Gloria Gaynor is an American and former disco singer, best known for the massively famous disco hit “I Will Survive.” After releasing moderately-known singles, in 1978 Gaynor recorded and released “I Will Survive” originally as a B-side to the single “Substitute.” But “I Will Survive” was seen as having more hit potential, and it was thus played more on the radio than the A-side. The song became a surprise monster hit, topping on both US pop and dance charts as well as on the UK charts.
The single’s album Love Tracks peaked at #7 on the Billboard 200 album chart in 1978. Gaynor became a major star because of “I Will Survive” which has remained her signature song. Unfortunately for her, following singles didn’t do as well partly because of the disco backlash in the United States in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Because of this, she started to perform overseas where she wouldn’t encounter such backlash. She also became a born again Christian and started to record gospel songs, even modifying “I Will Survive” with lyrics that showed her new-found faith. Gaynor hit the dance charts one more time with “I Am What I Am” in 1983, but other than that, her chart performance during her active career had been virtually finished. However, since “I Will Survive” has become a disco classic even after over 30 years since its release, Gaynor has cashed on its popularity, performing her signature song in all of her world tours. She was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame in 2005.
Early life and career
Gloria Gaynor was born in Newark, New Jersey on September 7, 1949. Although her family was poor, it was an otherwise a happy family particularly brought together by one common passion, which was music. Her father was a professional musician, and her brothers formed a gospel music quartet. Gaynor herself started singing by participating in glee clubs as well as church choirs.
Gaynor’s professional career started when sang in a jazz/pop outfit known as the Soul Satisfiers during the 1960s. She also cut singles for small Chicago labels under the moniker Gloria Fowler.
In 1975, Gaynor tasted her first success on the charts when the 19-minute, continuous three-track number “Honey Bee”/”Never Can Say Goodbye”/”Reach Out I’ll Be There” became a big hit especially on the dance chart.
“I Will Survive”: from a B-side track to a monster hit
After a few more moderately successful records, in 1978 Gaynor released a record whose A-side was “Substitute” (her cover of the Righteous Brothers song which became a recent hit by Clout, a South African all female group) and the flip side was “I Will Survive.” When Boston radio disc jockey Jack King turned the record over and played “I Will Survive” on the air, he realized in disbelief that this potential hit was relegated into the B-side. So he relentlessly pushed for “I Will Survive,” playing it over and over until listeners “went nuts!” according to King.
Thanks to King and other disc jockeys that played and promoted the B-side instead, “I Will Survive” received massive public response, forcing its label Polydor to release copies with “I Will Survive” on the A-side. Needless to say, it became a monster hit. “I Will Survive” climbed to the top not only of the Billboard dance singles charts but also on the Hot 100. It also went to the top 10 of Billboard’s adult contemporary and R&B singles charts at #9 and #4, respectively. Later it became a worldwide hit, going to the top ten charts in Canada, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
The single’s album Love Tracks (Gaynor’s sixth studio LP), reached #7 on the Billboard 200.
In recognition for his efforts in ferocious plugging of “I Will Survive,” King was given an honor at Disco Masters Awards Show in New York, from 1979 to 1981. The hit song, on the other hand, won the first and only Grammy Award in the category of Best Disco Recording in 1980. That category was eventually junked when the disco genre was declining in public favor.
Although Gaynor was unable to match the phenomenal success of “I Will Survive,” she went on to enjoy other hits especially on the dance charts, most notably 1983’s “I Am What I Am” (from the album I Am Gloria Gaynor) and 2001-2002’s “Just Keep Thinking about You” and “I Never Knew” (from the album I Wish You Love).
In the early 1980s, Gaynor became a born-again Christian. By then she started to record gospel songs, even modifying “I Will Survive” with lyrics that showed her new-found faith. This didn’t sit well with her longtime fans, though.
Gaynor experienced career revival in the early and mid 1990s, thanks to the renewed interest in disco. I Wish You Love, which was released in 2001, was one of her stronger outings since her career renaissance. She has also dabbled in acting, having appeared mostly on television show such as That ’70s Show, where she sang her signature song.
It seems that “I Will Survive” has taken a life (and fame) on its own, even eclipsing Gaynor herself. Over 30 years after its release, “I Will Survive” is still massively popular, having been a favorite dance club fare. It has also been featured in countless compilations, movie soundtracks and TV shows. “I Will Survive” with its story of strength and rising above a devastating breakup, is often seen as a feminist and gay anthem. Of course, Gaynor has always performed the disco classic in her national and world tours.
For her contributions, Gaynor was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame in 2005. In late 2013 she issued her latest album, a gospel-influenced outing titled We Will Survive which featured a remixed version of her most famous song.