Disco star France Joli lived the old “42nd Street” movie line dream “if you’re going out a youngster but you are coming back a star.”
Over 40 years ago on the hot summer night of July 7th. In 1979 before an estimated audience of 5000 screaming gay men on Fire Island Pines the 16-year-old singer at the last minute was asked to fill in for Donna Summer at an all-star disco music concert.
Jolie remembers it vividly. “Sister Sledge was there. EVERYBODY was there!”
When it came time for her to perform. She stepped up to the microphone and began to sing, never realizing that she was about to turn the first major corner in her career and the process steal the show from some of the biggest and brightest names in the industry. Seven minutes later, when she took her bows, the crowd went wild, flipping head over heels for this unknown Canadian teenager and proclaiming her, from that day forward, a star in the truest sense of the word.
“Come to Me” became the number-one disco song of the summer, and the definitive Fire Island gay tea dance classic.
This is one of Back2Stonewall.com’s most popular Gay History posts. We hope that you enjoy revisiting it or reading it for the first time this PRIDE season. – Will Kohler
The Very Gay History of the Almost Lost Tradition of the Sunday Tea Dance
Many gay men under the age of 30 today are totally clueless of the almost lost tradition of the Sunday Tea Dance. (A tradition that really must be brought back.) So here’s a little history primer on the “Sunday T-dance” and how and why it was embraced it in the gay culture.
Historically, tea was served in the afternoon, either with snacks (“low tea”) or with a full meal (“high tea” or “meat tea”). High Tea eventually moved earlier in the day, sometimes replacing the midday “luncheon” and settled around 11 o’clock, becoming the forerunner of what we know as “brunch”.
From the late 1800’s to well into the pre-WWI era in both America and England, late afternoon (low) tea service became the highlight of society life. As dance crazes swept both countries, tea dances became increasingly popular as places where single women and their gentlemen friends could meet — the swinging singles scene of the age.
While tea dances enjoyed a revival in America after the Great War, The Great Depression of the 30’s wiped them out. Tea consumption was in steady decline in America anyways and by the 50’s, tea was largely thought of as something “your grandmother drinks”. Also, nightlife was moving later and younger. Working men and women were too busy building the American Dream to socialize so it was left to their teenaged children in the age of sockhops and the jukebox diner. Rock and roll was dark and dangerous — something you sneaked out for after dinner, not took part in before dinner.
Gay people, of course, were still largely underground in the 50s, but it was in these discreet speakeasies that social (non-partnered) dancing was evolving. It was illegal for men to dance with men, or for women to dance with women. In the event of a raid, gay men and lesbian women would quickly change partners to mixed-couples. Eventually, this led to everyone sort of dancing on their own.
“MacArthur Park“ was written by singer-songwriter Jimmy Webb that was originally recorded actor and singer Richard Harris in 1968. Harris’s version peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and number four on the UK Singles Chart. “MacArthur Park” was subsequently covered by numerous artists, including a 1969 Grammy-winning version by country music singer Waylon Jennings and the premier disco a number one Billboard Hot 100 cover by Donna Summer in 1978.
Italian music producer Giorgio Moroder would recall that he and his collaborator Pete Bellotte had been interested in the concept of either remixing a track – as yet undecided on – which had been a hit in the 1960s or else remaking a 1960s hit as a dance track: Moroder – “I remember that I was driving in … on the Hollywood Freeway, and I heard the original song [i.e. “MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris] on the radio. I thought: ‘That’s it – that’s the song we’ve been looking for almost a year.’
And the rest is disc-tory!
I do not claim ownership to this song or video. All rights reserved by copyright holders
NOTICE: “Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.”
Not to be confused with Fire Island’s Ice Palace of course.
Ice Palace 57 was a gay discotheque located in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood that operated from 1977 to 1985. The club was a popular destination for the gay men in the community during a time when being openly gay was not widely accepted.
The club was founded by two brothers, Anthony and Michael Joffe, who were inspired by the disco movement that was sweeping the city in the late 1970s. They wanted to create a space that would be welcoming to gay men and allies, and they succeeded in doing so..
Located on West 57th Street in Manhattan, Ice Palace 57 faced many challenges during its eight-year run. The club was located in an area that was known for its high crime rate, and the owners had to take measures to ensure the safety of their patrons. They hired security guards and installed metal detectors at the entrance to the club. the club became a symbol of the city’s vibrant gay community and a safe haven for those who wanted to dance and express themselves freely.
The interior of Ice Palace 57 was designed to be a spectacle. The club’s interior was designed to resemble an ice palace, with walls made of white, glittering tiles and floors covered in white carpeting. The lighting was dim, with disco balls and strobe lights providing a pulsating and energetic atmosphere. The bar was located in the center of the club, with a large dance floor surrounding it. On either side of the dance floor were seating areas, where people could take a break from dancing and socialize with friends. The club’s sound system was state-of-the-art for the time, with speakers strategically placed throughout the room to create an immersive audio experience.
Ice Palace 57 was known for its music, which was a mix of disco, funk, and soul. The club had a roster of talented DJs who knew how to get the crowd moving. Some of the most famous DJs to play at Ice Palace 57 included Frankie Knuckles, Larry Levan, and David Morales.
One of the unique features of Ice Palace 57 was its drag shows. The club had a stage where drag queens would perform, entertaining the crowd with their outrageous costumes and over-the-top personalities. These shows were a major draw for the club, and many people came specifically to see the performers. Performers included: Lady Bunny, RuPaul, and Lypsinka. One of the most famous drag queens to perform at Ice Palace 57 was Divine, who went on to become a cult figure.
Ice Palace 57 also faced discrimination from the outside world. The club was frequently raided by the police, who would arrest patrons for “lewd conduct” or other offenses. The owners had to fight back against these attacks, hiring lawyers to defend their club and their patrons in court.
Ultimately, the club’s run came to an end in 1985, when Ice Palace 57 was forced to close due to financial difficulties as the AIDS crisis was began to take a more serious term. But its legacy lives on as a symbol of the gay community’s fight for acceptance, equality, and the right to be fabulous.
Do you have any memories of Ice Palace 57? If so post them in the comments and help keep gay history alive.
Studio 54 was a legendary nightclub located in Manhattan, New York City that operated from 1977 to 1986. The club’s opening night on April 26th, 1977, was a glittering affair that marked the start of a cultural phenomenon.
As the doors opened at Studio 54, on May 26, 1977 the crowd of eager party-goers flooded into the space, which was once a CBS television studio. They were greeted by a surreal and extravagant world of disco balls, glitter, and flashing lights that immediately transported them into a world of hedonism and debauchery. The space was designed by renowned theatrical set designer, Steve Rubell, who spared no expense in creating a venue that was unlike any other. The dance floor was an expansive space that could accommodate up to 2,000 people, with balconies overlooking the dance floor, and a grand VIP room that catered to the rich and famous.
The opening of Studio 54 marked the beginning of a cultural revolution. The club was a symbol of the hedonistic and carefree nature of the late 1970s, and it became an icon of popular culture. It represented a break from tradition and a rejection of the conservative values that had dominated American society for decades.
The masterminds behind Studio 54 were Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager were college roommates at Syracuse University who got into the nightclub business after their first venture, a chain of steak restaurants, failed to flourish. But before taking Manhattan by storm and becoming famous for openly and shamelessly excluding all but the most chic, famous or beautiful patrons from their establishment.
Rubell and Schrager invested about $400,000 to renovate the old CBS studio which was a giant risk.
A relatively unknown woman who deserves the lion’s share of the credit for making 54 into the celebrity playground that it became was Carmen D’Alessio, a public-relations entrepreneur in the fashion industry, whose Rolodex included names like Bianca Jagger, Liza Minnelli, Andy Warhol and Truman Capote. Her buzz-building turned the grand opening into a major item in the New York gossip columns, and her later efforts—like having Bianca Jagger ride a white horse into the club for her 30th birthday party—stoked the public’s fascination with Studio 54 even further. Not just the usual celebrity suspects—actors, models, musicians and athletes—but also political figures like Margaret Trudeau, and even Jackie Onassis.
We’ll never know the amount of cocaine that went up nostrils at Studio 54 – suffice it to say, or the tons of glitter dumped from the ceiling helped conceal the thin layer of wall-to-wall powder. ut we do know that hundreds of thousands of “unacceptable”New Yorkers and tri-state area (bridge and tunnel crowd) never make it past the velvet rope.
We’ll never know the amount of cocaine that went up nostrils at Studio 54 – suffice it to say, or the tons of glitter dumped from the ceiling helped conceal the thin layer of wall-to-wall powder. but we do know that hundreds of thousands of “unacceptable”New Yorkers and tri-state area (bridge and tunnel crowd) never make it past the velvet rope.
Schrager, took more of a behind-the-scenes role, but Steve Rubell basked in the glory of his newfound celebrity status. Rubell was often spotted in gay NYC clubs, and was infamous for pressuring his own bartenders and busboys to sleep with him to stay employed but still, for some reason, remained in the closet. Soon, this double lifestyle and intense drug use took its toll.
Rubell could be a very bad boss to his employees. Attribute it to his drug use and insane lifestyle if you wish, but whatever the case, it created some very disgruntled employees…. one in particular would cause the whole thing to come crashing down.
A male waiter went to the IRS and told them about Rubell and Schrager’s shady bookkeeping practices. Apparently, they had been keeping vast sums of cash in Hefty garbage bags and stowing them in the ceiling. Turns out, Rubell and Schrager had only paid $8,000 in taxes since they opened, while were making more than $75,000 per night.
Rubell hired close friend and the infamous and vile Roy Cohn to represent him and also bargained with the IRS, saying he would reveal a big secret if they’d be lenient.
The secret? Rubell claimed that President Carter’s Chief of Staff, Hamilton Jordan, had snorted cocaine in the Studio 54 basement. The allegations couldn’t be substantiated, but they made life miserable for Jordan. They brought scandal to the White House and had the FBI knocking on Jordan’s door.
In the end, Rubell and Schrager pled guilty and were sentenced to three years in prison.
On February 4, 1980Studio 54 was over. Liza Minnelli sung “New York, New York” at the farewell party and the doors were closed.
Studio 544 reopened later in the 1980s under new management, but it just wasn’t the same. Disco was dead and it closed a short time after opening.
After serving their sentences, Rubell and Schrager amazingly rebounded and became “respectable” hotel operators – making more money than ever.
Steve Rubell died of AIDS in 1989, but Ian Schrager has kept the hotel business thriving to this day.
The opening of Studio 54 was a groundbreaking event that marked the start of a cultural phenomenon. The club’s extravagant design, exclusive door policy, and diverse clientele made it a symbol of the carefree and hedonistic nature of the late 1970s. Its influence on popular culture cannot be overstated, and its legacy continues to inspire and fascinate people to this day.
The Skatt Brothers (or Skatt Bros.) was a Canadian band formed in 1979 was supposedly modeled after the Village People for parallels in music, but for a straight audience and by straight (?) masculine men.
They did not succeed.
Sean Delaney formed the band in 1979 and was signed to Casablanca Records by Neil Bogart. In 1979, the band released Walk the Night , on the Strange Spirits album. ” Walk the Night” reached #9 in the Billboard charts and #1 on various national charts. Walk the Night is considered the band’s cult classic . But in 1980 the band released a single called Life at the Outpost which while not as popular did reach the Top 25 internationally and hit Number #13 in Australia.
This official video for Life At The Outpost was done by the Australian record company, without the actual Skatt Brothers, using male models instead when repeated requests to the bands management company to produce a video for Life At The Outpost went unanswered.
It’s the the finest music video never to reach popular rotation and a must see.
The Saint (or Saint)was a legendary gay disco that operated in New York City’s East Village from 1980 to 1988. It was founded by entrepreneurs Bruce Mailman and Mark Hetrick, and quickly became one of the most popular and influential clubs in the city’s gay scene. With its cutting-edge music, stylish decor, and commitment to providing a safe and welcoming space for gay men, The Saint embodied the spirit of the era’s underground culture.
Opened in the old premises of the Fillmore East, a 1926-built, former-theater-turned-classic-rock-and-roll venue of the late 1960s and early 1970s, at 105 Second Avenue at 6th Street.
The club’s name was inspired by the Roman Catholic tradition of saints, which celebrated individuals who had achieved spiritual enlightenment and performed miracles. The Saint’s founders saw their mission as creating a similarly transformative experience for their patrons. They wanted to offer a space where gay men could feel empowered and liberated, free from the social stigma and discrimination that still plagued the community in the 1980s..
Membership packs with floor plans were distributed and before the club opened 2,500 memberships had been sold at $150 each for the first 700 members and for $250 for the rest, with a waiting list established.
Mailman’s other gay venture, the nearby New St. Marks Baths – a gay mecca at the time paid for the nightclub’s renovation cost $4.5 million, being $2 million over budget ($17 million at 2017 prices).
The original opening date was set for July 30, 1980, but construction delays forced a deferral to September 20, 1980, with Alan Dodd as disc jockey.
One of the most striking features of The Saint was its design.
The circular dance floor (5,000 square feet or 460 square meters) was topped by a perforated planetarium dome. 76 feet (23 meters) in diameter and 38 feet (12 meters) high. In addition to hiding the speakers, the dome served as a spectacular palette for the lighting effects. A circular opening at the top of the dome could be automatically opened and closed to allow a large mirrored disco ball to be lowered into the space. In the center of the dance floor was a circular light tree constructed on a hydraulic lift. It contained 1,500 lights and as its centerpiece was a rotating, dual Spitz Space System hemisphere star projector, ten times brighter than those used in planetariums.
Another key feature of Saint was its music. The club’s DJs, including the legendary Frankie Knuckles and Robbie Leslie , played a mix of disco, house, and funk that was both danceable and experimental. They were known for their innovative mixing techniques, which created a seamless and hypnotic flow of music that kept the crowd moving all night long.
The Saint also hosted live performances by some of the biggest names in disco and dance music, including Grace Jones, Chaka Khan, Patti LuPone, Eartha Kitt, Divine, Sylvester and many many more.
Directly underneath the dance-floor level was a large lounge with several juice bars. Beer on tap was sometimes served for free to avoid the licensing oversight of the New York State Liquor Authority. Above and outside the dome was what would become the controversial balcony, where patrons could see down to the dance floor, through the scrim of the dome. It was there that men relaxed and could and did indulge in sexual activities. Several times during the year, themed parties such as the “Black Party” and the “White Party”. are considered by most gay historians to be the precursors to the circuit party.
But perhaps the most important aspect of The Saint was its role as a safe space for gay men In an era when homophobia was still rampant, and many gay men felt isolated. The Saint provided a space where they could come together and express themselves freely. The club’s founders were committed to creating environment where gay men could come together and have a good time. Something that is sorely missing in todays community.
Tragically, Saint’s run was cut short by the AIDS epidemic, which devastated the LGBTQ+ community in the 1980s. Mailman and Hetrick both died of AIDS-related complications, and the club’s closure was a devastating blow to the community. But Saint’s legacy lived on, both in the memories of those who had danced there and in the impact it had on the culture of New York City’s gay community.
In 1982 singer Roni Griffith hit number two on the US Dance Club Songs chart for two weeks with her Hi-NRG version of the song in 1982. By the end of that year Griffin had a platinum and gold record for her hits “(The Best Part of) Breakin’ Up” and “Desire”.
In 1983 Griffin’s career took a strange turn when she pursued a career as Christian Contemporary artist. She appeared on The 700 Club and in 2004, she released her second Christian Contemporary album, entitled Only You.
On January 20, 1979 Gloria Gaynor’s recording of I Will Survive was released and started its way up the music charts.
“I Will Survive” became one of the quintessential anthems for the Gay Pride that year and has held strong as a favorite of gay men everywhere.
But did you also know………
1. The song was released as a B-side
Gaynor originally released “I Will Survive” as the B-side to her cover of the Righteous Brothers’ “Substitute” in 1978. It wasn’t until radio DJs around the country took notice of “I Will Survive” and began giving the song airplay that the song quickly rocketed to the top of the charts and became a dance club staple.
2. Gaynor won the only Disco Grammy
Gloria Gaynor won the Grammy award for Best Disco Recording in 1980 for “I Will Survive.” This was the first and only time the Grammys offered this category at the awards and soon eliminated it after the fall of disco.
3. It doesn’t feature any background singers
Unlike many disco hits recorded at the time, “I Will Survive” is recorded without any background singers adding to the sound. Gaynor also recorded the song at a higher vocal register than she normally sings and the track wasn’t overproduced like her earlier hits.
4. The song has charted in every decade
Dozens of artists have covered Gaynor’s hit anthem, helping it achieve a timeless status on the charts. Since its release in the ’70s, “I Will Survive” has re-surfaced on the Hot 100 chart every decade in a variety of forms. In the ’80s, R&B singer Safire released her version that peaked at #53 in 1989. Singer Chantay Savage’s jazzy ballad peaked at #23 on the Hot 100 in 1996. In 2009, pop group the Pussycat Dolls sampled “I Will Survive” in their hit “Hush Hush; Hush Hush” that peaked at #73 and the hit show Glee helped bring the song back in 2011 with its Destiny’s Child mashup with “Survivor” that peaked at #51 on the chart.
5. “I Will Survive” has become a source of empowerment
The song has played an important part in many people’s lives as a source of inspiration and empowerment to overcome any obstacle in life. It not only serves as a break-up anthem for women that rouses up strength and power to move on from a relationship, but as the quintessential empowerment song in the gay community to those who leave them behind, and even to Gaynor herself.
Just before recording “I Will Survive,” Gaynor spent six months in the hospital from a back injury and the song served as her own source of motivation to survive and overcome the injury. Since its release, “I Will Survive” has been translated in 20 different languages all over the world, and remains one of the most popular karaoke songs to this day.
Now that you know a little more behind the tune, watch and sing along with Gloria Gaynor’s timeless PRIDE anthem below.