Gloria Gaynor is not just surviving, but thriving

Gloria Gaynor INTERVIEW

GLORIA GAYNOR

Gloria Gaynor won her second Grammy this year — in the Roots Gospel Album category, for Testimony — four decades after her winning her first, in the Disco Recording category, for “I Will Survive.”

“I plan to continue recording gospel music,” she says. “I think this is like the beginning of a new era for me and I think it’s getting off to a good start, so my purpose is to do another gospel album this year and see where it takes me.”

A native of Newark, Gaynor was discovered at a New York nightclub, the Wagon Wheel, in 1969.

“I was taken by a producer from Columbia Records who was told to come and hear me sing … he came and took me to Clive Davis and Clive Davis signed me to Columbia Records, and he had these two brothers, Melvin and Mervin Steals, write my first recording, ‘Honey Bee.’

“But then Clive Davis left Columbia Records and I was signed to the company and not to him. So I was just kind of hanging out there because nobody was interested in somebody who was just left there by someone who had gone … Then Bruce Greenberg from MGM Records heard ‘Honey Bee’ and decided that he wanted me on his label, so he bought my contract and signed me there …

“I wanted to record ballads but they were looking to do an album and they were looking for a title song for the album. So I asked them to come down and hear me perform because we were doing a version of ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ … my band had rearranged ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ and I was getting such a great response to it that I thought that should be the next single and the title song for the album. They came down, they listened and they agreed, and the rest is history.”

Gloria Gaynor, with her second Grammy.

Gaynor says Testimony, which features guest appearances by Yolanda Adams and others, was three years in the making.

“We were very excited and pleased with it but none of the record companies wanted me: Gloria Gaynor, disco artist,” she said. “So a friend of mine in Nashville suggested that we get together and pray about it. So we had seven people praying from several different states around the country, praying about it … not long after that we were about to sign with a company for a distribution deal, which we didn’t really want to do because none of us on my team really knew how to make a record happen, but we were gonna try because we recorded it and we loved it … And just before we were going to sign with that company, our publishing company said, ‘Please don’t sign with them; I think we have somebody.’ And that turned out to be the Gaither organization, and we ended up signing with them, and it just kind of blew up from there.”

She recorded the album in Nashville. “We did it analog,” she said. “Several of the songs were done with all of the musicians in the studio together like we did back in the day. Whenever somebody asks me what I think is the biggest difference between the music of today and the music when I started is that for me, it’s that spontaneous creativity that can only happen between live musicians working together and inspiring one another and I was so pleased that (producer) Chris Stevens wanted to do it that way.”

Gaylor says she has always listened to “a variety of music: Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin, Gloria Lynne, Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand, Cleo Laine. Nancy Wilson was one of my favorites, so yeah I listened to a variety of music and I still do.

Gloria Gaynor, in a vintage photograph.

“Gospel music is something that I’ve wanted to do for years and I was trying to do it but the management that I had before didn’t really want me to do it and kind of kept stalling me. ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah … Let’s do that, that’s a good idea … let’s do that … okay, okay.’ So I’d say, ‘So when are we gonna do it?’ “Oh yeah right, we’ve got to do that.’ And it just never happened.”

“I Will Survive” has been back on people’s minds lately, with Kacey Musgraves singing it in concert and Gaynor herself making a video of herself washing her hands to it, in response to the coronavirus crisis. How does Gaynor feel knowing that the song has stood the test of time and is an anthem of sorts, especially for women the world over?

“It feels really great,” she said. “Somebody, and I don’t know who it was, said, ‘People might not remember what you say but they’ll remember how you made them feel,’ and the song makes them feel powerful and empowered and liberated, and that’s wonderful for me. I really love that I’ve been able to do that and am still doing that with the same song after all these years; a whole new generation is listening to it and claiming it and it feels wonderful to have that song.”

For more about Gaynor, visit gloriagaynor.com.

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