Standard Sounds

One New Year's Eve Night with Gloria Gaynor, the Queen of Disco

Before she takes the stage at Top of The Standard for New Year's Eve, we sat down with the Queen of Disco.
THE STANDARD: Tell us about about one of your earliest music memories.
GLORIA GAYNOR: I think the first song I fell in love with was “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” by Frankie Lymon. He and I were the same age, and while having four older brothers made me pretty sure most guys didn’t feel the same way about love that girls did, Frankie’s song seemed to express just how I felt.

You were born and raised in Newark, NJ. Growing up in the '50s and early '60s, what were you into besides music?
I was pretty active and loved to play kick ball and jump rope. I loved to cook, sew, and read comic books. Those are the kinds of things that teenage girls did when I was young. Music was my first love, so I loved singing with the other kids in the neighborhood who enjoyed music as well.

"I took ['I Will Survive'] to Studio 54 and asked the DJ to play it."

You once said: "All through my young life I wanted to sing, although nobody in my family knew it.” What was the trigger that gave you the strength to start a career in music?
Long story short, I was discovered by a neighbor who heard me singing in the apartment below him. He turned out to be a club owner who introduced me to the band working in his nightclub. I began singing with them the following night and never looked back.

You were signed by Columbia Records in 1975 and released your album Never Can Say Goodbye. The first side of that album consisted of three songs ("Honey Bee," "Never Can Say Goodbye," and "Reach Out, I'll Be There”) and was built as a 19-minute dance marathon with no breaks. Would you say those songs belong together? 
I don’t believe those songs still belong together, simply because what brought them together was a style of presenting music to the public that is no longer in vogue. Each of the songs is strong enough to have stood the test of time and to stand alone ["Never Can Say Goodbye" was originally recorded by the Jackson 5 and "Reach Out, I'll Be There" was recorded by The Four Tops]. The only one that is not still being played is "Honey Bee", and I believe that is because it was the first one out of the box and never got the airplay it needed to reach the broader public. It was, therefore, deemed a turntable hit and remained such.

"Being inducted into the Library of Congress is an honor that makes you a part of history."

1978 is the year of “I Will Survive.” There are a lot of great stories about the song. It was originally a B-side, but you believed in the song from the beginning and started distributing the record yourself, going to Studio 54 to give it to the DJ. 
I believed the song to be a hit song when I first read the lyrics. Still, when we took it to the record company and expressed that to them, they refused to even listen to it. The record company president had sent me to record another song that he had chosen and no one at the company wanted to go against his choice. Therefore, along with my manager, I took it to Studio 54 and asked the DJ to play it. When that jaded audience took to the song immediately, we knew we were right. We then gave the DJ a load of copies to distribute to his DJ friends around NY and the rest is history.

What feeling did you have when the song was played in NY nightclubs at that time, at the peak of disco in its capital? 
I felt that I had a hit song and was on the way to becoming a mainstay in the music business. 

“I Will Survive” became an anthem for female empowerment, LGBTQ rights, and a mantra of survival. It is a great example of the power of music, and you released a book about stories of people who were inspired by that song. Which one of those stories touched you the most?
I was touched most by the story of the young man who at 7 years old lived in Africa and watched a group of guerrillas murder his entire village, including his younger brother and sister. He said it wasn’t until he heard the song “I Will Survive” that he was able to receive and reciprocate the affection offered him by the family that took him in.
Gloria Gaynor's "Reach Out, I'll Be There"

Last year, the Library of Congress
 selected "I Will Survive" for preservation in the National Recording Registry. How do you compare that with getting a Grammy in 1980? 
The greatest satisfaction came from being inducted into the Library of Congress, because while The Grammys are prestigious as you are elected by your peers, the notoriety and benefits can be fleeting. Being inducted into the Library of Congress is an honor that makes you a part of history to be shared with generations to come. 

What are your wishes for the new year?
Besides world peace and a country reunited, to see the release and success of my recently recorded gospel album, Testimony, and to tour with it.

Top of The Standard presents Gloria Gaynor
Sunday, December 31st

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