Dig out your white three-piece suit and get ready to hit the dance floor — it’s disco time! But in spite of the image that might have popped into your head, I’m not going to write about John Travolta or the Bee Gees. Instead, I thought I’d feature another performer from the era, and his very familiar signature tune — Van McCoy and “The Hustle.” Despite his tragically early death at age 39, McCoy left behind quite a legacy as a Grammy-winning artist, songwriter and producer. — and it wasn’t just disco.
Like so many performers, it all began when he sang as a child with his church choir. Growing up in post-war Washington, D.C., young Van Allen Clinton McCoy was immersed in music, and by his early teens was not only singing but also writing his own songs.
McCoy was soon performing in area talent shows alongside his older brother, and by the late 1950s both had joined with a couple of friends to form a doo-wop group called the Starlighters. Although the group did well it was obvious that Van McCoy was destined for bigger things, and within a few years he began to make a name for himself as a solo performer and songwriter. It would be the latter skill that would lead to a big part of his success, as he composed hit after hit for a lot of major stars. Among his many songs were the Shirelles’ “Stop The Music,” Jackie Wilson’s “I Get The Sweetest Feeling,” and Barbara Lewis’ huge hit, “Baby, I’m Yours.”
While continuing to write music and perform, McCoy eventually moved into the production side of the business too, and enjoyed great success as the force behind a lot of stars. But when the disco craze of the 1970s began, McCoy really hit his stride, and his mega-hit “The Hustle” was soon followed by a series of disco-beat songs.
By the time of his death from a heart attack in 1979 McCoy had pretty much reverted to mostly working behind the scenes in the music industry. And even though he didn’t particularly like being described as a disco star and did write other types of music — like the impressive “African Symphony” — he is still most remembered for his iconic disco tune.