Gloria Gaynor: She Still Survives
"Well, I believed when I first read the lyrics, even before I heard the music, that it was going to be a hit because I believed that it was a timeless lyric," says Gloria Gaynor. And Gloria was certainly right about it: the classic disco song "I Will Survive."
This year marks the song’s 30th anniversary and the unstoppable Ms. Gaynor is celebrating it with a worldwide tour.
Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, Gaynor may have still been living there if her musical career had not taken off. The dance legend says that way before her rise to fame, her mother suggested she study a more practical profession, just in case she didn’t make it.
"I went to Beauty Culture School and...I learned to do hair and makeup which I kind of thought was prudent of me because I’m able to use all of those things in my career. None of that time was wasted," reveals Gaynor.
Even before I Will Survive came into her life, Gloria was already paving the road towards a successful music career.
Not only did Gaynor sign her first record contract at age 19, but she also recorded the first Dance song to reach the #1 position on the Billboard charts, "Never Can Say Goodbye."
It wasn’t until 1978, five years after her first hit, that I Will Survive was recorded. Surprisingly, the song was placed on the B-side of Gloria’s album because label executives planned to promote a more "radio friendly" song that was already a hit abroad.
Gloria and her then boyfriend, however, decided to promote I Will Survive during live appearances and amongst local DJs. The song soon broke out and became a #1 hit in 1979.
I Will Survive even won a Grammy Award for Best Disco Recording. It was the first and only song to ever win that award, since that category was eliminated after the Disco backlash, discussed further below.
But it wasn’t always a happy twirl and dance for Gloria. Although there were many positive moments in her career, Gloria also went through a stage where she began using drugs. A low self-esteem and new friends she wanted to "fit in" with took the singer on a downward spiral.
When asked about that stage in her life, Gaynor responded: "Well, it was fun...for a moment, you know. I didn’t stay in the mess for very long. I had my mother whose voice I could hear in my ear and it got louder and louder until I could no longer resist and I brought myself out of there before anything really bad happened to me."
As a substance abuse "survivor," Gloria goes on further and speaks about the new generation of female performers who have been involved in drug and alcohol problems.
"When you start in this business you get bombarded with all kinds of opportunities. They sound good, they even feel good, but they’re not really good for you in the long run. And when you’re young you don’t look that far ahead. So they need someone to take them under their wing, guide them and show them the way because they’re lost," says Gloria.
While Gloria was able to get off drugs, there was one force she could not stop: the death of Disco in the United States. While the genre enjoyed much popularity throughout the 70s, many felt it became oversaturated.
It’s even been said that rock radio stations and producers were losing so much money to disco that they encouraged the movement against it.
"I’m kind of sad that they closed the door on disco music and it never really got its due because people are still listening to it. People are still being encouraged by it and use that music to relieve themselves of the stress of the day...and sort of get away without ever going anywhere. But I’m glad that I got in under the wire and was able to get mine," Gloria admits.
Many believed Gloria disappeared after Disco’s demise, but this was certainly not the case. "Rather than go underground with Disco music I went abroad. And I began to do more traveling...and I Will Survive, of course, enabled me to do that because I was being called from everywhere to do that song and ended up going to more than 85 countries performing that. And now I’m back, you know...from outer space (laughs)," says Gaynor.
Whew, more than 85 countries during thirty years? Does Gloria ever get tired of singing I Will Survive?
"(Laughs) Never, never. I’ve become 295 and a ½ percent grade A ham when I sing that song," she responds.
Coincidence or not, whether it’s I Will Survive or another one of her hit songs such as I Am What I Am (adopted as an anthem by the gay community during the 1980s), Gloria’s songs always seem to have an inspirational message.
When asked what it feels like to be the torchbearer of these types of songs, she says, "I feel a responsibility to carry the meaning of the lyrics and to put as much meaning into the song as I possibly can. A song...has all kinds of meanings, for all kinds of people, so it’s an honor for me to have a song that brings people hope and encouragement and empowerment."
Although Ms. Gaynor will be busy performing at dozens of venues worldwide, the singer has a couple of surprises in store for her fans. Amongst them is the release of a commemorative version of I Will Survive. Other plans include releasing a gospel song, also entitled I Will Survive.
Gloria who is a born again Christian says, "I’ve been telling people for 30 years, ’I Will Survive,’ but I never told them how. So this song (gospel song) tells you how to survive."
Speaking of surviving, one of the verses in Gloria’s signature song says: "I should have changed that stupid lock. I should have made you leave your key." Before ending my interview with Gloria, I couldn’t resist asking her, "Did the distraught woman in the song finally change her lock?" "Yes I did. I changed ALL the locks," concludes Gaynor.
For more information about Gloria Gaynor, visit her official website: www.gloriagaynor.com.