This was featured in a movie of the same name written and directed by Joseph Brooks, who was also a songwriter. Brooks needed a title song for the movie, so he wrote this about halfway through the shoot.
At first, this was going to be sung by a jingle singer named Kasey Cisyk, and she recorded the original version that was used in the film. For over a year, no movie studio would release the film and no record company would release the song. When the movie finally got picked up, it was time to record the song as a single, and Brooks went with Debby Boone instead of Cisyk. Boone had very little recording experience, but was the daughter of Pat Boone, a very popular singer in the '50s with a loyal and very religious fan base.
The movie was about a girl trying to make it in show business. The lead role was played by Didi Conn, who played Frenchy in the movie Grease the next year. She lip-synched the song to Cisyk's voice.
This won the 1977 Grammy for Song of the Year. Boone also won that year for Best New Artist.
This was by far the biggest hit of 1977. It was #1 for 10 weeks in the US.
When the song became a huge hit it helped the movie do very well. At the 1978 Oscars, this won for Best Song, which created a lot of controversy because it was seen as a sellout to pop culture. Among the songs it beat was one written by renowned composer Marvin Hamlisch, who wrote the elegant type of songs the academy usually looked for. Many songs from Saturday Night Fever, including "Night Fever" and "Stayin' Alive," were eligible that year, but none were nominated, which made it seem very unlikely that a song that appealed to the masses would win an Oscar.
Boone sang in a Gospel quartet, and like her father was very religious. When asked who she was singing about, her answer was "God." Joseph Brooks, who wrote the song, took exception because that was not what he wrote it about. He never asked Boone to record another song, but they did get together once more when they performed this on a 1990 NBC special called Night Of 100 Stars III, with Brooks playing piano while Boone sang.
Boone performed this at the Oscars with a group of children using sign language to translate the lyrics. Everyone thought the kids were deaf, but they weren't.
This was Boone's only hit, and it didn't take her long to fade from the spotlight. She was nominated for an Oscar the next year for the song "When You're Loved," from the movie The Magic Of Lassie.
This has been covered by many artists, including Kenny Rogers, Leann Rimes, and Whitney Houston. Rimes' version is the only one to chart, it hit #34 in the US in 1997.
In June 2009 Joseph Brooks re-entered the public eye when he was accused of rape and sexual abuse by four different women. The incidents occurred between March and May 2008 when he allegedly lured the women to his apartment to audition for movie roles, drugged and molested them. Despite the fact that more women subsequently came forward, he pled not guilty.
On May 22, 2011, before his trial had been set, Brooks was found dead by a friend of an apparent suicide. His died just months after his son was accused of murdering a swimsuit designer and he left a three-page suicide note detailing his various health issues.