I Will Survive, Gloria Gaynor's Story

Gloria Gaynor Speaks Out on Music, Faith, Love and the Strength to Survive.
by Michelle Toholsky

Gloria Gaynor

Close your eyes; step back in time for just a moment with me. It was the disco era, 1979, and Gloria Gaynor was noted the "Queen of Disco." The fever was contagious?boogie fever that is, and Gloria was a big part of making it all happen. Her hit song, "I Will Survive," was awarded a Grammy for "Best Disco Recording" in 1980. Gloria seemed to have it all-fortune, fame and, of course, an incredible gift-her voice. When her name is mentioned, most people remember it, but when I sing a few bars of "I Will Survive," suddenly their faces light up, and I find myself drawn into a sing-along.

?Go on now go

Walk out the door

Just turn around now

'Cause you're not welcome anymore

Weren't you the one

Who tried to hurt me with goodbye

Did you think I'd crumble

Did you think I'd lay down and die

Oh no not I

I will survive

Oh as long as I know How to love

I know I'll stay alive

I've got all my life to live

and I've got all my love to give

and I'll survive

I will survive

?Oh yeah, yeah I will survive, I will survive (O.K., so I added my own lyric-I can't help but get carried away when I hear that song)...smile

This song has united women from different races, economic backgrounds and age groups. We are all reminded, through the words of "I Will Survive," that we will survive, and so has Gloria Gaynor, but for reasons beyond her tremendous musical success!

Sitting down with Gloria, I was immediately aware that I was not just sitting down with a woman of great musical talent, but with a woman who goes deeper than her music?

Question: When you sing "I Will Survive" today, is it different from when you sang that song more than 20 years ago?

Gloria: Oh yes, absolutely yes! When I sang that song then, I was really trying to encourage people. I had been in an accident on stage and had to have surgery on my spine. The next day, I woke up paralyzed from the waist down. The whole experience gave me a renewed faith in God, or so I thought anyway. I wanted to give people something positive. So when I heard the song, "I Will Survive," I loved it. It was so positive and really communicated the message I desired to give. Funny thing about it, originally it was written for the B-side of another record, and of course Linwood (Gloria's husband and manager) and I both thought it was ridiculous that it was going to be on the B-side, and really fought to have it recorded as a single.

Q: So that song might not have had the same impact if you wouldn't have fought for it! That is amazing. So what does it mean to you today?

G: This song means so much more to me now. Of course, survival means so much more to me. I wasn't aware of what survival even meant at that time. I did survive the accident, and of course people thought I wouldn't. They would make comments like "the Queen is dead." I was determined to pull through that experience. I had faith in God, but I didn't know Him that well. I never sang just for the fun of it or for the money. I sang because I wanted to make a difference.

M: So even when you didn't really understand the things of Christ or really have a deep relationship with Him, you could see His hand on your life?

G: I don't know if I was saved or not, but I was baptized at age 16, and I did make a decision to be really serious about what I had done. Unfortunately, I was going to a church that didn't really teach you anything. So I had no knowledge about the Lord. I mean, seriously, I knew nothing whatsoever, but I did believe in God. I prayed every night; I thanked Him for my blessings, but it wasn't until years later that I realized that all that time I was just sitting down giving Him my grocery list: "I want this and this and that and that?" My mother used to say, "God answers all your prayers-sometimes He just says no."

Q: So you were in the church growing up?

G: No. My grandmother went to church, but my mother had been inundated with church and decided that when she had children, she would not push church or God on her children. We went if there was an Easter-egg hunt or something like that, but still somehow I got it in my heart that I wanted to know God.

Q: I read that you somehow got off track at some point in your life. Did you actually get involved with drugs and alcohol?

G: I did, but knowing what I know now about the Lord, I really believe that the enemy came to deceive me and try to tear me down. I grew up without a father, and my mother grew up without a father and her mother grew up without a father. So we have this long heritage of growing up without fathers.

Q: Affirmation from a father is so important!

G: Exactly-affirmation from a father is so important, and I never had that. I had a very low self-image. I was never taught how a man should treat a woman and the role of a husband in your life as the guard, guide and governor-yeah right (she says, laughing and raising her hands), I never heard any of that! The respect that you should have for one another-I never knew any of that. So I suffered.

Q: In what way did you suffer?

G: Well, I went through some emotionally abusive relationships and allowed myself to not be properly respected as a lady, as a human being even, though I tried everything I knew to be a lady. I didn't know since I had no example of how a man should treat a woman. One thing I talk about in my book is how we are a fatherless generation, and the importance of a father's role in a child's life.

Q: You knew firsthand what that felt like.

G: Yes, I did. So I tried to fit in, in every way. I was very insecure. I had very low self-esteem?

Q: Even at the peak of your career?? There you were, a success story in every shape of the word, and you were insecure and had low self-esteem?

G: Well, we all know that self-esteem comes from what you think of you, not what other people think of you. So I went along with the crowd. Experimenting with drugs, drinking, doing this just enough to be accepted as one of the crowd, but I hated drugs, and I hated the taste of alcohol! I never actually got drunk, because I had such a high tolerance for alcohol (thank God). People always want to ask me about my drug problem-I never had a drug problem; I had a self-esteem problem!

Q: In all that you did, from the beginning of your career until now, do you feel like God's hand was guiding and protecting you, drawing you into a relationship with Him?

G: Absolutely! I never had a plan?plan, what was that? People say to me, "You have worked so hard to get where you are." I did nothing; I never worked a plan and planned to work (she says laughing). I can't claim any of that. God was in control, and I was just pliable enough to say yes to wherever He would lead. I just didn't have the knowledge of His Word at that time, but in my heart I wanted a deeper relationship. I loved Him even then!

Q: So you weren't driven to make it, thinking you would do steps 1, 2 and 3, and then you would be at the top?

G: I know God had a purpose for my life, and I was just pliable enough that He could kind of steer me along. I loved to sing. I loved the fact that I could get on stage and be in control. The confidence all came from one experience with a great teacher when I was very, very young. It was a performance at my school, and I had decided I didn't need to be nervous. I mean, I knew all the people there, and I was the only one doing a solo. I wasn't afraid until I walked out on stage. She played the introduction to the song three times and nothing came out of my mouth. The fourth time I finally started to sing. When we got back stage, she said to me, "Gloria, when you get on that stage, everyone is in awe of you. You are in control. You can either hold onto it or you can give it up."

Q: Great Advice!

G: I never had stage fright again! I have been nervous before, but I have never had stage fright. Just that one moment changed my life. That is what I liked about being on stage. I was comfortable there, and I could be myself with confidence. I have never been a different person onstage than I am off.

Q: Did you think women all over the world would be singing "I Will Survive" as a way to get through their problems?

G: No, I didn't! I have learned that over the years. I have been to more than 80 countries, and there is not one-not one-that I didn't have women coming up to me sharing stories of overcoming major abuse, a bad marriage turning good, etc. It hasn't been just women. There have been many men, as well, telling me things like they were out of work for a year and heard "I Will Survive," and it encouraged them to keep trying. I have even heard about the song being used with kids to help when they are taking exams. I could go on and on.

Q: After you finished "I Will Survive," what came next in your career?

G: Americans don't realize that I have never stopped performing. I stopped for one year in 1989 when I tried to bargain with God. I had gotten saved in 1982, and it took me seven years after that to realize that God had a plan and purpose for my life. So in 1989, I asked God-knowing that He didn't want me to stop singing because that was my life-I asked Him what He wanted me to do. So talking with a girlfriend one night, she shared with me that she didn't think I should be singing secular music. So I said to her, "Why? I don't sing about sex or drugs or anything bad." She told me that as long as I sang in clubs, my music was being used to condone the things of the enemy. So I went into my bedroom and got down on my knees, and I asked the Lord if that was how He felt about my music.

Q: That must have been so difficult!

G: It was because I didn't feel like I had missed my calling. So I decided to bargain with God. I told Him, "God, I am going to put a gospel song on every one of my albums, so how's that?" He said no!" So I said, "Hmmm, I'll do two or three gospel songs on every one of my albums," and again He said no. I responded, "O.K. Lord, I will do half secular, half gospel. What do You think about that?" Still He said no. So I thought, "Oh, You want me to go completely into gospel music." So without even questioning God or seeking Him out for more answers, I decided to go completely into gospel music.

Q: So you were launching a whole new thing in the gospel music arena?

G: I launched this huge concert over in England with a big press conference. I was doing all this gospel music-I invited the press and everyone! It was my first big gospel performance. It was a wonderful thing.

Q: That is great! This was it for you!

G: Hold on a minute-there is more. My voice was so hoarse for the first three songs-until I went into the gospel music. I thought to myself, This is a sign for sure; here is what God wants me to do, but I was wrong.

Q: So what did you end up doing? I mean, here you are thinking for sure this is it; where did you go from there?

G: That was exactly it. Nowhere. God wanted me to do nothing but sit at His feet. So I did nothing but worship Him for hours at a time, read the Bible, praising and glorifying Him, studying the Word of God, and that is all I did for one year! That was a difficult year, but it was one of the most peaceful and joyful times of my life. My husband left me because of my decision to quit singing; he just didn't understand how I could do that. I had no money and had to completely depend on the Lord for everything.

Q: You had to completely trust Him for your life?

G: Absolutely, I would need to pay a bill, and someone would send me some money, and I would be able to pay it. I had people sending me money, and they didn't even know about my situation.

Q: So how did you and Linwood get back together?

G: That was another miracle God did! A mutual friend of ours strategically invited us to a wedding. She called me and asked if she could invite him to come with me. I told her I didn't mind going with him (Gloria shares, laughing). I was in the wedding and I spent the night with my friend, so Linwood and I didn't meet until after the wedding. At the reception, he came over and asked me to dance, and we looked into each other's eyes?and that was it (Gloria shares again, laughing along with me).

Q: So how long have you two been together now?

G: Twenty-two years!

Q: Wow, what a testimony! So when did you get back into music?

G: Well, after Linwood and I got back together, I really knew the Lord was telling me that as long as I sang to glorify Him, as long as my life remained holy, my music would not be secular-it would be sanctified!

Q: That's awesome!

G: That is when I felt led to change the lyrics to "I Will Survive." It originally said, "It took all the strength I had not to fall apart," and I changed it to say, "Only the Lord can give me strength not to fall apart." Then I changed "never could say goodbye." I re-recorded a section in the middle that says, "You said you could leave me baby, you said leave if you want to, but no matter how far you go away, my love is going to haunt you, 'cause our marriage is made in Heaven, you and I were meant to be, the good Lord made me for you, and He you for me." By changing that, people can tell where I am coming from spiritually. In the song, I changed it so people will know without question that these are married people I'm talkin' about-not just people shackin' up (Gloria has me laughin' pretty hard at this point)-and the reason she can never say goodbye is because their marriage was ordained by God, not because she's in bondage!

Q: So ultimately you're saying that our strength to survive comes from Jesus!

G: That is exactly right! When I got saved, that was the first question I asked God. I told Him, "I don't just want to hear it at church or from the lady up the street-I want to hear it from You! I want to know this Jesus!" I thought all my life that He was just a prophet, a good man. I didn't know the Savior! It was so good to know that He died for me, that He rose from the dead to forgive my sins. I had known God the Father all my life, but I didn't know God the Son or God the Holy Spirit, and He made all that real to me through His Word. I found that out by reading His Word. I found the truth, and that truth is what gives me strength to survive!

Reprinted by permission, Shine.

November Home