Inside Bibliodiscotheque, the Library of Congress’s Event Series Celebrating Disco

We spoke to Gayle Osterberg about the program and its party finale with Gloria Gaynor.

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Apr 14 2017, 5:44pm

Photo via U.S. Copyright Office

Not even a stadium-sized backlash could permanently derail the love train known as disco. The genre has long pervaded culture and society through music, fashion, nightlife, and even casual slang (disco naps, anyone?).

Disco's lasting influence was formally recognized last year by the Library of Congress when singer Gloria Gaynor's disco anthem and perennial karaoke favorite "I Will Survive" was selected for the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry, a collection of sound recordings considered "culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States." While other works, such as Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, were previously inducted into the Registry in 2011 and 2012, both were labeled "pop."

To celebrate the track's induction, the Library of Congress is launching Bibliodiscotheque, an event series celebrating the overall impact of disco in popular culture. The month-long series, which started on Wednesday, April 12, includes film and concert screenings, panels, lectures, and workshops, with the May 6 finale culminating in a disco party and performance by Gaynor herself. It's the first time a whole genre has been honored in this way by the Library of Congress.

Ahead of the series launch, we spoke with the LoC's Director of Communications, Gayle Osterberg, about how Bibliodiscotheque came to be, her personal connection to disco, and more.

THUMP: Where did the idea for Bibliodiscotheque come from?
Gayle Osterberg: Gloria's hit "I Will Survive" was added to the National Recording Registry last year, and the response to its inclusion sparked the idea of featuring disco in some way at the Library. Our creative team in the Music Division and Special Events Office developed the program over many months.

This is the first time a genre of music has been honored by the Library of Congress in this way. Why disco? What aspects of disco culture have been the most impactful?
It is true this series of events is a little unique for the Library, but it reflects a desire by the new Librarian of Congress to explore new programs that appeal to a range of interests so broader audiences become more aware of the resources we have here. As she noted in the announcement, "The disco era has left a lasting mark on our culture. The music, the clothes, those fantastic disco balls–they are a part of Americana that new generations are still discovering and embracing."

Last year, Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" was inducted into the National Recording Registry. Can you give us insight on how songs/recordings are selected?
The Librarian makes the final selections based on recommendations by music and recorded sound experts serving on the National Recording Preservation Board. Nominations are also gathered through online submissions from the public.

What impact has "I Will Survive" had, musically or culturally, that makes it worthy of inclusion in the NRR?
It became an anthem really and spoke to so many people. It is a song that everyone has heard and is part of America's songbook—the ones that seem to step outside of a single genre's fanbase and appeal to a much broader audience.

What does disco mean to you personally?
I was pretty little in the 70s, but I always knew that music. From high school dances to nights out with friends later in life, so many of those songs were among our favorites, especially "I Will Survive," but also "It's Raining Men," "Love Train," "I Love the Night Life"—those songs all remind me of dancing with my friends.

Can we expect events of this magnitude for other music genres in the future?
I think you can expect a lot of events that will be new and different around a lot of genres. Think comic books and movies, for instance. Stay tuned!

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