After watching it utterly dominate the musical landscape of the late 1970s, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences gave disco their stamp of approval, deciding to give a Grammy award for Best Disco Recording, just as the musical style was preparing to die. The first and final Grammy for Best Disco Recording was awarded on this day in 1980, to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”
The choice of “I Will Survive” as the winner that night was unassailable, even given the competition. Also nominated in the Best Disco Recording category were: Earth, Wind & Fire for “Boogie Wonderland;” Michael Jackson for “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough;” Rod Stewart for “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”; and Donna Summer for “Bad Girls.” If there was anything surprising about the award, it was that it was being given at all, considering the anti-disco backlash that was already well underway.
On a fundamental business level, there was growing disillusion within the record industry by early 1980 regarding disco’s profit potential. As popular as the music was on the radio and in the clubs, disco had failed to produce many of the kind of dependable, multi-platinum acts that the industry depended on for its biggest profits. It was also hard to ignore the obvious signs of the backlash in the popular culture of the time. One of 1979’s biggest acts, the Knack, was being marketed explicitly as the group that had come to destroy disco. At a Chicago White Sox game the previous July, tens of thousands of marauding disco-haters forced the cancellation and forfeit of a game at Comiskey Park on “Disco Sucks” promotion night. And then there was Ethel Merman’s disco version of “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” a sure sign of the coming apocalypse that the Academy chose to ignore.
The Best Disco Recording category, recognized by the Grammys for the first time on this day in 1980, was summarily eliminated from the following year’s awards.