Byline: Sari Botton
Fifteen years ago, at the height of the disco craze, Gloria Gaynor belted out a promise she’s kept. “I Will Survive,” she swore in the inspirational dance number that became an anthem for coping with hard times.
Since she hit the top of the charts in 1979 with “I Will Survive,” disco took a dive in the U.S., but Gaynor’s popularity has remained a constant in Europe, where she’s continually toured and recorded. Now that disco is on the upswing over here again, the diva is recapturing the spotlight in this country, selling out venues like Madison Square Garden’s Paramount Theater and putting out two new records.
She just released “I’ll Be There,” a double album, and will put out a gospel recording early next year. And Gaynor’s taken on the roles of author — an autobiography is due next year — and actress, gearing up for a television role she says she’s not at liberty to tell about yet.
The time seems right for Gaynor’s U.S. comeback, now that the fashion and music pendulums have begun swinging to a dance beat: Clingy, satiny disco fashions have been heating up the runways; Manhattan’s disco mecca of the Seventies, Studio 54, has just reopened, and “I Will Survive,” featured on the soundtrack of “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” is once again getting heavy play in the clubs and on the radio.
“That song was written [by Dino Fekaris and Freddy Perren] as a B-side track,” Gaynor laughs. “When I heard the lyrics I thought, this is going to be a timeless song because the lyrics are universal. Everyone who hears it has some experience in their life that they can relate it to.”
Often fans approach her with tales of courage they’ve drawn from the song. “They come up to me and tell me that the song helped them through the breakup of an abusive relationship, or a divorce,” she adds.
Ironically, the song was not originally written about an ill-fated romance of Gaynor’s, but rather, inspired by her strength in the face of her mother’s death, and her near-miraculous recovery from a spinal injury.
Those experiences and others also led to a spiritual change for Gaynor, who, after giving Scientology and Islam a chance, became a born-again Christian — a change that has profoundly affected her music and her attitude toward disco’s renaissance.
At one point a few years ago, when she first found religion, she shunned the musical genre that had made her famous. “I didn’t want to do any music that was going to inspire people to dress and dance in ways that provoked them to sexual immorality or to drink beyond moral control,” recalls Gaynor. Now she has a new mandate: “As long as my music is created and performed for the glory of God, it is not secularly sanctified.”
In keeping with that, Gaynor changed the line in her signature song that went, “It took all the strength I had not to fall apart,” to, “Only the Lord could give me strength not to fall apart.”
“I want people to know where I’m coming from now, so they’re not shocked when my gospel album comes out next year,” Gaynor says, adding that she’s not worried about disco’s comeback inciting a subsequent return to the hedonism that lifestyle was infamous for.
“I’m hoping that we have learned from our mistakes,” she says. “I pray that nothing distasteful will ever be associated again with disco. And if it does, I’m just hoping that my music will serve as a light in a dark place.”