Songs That Soundtracked the AIDS Epidemic: Whitney’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)”
in 1987 the AIDS epidemic was still unfolding. it was still a death sentence. those living with HIV–who were still among the living–were at constant war with a government that willfully denied, withheld and blocked necessary resources to address the epidemic. it was a brutal time. but it was also a time that clubs and dance floors thrived. they were still a place for restoration and for falling in love with strangers who danced to songs that fed the spirit. and whitney houston’s “i wanna dance with somebody (who loves me)” was one of those songs.
released in may 1987, “i wanna dance with somebody (who loves me)” served as the lead single from whitney’s sophomore album “whitney.” the jubilant pop/dance track about the need for a dance floor escape from the loneliness that creeps up at night was an immediate hit. seven weeks after its release “i wanna dance with somebody” became whitney’s fourth consecutive song to top of the billboard hot 100.
in march 1990 whitney performed the song at the “that’s what friends are for: arista records 15th anniversary AIDS benefit concert.” held at radio city music hall, the star-studded concert which included other queer icons jennifer holiday, whoopi goldberg, and taylor dayne to name a few, aired on CBS a month later.
whitney’s work to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS continued throughout her career. in 1991 she spoke at the reach out and touch someone HIV/AIDS vigil in the UK. there she spoke about the importance of AIDS research and addressing HIV stigma. three years later, whitney performed an emotionally driven rendition of the bebe & cece winans song “don’t cry for me” at the AIDS project LA: commitment to life concert.
34 years since its release “i wanna dance with somebody” still packs the dance floor at queer clubs. a new generation of young people who courageously defend our communities from the same systems that attempted to destroy us all during the early epidemic, find solace and connection in singing along with strangers that beautiful refrain that is “oh i wanna dance with somebody who loves me.”