When Gloria Gaynor and her band take the stage of the Ocean City Music Pier on Sunday July 23, her fans will notice little has changed about Queen of Disco. The Newark native still lives in New Jersey. She still performs all over the world. Still does her own makeup. Still looks spectacular. And, nearly four decades years on, she still belts out “I Will Survive” at each and every concert.
That said, she is 67.
She doesn’t party like she used to, and not just because of her age. Gaynor long ago put her Christianity first, even changing lyrics in her Billboard chart-topping anthem to say, “Only the Lord could give me strength not to fall apart,” and, “ ’cause He made me somebody new.”
She also long ago traded in her low-cut lamé for more conservative sprays of sequins. Yet, she’s not stopping the music. She talked with us about her favorite places to perform, other stars on her new gospel roots album, the inspiration behind her “I Will Survive”-inspired website, the celebrities — real and fictional — she’d like to meet, and the faith that gets her through it all.
So. First time to Ocean City?
Someone gave me a birthday party there some years ago. I can’t remember the name of the place. Many times I performed in Atlantic City. I opened Resorts.
What’s your plan for this show? Will you perform new work? Classics?
Both. I always do both. I’m very excited about my new album, Testimony. It’s my testimony about the love and knowledge of Christ, his availability, and his undying, unchanging, and unconditional love for all of us. I have four duets on the album. One is with Mike Farris, one with Bart Millard from MercyMe, one is with Jason Crabb, and the last one is with Yolanda Adams. I’ll be doing songs from there. We plan to release Testimony at the end of the summer.
But, when you’re performing, you still do…
“I Will Survive.” There’s no way I could not do that. I also do “Never Can Say Goodbye.”
Do you sing “I Will Survive” with the new lyrics, or the old?
The new lyrics. I sing the new lyrics. Sometimes people learn them; sometimes they don’t. They sing what they know. That’s fine. I sing them not only to reflect my faith, but to share. A lot of times people feel that God is for the good people or for a certain kind of person. He’s not. He’s for everybody.
That song has resonated with so many and so many kinds of people.
I’ve been hearing stories about how “I Will Survive” has uplifted, encouraged, inspired, empowered people to make it through all kinds of situations: women encouraged to leave abusive husbands, husbands encouraged to leave cheating wives, children inspired to make it through their college exams. Because those stories have always been shared with me, I thought, how uplifting would it be to share these stories of going through these things, and coming out from them victorious?
I wrote a book called “We Will Survive” about making through difficult and traumatic situations and circumstances. In it, I shared 40 stories. There are so many more stories, hence, my new website, iwillsurvive.org, where people can go on and share and read stories of survival.
Your current tour goes to Egypt and Italy. How often do you perform a year?
I’ve slowed down quite a bit. I’m doing 30, 35 shows a year. I perform more outside of the country. I have done that since the early 80s.
I love to travel, but it’s a mixed package. I stay in five-star hotels and ride first class or at least business class. It’s as leisurely as it can be. But travel is stressful. I’m on planes a lot, doing long flights: 15 hours to Dubai, seven hours to different parts of Europe, 12 or 14 hours to Russia or Siberia, 20 hours to Australia, 15 hours to Hong Kong.
Someone said to me recently: Did you ever have a bottle of water on a flight that you’ve drunk half of it? That’s what happens to your body when you fly.
Any place in the world you’d like to see that you haven’t yet?
India, although I’m kind of debating about that. And Africa. I’ve been to several places there, but I’d like to go to Nigeria, a part of Africa that’s more progressive than the places I’ve been.
What’s your favorite place to perform?
It used to be Lebanon. The most recent time I went to Lebanon, it was so war-torn. The first time I went there, it was war-torn, too. All these years later, I expected it to be different. But it was worse.
My favorite place to perform now probably is the United States. American audiences are demanding. You’ve gotta be good — they don’t want to be bothered. They demand that you do your best. When somebody commands the best from you, it keeps you on your toes.
Tell me about your last name. It’s not the name you were born with, Fowles, or your ex-husband’s name. Where did it come from?
Funny story. I was recording with Johnny Nash on his label, JODA Records. He said, OK, we’re going to release your song, your record, but Gloria Fowles is not a stage name. Your fans won’t know how to pronounce it. They won’t know how to spell it. You really need to come up with a stage name that starts with a G. Your fans will probably call you GG.
I asked him what names began with G. He said, there’s Gaynor. I said, that’s good. He was ready to name a list. But Gaynor was fine with me.
You’ve won the only-ever Grammy for disco, met world leaders, schmoozed with celebrities. Anyone else you’d like to hang out with?
The people I’d like to meet are the people I watch in my TV series. I like to binge watch. Olivia Pope [Kerry Washington’s character in Scandal.]. I’d love to meet Tyler Perry. And Tom Selleck, because I watch him on Blue Bloods.
Gloria Gaynor performs July 23 at Ocean City Music Pier with the Ocean City Pops. Tickets: $30 to $35, available at the Ocean City City Hall Welcome Center and the Roy Gillian Welcome Center on Route 52, or by phone at 609-399-6111.