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Gloria Gaynor of ‘I Will Survive’ shares God in sacred, secular music

by Diana Chandler

GREEN BROOK, NJ (BP) – Gloria Gaynor recalls the heyday of her iconic Grammy-winning disco hit “I Will Survive” when the Lord reined her in.

“I think I was about to go off the deep end, to make a long story short, and the Lord grabbed me in my collar and said that’s enough. I mean, literally,” she told Baptist Press years after the jolt she experienced during a party she hosted in her home in 1984.

“I was visibly shaken. I thought everyone else in the room saw it, and I went into the bathroom shaking and crying and realizing that the Lord had grabbed me, that I was about to go beyond what He was willing to allow me to go as His child.”

Gaynor spent a year’s sabbatical in 1988 discerning God’s call on her life. Musically, would she adopt the sacred and let go of the secular? Would she sing a combination?

“There’s a long way between the secular and the sacred, but not everything is purely sacred or purely secular,” Gaynor said. “After that year, He sent me back with this. ‘My Word speaks of all of the issues of life. What would make you think that I wouldn’t want you to sing about all of the issues of life from My point of view?’ And that’s what I do in my show.”

Gloria Gaynor plays a doctor in the inspirational Christmas move “The Thursday Night Club,” releasing Nov. 1 on Pure Flix.

Gaynor’s sole Gospel album would come decades later. The Grammy-winning “Testimony” released in 2019 by Gaither Music Group includes vocals by Bart Millard, Jason Crabb, Yolanda Adams and Mike Farris. The 20th studio album of her career garnered her second Grammy, this time for Roots Gospel Album.

“I’ve always believed that Gospel music or Christian music should minister to people and should do what the Bible does; it should make known to them the love, the knowledge, the design and desire of God’s life for every human being. My purpose was to have songs that did that,” she said of Testimony. “That was what I had in mind, trying to get across to them the character of God, the design of God for the life of His children.”

Now 79, Gaynor spoke with Baptist Press in the midst of several projects including live performances in the U.S. and France, and a biographical documentary set to release next year.

On Nov. 1, Pure Flix will release the inspirational Christmas movie, “The Thursday Night Club,” featuring Gaynor as a physician and encouraging good deeds particularly among young adults.

“I love the idea that it’s young people who are learning to give back, learning to be altruistic, learning to pay it forward,” she said of the movie. “I stand in awe of a God Who gives you gifts, talents, abilities, wealth and welfare to share with other people, and then blesses you even more as you share it and use it to bless others. He’s amazing.”

Gaynor was in her 30s when the Lord drew her back to Himself. At that time, she was riding high on I Will Survive, her disco hit in the days of vinyl records. The song was originally produced as a B-side recording designed to take a back seat. But it soared.

“When I read the lyrics, I was thinking about the fact that I’d just had surgery on my spine and I was actually standing there recording in a back brace and hoping that I would survive the surgery,” she told Baptist Press. “I was thinking about the fact that my mother had only passed away a few years prior, and I was hoping to survive all of that, and survive not only her death, but survive keeping intact her memory and the things that she taught me about life. Those were the things that the song was about to me, at that point.”

Her mother Quinnie Mae Proctor had been Gaynor’s compass when the performer was baptized as a teenager at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Newark. But Gaynor had lost her way when God drew her back to Himself at the house party she hosted in 1984.

“That’s when I really changed my life, and about a year later I found a baptismal certificate that I had completely forgotten about. When I found it, all of these memories came rushing back, about how when I was 16 years old, I’d told my mother I wanted to be baptized, I wanted to give my life to the Lord.

“And I did that. I was baptized and then I forgot about it,” Gaynor said. Her mother died in 1970.

“She was my rock. I lost my moral compass and completely forgot about the Lord, but praise God, He never forgot about me,” Gaynor said. “And I believe that at that at that party, whatever might have gone on, He just said to the enemy, ‘Not this one. This one’s mine.’”



Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ senior writer.



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