Thursday, November 18, 2021

Why you've likely never heard of unsung disco icon Alma Faye Brooks

(Editor's note: This post on how the anti-disco backlash cut short the recording careers of Alma Faye Brooks and many other promising Black artists is cross-posted from @lostcityforever.)

Alma Faye Brooks was born in Texas but raised in Montreal. She starred in a touring musical of Hair and in 1977 released the international disco hit Stop, I Don't Need No Sympathy which wowed dancefloors with her amazing voice. "It came out and made some noise," Brooks said in 2012. "It got some nice numbers. But it's all serendipity. Things just fell into place."

The following year in 1978, Alma Faye Brooks received the first of her two nominations for Juno Awards (the Canadian Grammy's) for Most Promising Female Vocalist. She was nominated alongside Claudja Barry, but both lost that year to Lisa Dal Bello. Brooks next signed a deal to record her debut LP for Casablanca Records.

She was also in demand as a backing vocalist. Brooks appeared on Boule Noire's underground disco LP released in 1976, Les Années Passent, featuring the legendary Muscle Shoals rhythm section. She contributed backing vocals to Geraldine Hunt's 1978 debut LP Sweet Honesty which was arranged by Denis LePage of Lime.

Brooks then began writing her own material. She co-wrote all the songs she recorded for her debut LP. While working on it, she also wrote or co-wrote all songs on another album from her producers, Black Light Orchestra's This Time (1979), like the upbeat, excellent opening cut Show Me.

Billed simply as Alma Faye, her album Doin' It was released by Casablanca in 1979. The LP's first single It's Over hit U.S. dance charts that spring. Next came the superb Don't Fall In Love which seemed ready to cross over to a broader R&B audience. But trouble lay ahead.

Don't Fall In Love by Alma Faye hit Billboard's R&B charts on July 21, 1979. It was barely one week after the infamous Disco Demolition Night at a July 12 Chicago White Sox game that ended in a racist riot as the mostly white male crowd destroyed records by Black artists. That summer, disco was still riding high on radio and the charts. Donna Summer's Bad Girls was the #1 R&B song in America when Don't Fall In Love charted, with Good Times by Chic at #2.

Disco Demolition Night didn't end disco's heyday by itself. But it was the most high-profile public event associated with the racist, homophobic anti-disco backlash that resulted when bigots finally realized disco threatened white supremacy.

As the 1970s became the 80s, disco artists felt the backlash. Radio stations dropped disco formats. Major labels scaled back or closed their disco divisions. When labels stopped promoting disco records and stations quit playing them, mass audiences stopped buying.

Countless new artists were buried in the wake of the growing racist hostility to disco. Alma Faye Brooks' crossover moment passed as Don't Fall In Love quickly fell off the charts. Polygram bought out Casablanca Records in 1980 and Brooks was cut from the label.

Even disco's biggest stars were taken down. “In the summer of '79, Disco Sucks killed my band CHIC,” Nile Rodgers noted in 2014. Alma Faye Brooks joined other great singers like Sharon Redd, Alton McClain and Chaka Khan's younger sister Taka Boom as artists who never found the widespread success they deserved. partly because they arrived just as the disco backlash was brewing.

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