We (All) Will Survive: A Conversation with Gloria Gaynor

By Leslie Moore

We (All) Will Survive:  A Conversation with Gloria Gaynor

When I was offered the opportunity to interview singer Gloria Gaynor, I was excited, to say the least. Her legendary hit, “I Will Survive,” has touched millions of people, myself included, with its positive message since being released in October of 1978. Written by Frederick J. Perren and Dino Fekaris, this disco hit won a Grammy for “Best Disco Recording” in 1980 and was #1 on Billboard Magazine’s Top 100 in the same year. In the 35 years since, people everywhere have used this pop culture anthem to celebrate victory over the challenges in their lives. This month, the singer will release her new book, We Will Survive, a collection of essays that highlight the healing power of music. Co-written by Vanity Fair reporter, Sue Carswell, the book recounts real-live experiences of a wide range of people, from an Oklahoma bombing rescuer to a 9/11 mother to a Holocaust survivor. A companion CD features the original and extended version of the iconic song, as well as “He Gave Me Life,” a beautiful piece celebrating Ms. Gaynor’s Christian faith.

After arranging a time with her manager, Stephanie Gold, I met Ms. Gaynor in their Grand Strand condo. Lovely and elegant, I was immediately put at ease by her genuine warmth and welcoming smile. We settled on the couch to talk, and I asked Ms. Gaynor why she chose our area for her vacation home. “I love it here,” she began. “I fell in love with the Myrtle Beach area in 1975 when I performed at the Holiday Inn for two weeks. The manager even invited us to his home for dinner. People here are so nice – I hadn’t seen that kind of warmth anywhere since my childhood neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey. When I was growing up, everyone knew everyone, and we all took care of one other.” The singer went on to tell me that she hadn’t been in the area since the ’70s until she and Stephanie visited Stephanie’s brother, a golfer who had a condo here. The two women decided to buy a condo and now visit regularly, travelling back and forth from Ms. Gaynor’s New Jersey home. “I like to be wherever the weather is best!”

The story of “I Will Survive” is nothing short of amazing. Ms. Gaynor’s career was on its way up after her hit “Never Can Say Goodbye,” but while performing in New York City, the singer fell from the stage. She got up and continued performing, but the next day woke up unable to move. After back surgery and a lengthy recovery, her recording contract was in jeopardy. At the request of her label, Ms. Gaynor went into the studio to record a cover of a Righteous Brother’s song, “Substitute,” and the “B” side was…“I Will Survive.” The singer knew this song would be something special and told me that God told her, “Little girl, this one is for you.” She continued, saying, “We went to the record company and asked them to promote ‘I Will Survive,’ but they refused – the president of the company wanted the other side to be a hit. So, we took the song to radio stations and clubs like Studio 54, and they began playing it. People loved my song and responded with an outpouring of requests – the public made it popular.”

Ms. Gaynor grew up one of seven children. Her mother struggled to raise the family alone. At age five, a trusted neighbor sexually abused young Gloria, and even though he did not complete the act, her innocence was stolen. She writes eloquently about her journey in We Will Survive, describing another instance of abuse by her step-father. As a teenager, she was again attacked, and this time brutally raped, by someone she knew. She says these events, none of which she reported, colored her relationships and eventually her marriage and, later, divorce. “I became a Christian a few years after I was married and was trying to do the Christian thing and keep my marriage together, but, instead, I became a co-dependent enabler. God showed me a vision of a woman leaning over a baby carriage, trying to keep the doctor away from her sick child, and I realized that I could not save him.”

While most hit songs fade away, “I Will Survive” continued to be popular, becoming an anthem for those struggling with life’s difficult times. “I came up with the idea of a book years ago,” said Ms. Gaynor. “I have been hearing stories that were so empowering, stories of courage and victory. God put everything into place for this to happen.” Stephanie began researching ways to gather stories for the book; contacting grief support groups and editors for help. Eventually, 40 essays were selected; including Ms. Gaynor’s story of her only sister’s murder.

Several Sasee contributors have essays included in the book. One writer, Linda O’Connell, wrote a long note to me about meeting Stephanie and Ms. Gaynor in St. Louis, saying, “Ms. Gaynor is such a down-to-earth, spiritual, fun woman. She’s someone you’d want to share a cup of peach tea with. Each of us could feel her genuine spirit. It was as if she were an old friend. Years ago, the uplifting lyrics to her song, ‘I Will Survive,’ carried me through some tough times. When Gloria Gaynor spoke to us in person…, she spoke to the part of our hearts and souls where her voice and lyrics have been imbedded for decades. She touched us deeply.”

The day we met was part of a well-deserved break for Ms. Gaynor, who still spends much of her time touring. She has a large fan base in Mexico, where she still performs, and told me a little about her love for this beautiful country. “At one time, the baggage handlers in the Mexican airports would greet me by name! Now, the government has stopped foreigners from performing as much. I used to have a home in Acapulco. It was a wonderful place – we would get all dressed up and ride around in a jeep, of all things, going from one club to the other dancing. I had so much fun. The shopping was amazing, too. I could find clothes there that I never saw in the States. I still love Mexico, but it’s a very different place today.”

“The hardest thing about touring is the travel,” Ms. Gaynor told me when I asked her about life on the road. “Airports haven’t made it easy. I wish I could just buy a ticket and get on the plane, but it’s not that simple anymore.” She went on to tell me the best thing about touring is a good audience. “When you tell a joke, and everyone laughs, that’s what it feels like to be onstage. It’s the best feeling in the world.” Before she performs, the singer is very careful with her voice – no iced drinks three days before a performance, no chocolate, nuts or spicy foods, anything that might cause acid reflux. “I believe my talent is a gift from God to be shared with the world.”

For fun, Ms. Gaynor loves shopping, like most of us! “They’ve made it very easy these days with online shopping,” she said laughing. A book lover, she is currently reading, Illusion, by Frank Peretti. The singer also enjoys cooking when she has time and shared the recipe for one of her favorite dishes. “Make this and people will think you’ve cooked for hours – I’ve given this recipe to so many people.”

Chicken a la Gaynor

Cut up chicken, seasoned with salt, pepper and Lowry’s Seasoning Salt
Cook at 425 degrees for about 45 minutes

While the chicken is cooking, combine:

  • 1 8 ounce container of sour cream
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 can B&B mushrooms
  • 4 ounces whole milk
  • 2 ounces cooking sherry

Pour sauce over chicken and cook for 15 more minutes. Serve with saffron rice and a colorful vegetable.

We (All) Will Survive: A Conversation with Gloria Gaynor

As we were finishing up our time together, I asked Ms. Gaynor about her holiday plans. She told me she would be in Germany entertaining the U.S. troops. “My niece works for the Army, and she arranged it. There are a lot of suicides of American soldiers, and they want me to speak to them about survival. I will fast and pray for the right words,” she told me with tears in her eyes.

I left Ms. Gaynor feeling honored to have met this amazing woman. Her kind spirit shines through with her every word, and the hug she gave me as I left was heartfelt and genuine – this singer/entertainer/inspirational speaker is truly a star in every sense of the word.

We Will Survive and the companion CD are available at local bookstores and Amazon.com. Visit www.gloriagaynor.com for more information.

About this writer

  • Leslie Moore Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.

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2 Responses to “We (All) Will Survive: A Conversation with Gloria Gaynor”

  1. It was such an honor to meet Ms. Gaynor and Stephanie Gold. I am humbled to see my name included in this article, and I am very excited to be doing a book signing, along with three other St. Louis writers on December 7th to promote We Will Survive. The powerful words to Gloria Gaynor’s song, ‘I Will Survive’, have impacted countless people. I am certain her book will also inspire others to overcome adversity.

  2. Great article on Ms. Gaynor – and like Linda, it was an honor to meet both Ms. Gaynor and Ms. Gold. And Linda described our gathering perfectly!

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