Song Stories: DEBBY BOONE "You Light Up My Life" [1977]

Hello, my name is HERC and I have loved "You Light Up My Life" since I first heard it one night on WLS just after the start of sixth grade in 1977.  I bought it on 45 within a couple of weeks (and still have it) and to this day almost always sing along at the top of my lungs whenever it comes on. 
When I was fortunate enough to receive a few months worth of piano lessons in 1978, my piano teacher chose "You Light Up My Life" and Chicago's "Colour My World" as the two songs I would practice twice a day for 30 minutes at a time and while my poor family may have grown tired of me butchering the song over and over, all of that effort only made me appreciate the beautiful simplicity of the song more.  Despite nearly forty years of listening to and singing "You Light Up My Life" it was only fairly recently that I learned of how Boone's single came to be.

Joseph Brooks was a successful, award winning commercial jingle writer who decided to write and direct a motion picture featuring songs he wrote on the soundtrack, sung by Kasey Cisyk (among others) and lip-synced by actress Didi Conn in the film.  It was a huge gamble as he financed the entire project himself.  The finished film eventually found a distributor after a few months and was released on August 31, 1977.  The soundtrack album was released but the story goes that Kasey refused to sign the necessary contracts to release the title song as a single.  Knowing that the song would be a perfect advertisement for his film, Brooks lent the instrumental backing track to producer Mike Curb who was looking for material to establish Debby Boone as a solo star and had sat in on a screening of the film.  (Cisyk's former husband later claimed that Brooks tried to deny paying Cisyk for her work and actively sought out someone else to record the song.)  
Boone's single debuted on the Hot 100 on September 3, 1977 at number 71, the highest of nine debuting singles that week.  The following week, the single climbed to number 58 and Casey Kasem first announced it on his American Top 40 show the weekend of September 17, 1977 when it was one of seven singles to break into the Top 40.  Three weeks later, it cracked the Top 10 and one week later, on October 15th, rose to the top of the chart for an unprecedented ten week run at Number One where it held off hits by KC & the Sunshine Band ("Keep It Comin' Love"), Carly Simon ("Nobody Does It Better"), Heatwave ("Boogie Nights"), Crystal Gayle ("Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue") and the Bee Gees ("How Deep Is Your Love") though it was the that last one that finally ended the historical chart reign of "You Light Up My Life".  By February 18, 1978, the song was at its lowest position on The Hot 100 - number 96 - before falling off the charts the very next week.  Debby Boone's cover eventually won an Oscar for Best Original Song and Boone won a Grammy as Best New Artist as well as topping the Adult Contemporary chart and going Top 5 on the Country chart.
The movie's soundtrack album, which did not feature Debby Boone, debuted on the Albums chart on October 29, 1977. It peaked at number 17 during a fifteen week run on the charts and was certified gold for selling 500,000 copies.  The Debby Boone album featured at top of post was rush recorded and released and debuted on the Albums chart the very same week as the soundtrack album.  It eventually spent thirty-seven weeks on the chart, selling more than a million copies and going platinum while peaking at number 6.
Kasey Cisyk's version of the single finally debuted on the Hot 100 on November 12, 1977 at number 86.  It rose up to number 80 on November 26th, stayed there an additional week and then left the chart for good, it's entire run overshadowed by Boone's stay at Number One.  But the worst part was Kasey's name is nowhere to be found on the single, with the credit reading Original Cast.  She later successfully sued Brooks and the record company for not being credited as singer on the soundtrack album.

"You Light Up My Life" has been covered by other artists such as Johnny Mathis, Kenny Rogers and Whitney Houston. LeAnn Rimes even made it onto the Hot 100 with her version but the only one that has ever held any appeal to me is the original cover, the one by Debby Boone whose father's career was built on squeaky clean covers of R&B hits.  Because of it's long-running time at #1, "You Light Up My Life" is often ranked as the Number One Song of Seventies.  
  • Debby never did hit the Top 40 again yet she continues to enjoy a career as a singer (she has had Country, Christian and AC chart singles) and actress.
  • Because he put up his own money, Brooks kept all profits from the movie, the song and the soundtrack album but by all accounts was not a good man and ultimately took his own life in 2011 rather than face criminal charges.  
  • Kvitka "Kasey" Cisyk continued to sing commercial jingles as well as perform vocals on hundreds of sessions including works by David Sanborn, Michael Franks and Spyro Gyra. A classically-trained opera singer, Cisyk eventually recorded two well-received Ukrainian folk albums in the Eighties before succumbing to breast cancer in 1998.


  1. Thank you for posting the movie clip, Herc. I remember watching it on HBO often in the early 80's. I always liked Didi Conn. I had forgotten how strong the original version by Kasey Cisyk was.

  2. Dirk thinks that Debby Boone has always been a lovely, lovely woman… Big fan of Debby and her one hit.

    Joe Brooks, on the other hand, was the Michael Cimino of music; except that he also became the Michael Cimino of movies… What's that you say, Dirk? Go ahead & Google "Joe Brooks If Ever I See You Again". (Spoiler: The word egomaniacal is a recurring adjective). Case closed.