upper waypoint

Watch: Disco's Mighty Real Bay Area Roots, Live at KQED

Save ArticleSave Article
Failed to save article

Please try again

Drag performer Bebe Sweet Briar and DJ Paul Goodyear, aka SanFranDisko, onstage at The Commons at KQED on June 6, 2024.  (Estefany Gonzalez for KQED)

In the 1970s, as activists fought for gay liberation, Black power and women’s rights, a new sound hit dance floors from coast to coast: disco.

In the new PBS documentary Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution (available now for streaming and on KQED TV), singers, DJs and cultural figures show how the music became a balm for oppression and created space for people of different backgrounds to let loose and get free. Despite whitewashing and backlash that followed disco’s explosion into the mainstream, its queer, Black roots continue to influence pop’s biggest stars.

To celebrate the documentary’s release, NPR’s Corey Antonio Rose and KQED’s Nastia Voynovskaya co-hosted a special panel discussion and performance in KQED’s San Francisco event space, The Commons. Singer and drag star Bebe Sweetbriar (who kicked off the night with a fiery lip sync) and DJ Paul Goodyear, aka SanFranDisko, walked us through disco’s transformation of nightlife and DJ culture, and how it catalyzed organizing and community care during the AIDS crisis. We spoke at length about Sylvester, the San Francisco disco star who paved the way for genderfluid self-expression.

Charles Hawthorne and Rodney Barnette (left to right) discuss the past and present of queer nightlife spaces. (Estefany Gonzalez for KQED)

Later in the evening, Rodney Barnette, a former Black Panther, revealed that the disco scene wasn’t as utopian as it may seem. Queer people of color were regularly discriminated against, which prompted him to open the New Eagle Creek Saloon, San Francisco’s first Black-owned gay bar, in 1990. With the slogan “a friendly place with funky bass for every race,” the Eagle Creek became a social support system. Charles Hawthorne, a DJ who works with Oaklash and Nectar Social Club, chatted with Rodney about the current generation’s ways of carrying the torch and creating a truly inclusive queer culture.

The evening closed out with a live musical number from Bebe and a dance party. Watch the full program below.


lower waypoint
next waypoint