Gloria Gaynor talks to ‘OutSmart’ about her return to the stage… when God isn’t interrupting.
By Donalevan Maines
On January 23, disco legend Gloria Gaynor makes her first appearance ever with a symphony orchestra when she celebrates the 30th anniversary of her biggest hit, “I Will Survive,” by singing with the Houston Symphony Orchestra at Jones Hall in downtown Houston.
When I spoke with her by phone last Halloween morning, Gaynor was at her home near Newark, N.J., still in the dark as to details of the planned Disco Evening with Gloria Gaynor. “I really don’t know how it’s going to work, but if they want me to sit still, they would have to tie me into my chair!” she says.
“I’ve always wanted to do it [sing with a symphony]. I don’t like performing with [pre-recorded] tracks because it’s not fresh. I miss the spontaneous, human element that you get singing with musicians,” she explains.
In her long career, Gaynor has only played once with an orchestra. That was in Italy, and it remains the most memorable experience she’s had singing her signature song. Although she’d heard countless anecdotes about how fans have related to the lyrics, she says, “One story always stands out in my mind. In Italy, I changed the line ‘It took all the strength I had not to fall apart’ to ‘Only the Lord could give me strength not to fall apart.’ Afterwards, an Asian girl, about 23 years old, told me that God had caused her to miss her flight back to the Orient, so that she could attend my concert. I said that was sweet, and she said, ‘No. I was going home to commit suicide. Now I don’t have to die.’”
Gaynor says that more than 50 other artists have recorded “I Will Survive,” but hers remains the most famous. “God gave me this. He said this one is for you.”
Today, Gaynor says that “faith is everything” to her, but she had “no real concept of Christ” until 1982. She explains that as a child she had been “inundated with church” and got so sick of it that she made a solemn vow not to indoctrinate her children with religion. “We learned the principles of Christ without knowing who Christ was,” she says.
“Then, one Sunday morning, I blew the dust off the family Bible and said, ‘It’s show time.’ Being the practical person I am, it was the harmony of the Gospels that struck me, and how they foretold of the coming of the Messiah, Emmanuel. I said, ‘Oo-kay.’”
Gaynor adds that she knows there are gay Christians but she’s never been to a gay church. “I would tell gay people the same thing I would tell anyone,” she says, “to read with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, seek the truth, and surrender to it.”
But hark! She stops and says, “I hear the Lord speaking to me now.” After a brief moment, she says, “Some years ago I went to a seminar at a place called Living Waters. [The website says, ‘While there are degrees of sin, both homosexuals and fornicators will not be heirs to heaven.’] It was founded by an ex-homosexual. It made me want to reach out to the sexually and relationally broken, in a way that doesn’t alienate them or beat them over the head with religion.”
Gaynor also has “a vision of a ministry for teenage parents.” She explains, “It would include a school for behavioral science and a learning and recreational center.”
No doubt students also would learn to appreciate positive messages that resonate in Gaynor’s music, including her disco version of the gay anthem from La Cage aux Folles , “I Am What I Am.” “To me,” she says, “that song says that God made us all, and He doesn’t interfere with us. He tries to influence us, and He only wants what’s best for us. I believe that my purpose is to help guide people in His ways so they will be abundant in life.”
Again, our conversation is interrupted. Not by the Lord this time, but by a public relations person for the Houston Symphony. She wants us to get back to the subject at hand, Gaynor’s upcoming performance at 7:30 p.m., January 23, with the Houston Symphony.
Gaynor says she will hit Houston the night before, then rehearse once with the symphony on the afternoon of the performance. That evening, the audience will groove to disco favorites such as “Never Can Say Goodbye” (first recorded by the Jackson Five) and Gaynor’s renditions of nostalgic favorites such as “Killing Me Softly,” “Every Breath You Take,” and “You Are All I Need to Get By.” In addition, there will be a separately ticketed VIP after-party with Gaynor on the stage at Jones Hall immediately after the concert. Later that night, the South Beach nightclub will host an “I Will Survive” theme party with free admission for anyone holding a ticket stub from the concert.
An “I Will Survive” Moment
“My own favorite ‘I Will Survive’ moment,” states Donalevan Maines, “came when my friend Marshawn Evans twirled to the tune at the 2001 Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, winning a talent scholarship and helping her place as third-runner-up. On that night, just days after 9/11, the audience cheered wildly as they obviously related ‘I Will Survive’ to America’s stalwart reaction to the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. And after I interviewed Gaynor, a friend whom I correspond with in prison told me that ‘I Will Survive’ is going to be his anthem while behind bars.”
• Single-party/concert tickets: 713/224-7575 or houstonsymphony.org.
• VIP after-party tickets: Clare Greene at 713/337-8582 or [email protected] symphony.org.
Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.
And so you’re back: It’s been 30 years since Gloria Gaynor became Queen of the Gay Disco with her mega-hit “I Will Survive.” She also struck gold with her rendition of “I Am What I Am,” another gay anthem of the highest order. So as Gaynor, an avowed Christian, returns to the stage to resurrect those gay salad days, is it unreasonable to ask her to clarify her beliefs regarding homosexuality and the Bible?