forfeited.

What caused anti-disco fever in the first place, you ask? Because of disco’s association with African-Americans, Latinos and gays, some critics accuse bigotry. In my humble opinion, I agree. Yet, I also remember something 70s star Leif Garret once said on a VH1 show. This I agree with too. The rock and roll slobs couldn’t dance.

If you could dance, you attracted the women. Because many white dudes couldn’t and wouldn’t dance, they couldn’t attract the women. Instead of blaming their own sorry selves, these angry white dudes revolted against disco.

Why do I believe that about dancing, you ask? I see the same thing when rap music plays in bars and nightclubs nowadays. Many white dudes won’t dance. So, when white ladies start asking black and Latino guys to dance, won’t-dance white dudes all of a sudden can’t stand rap music.

(For the record, your humble black blogger can’t dance either. Yet, when it comes to the ladies, I at least attempt.)

As for white women being anti-disco, they were probably just being racist…and couldn’t dance either. With songs telling folks to shake their booty, the white women were probably embarrassed by not having booty to shake. (Not to say all white women don’t have booty.)

So, the next time folks badmouth rioters of color, remember the night white folks rioted against disco music.


4 thoughts on “The Night White Folks Rioted Against Disco Music

  1. I remember there was homophobia associated with the anti-disco movement…….. But there was a lot going on. I think this was when you could still hear Sinatra and Led Zeppelin on the same station. The Disco era was a time of segregation on the radio dial. Stations became “rock” or “pop” or “soul” or “country”. And if your rock station turned disco, you were angry. The example of Elvis Costello is especially telling, because despite all the stations, you could NOT hear Elvis Costello on the radio. Compared to Roxy Music, Lou Reed, disco music wasn’t the sort of music people actually talked about and said, “I want to start a band.”….. There is always an imaginary argument where a person thinks, “They’re not playing MY music on the radio because they’re playing That music.”

  2. The thing about Disco music is that it never really dies. It is slowly re-emerging into the mainstream without the stigma. Young kids simply like it because they can dance, instead of just lounging and listening. Disco was Americas’s crowning achievement, just like Latinos and Salsa, which they remain proud of. Every Latino grows up learning some Salsa and Merengue. Americans should reclaim their own style, be proud of it, dominate it and learn the Hustle and Bus Stop as part of growing up. It is a sound that just makes you want to dance, forget, and live it up. Embrace it..

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