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Q&A: Gloria Gaynor on ‘I Will Survive,’ the move from disco to gospel, her new film and new music

Time:February 13, 2024


LOS ANGELES (AP) — Nearly 50 years ago, Gloria Gaynor released “I Will Survive,” the first disco song to top the Billboard charts and the only one to be awarded a Grammy for best disco recording.

Then, 40 years later, she earned another Grammy: for her 2019’s gospel album, “Testimony.”

She’d made a triumphant genre pivot to the music that has always fueled her faith, following a devastating divorce at age 65, financial woes and health issues — all while staying true to the resilient spirit and idiosyncratic talent that made her a superstar in the first place.

Beyond the title, the documentary uses “I Will Survive” as a framework to describe Gaynor’s extraordinary life and the lives of every generation that finds it and uses it as a soundtrack for their own struggles.

“That song, for me, is the core of my purpose, which is to bring hope, encouragement, inspiration and empowerment to people — especially women,” Gaynor told The Associated Press over Zoom from New York City. “That’s what my life is about now. And that’s what I think it’s been about for many years and will continue to be about.”

This interview edited for clarity and brevity.

  • AP: A documentary is a wonderful opportunity to consider your own career. Did you learn anything about yourself in this process?

GAYNOR: What I did learn in the process was how I’ve been able to, through my faith, not allow my experiences to define me anymore. I had at one time allowed that. And so I’ve been able to release myself from that and that’s one of the things I want to impart to the audience — that your bad experiences don’t need to define you.

  • AP: In the film, it seems like “I Will Survive” is a song that came to define you many times in your life — with issues in the industry, your ex-husband, your childhood and beyond.

GAYNOR: The song was my mantra before I heard the melody. Just from the first time I read the lyrics, it became my mantra, and it remained my mantra, and still is, pretty much, throughout my life. It’s just a wonderful tool to keep me in check and to keep me grounded and remind me who I am: that I am truly a survivor and that can continue throughout my life.

  • AP: When did your love of gospel begin?

GAYNOR: From my childhood. There was always gospel music playing in my house. My grandmother was a devout Christian… We had a lot of gospel music happening in my house as a child. And so I learned to love it there.

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