Born Gloria Fowles on September 7, 1949, in Newark, NJ; married Linwood Simon, c. 1979. Addresses: Agent--Polygram Holding Inc., Worldwide Plaza, 825 Eighth Ave., New York NY 10019. Website--Gloria Gaynor Official Website:

Gloria Gaynor was lifted to the pinnacle of success when her biggest hit, "I Will Survive," became the anthem of the disco craze of the 1970s and early 1980s. But this monster hit came within a hair's breadth of not being made at all. Even after it was recorded, her record label had profound doubts about releasing it. The song is a tale of unrequited love sung to a driving disco beat--a picture of the life Gaynor had lived up to that time and prophetic of the years that laid ahead.

Gaynor was born Gloria Fowles on September 7, 1949, in Newark, New Jersey, the daughter of a seamstress and an absentee father who sang professionally. One of seven children, she grew up poor in a house full of music. Although her father was not around for most of her childhood, her mother had a lovely singing voice, and all her siblings enjoyed singing as well. But when Gaynor was still a girl, her mother had throat surgery that robbed her of her rich singing voice. After that, she often asked Gloria to sing some of her favorite songs. "I didn't think she had ever paid any attention to my singing," Gaynor recalled in Guideposts. "And there she was asking me to do one of her favorites." Gaynor gained further confidence when she was 13 years old and practiced a popular song under the staircase in the hallway of the family's apartment building. Hearing her, a lady from the upstairs apartment called out in surprise, "Oh, I thought that was the radio."

Shortly after graduating from high school, Gaynor took a babysitting job in a nearby apartment building. When she heard footsteps from the apartment above, she would sing out loudly below in the hope of being heard. This went on for several days. One evening not long afterward, she accompanied her brother Arthur to a local nightclub. As the two sat at a table nursing their Cokes, Gaynor sang along with the band, the Soul Satisfiers. The bandleader eventually came to the microphone and announced that there was a girl named Gloria in the audience who perhaps could be persuaded to come up onstage and sing if the audience applauded loud enough. Gaynor was coaxed onstage and sang, after which she was hired immediately to sing with the band. Only later did she find out that the object of her babysitting serenades was the manager of the nightclub.

Gaynor sang with the Soul Satisfiers for about a year, after which she made the rounds of clubs throughout the eastern United States and the Midwest. Her first big break came when singer/producer Johnny Nash caught her act at the Wagon Wheel Club and asked her to sing on a record he was producing. The Nash-produced record became a hit locally, but more importantly it won a broader audience for Gaynor. In the early 1970s, the dawn of the disco era, she enjoyed a club hit with a song called "Honeybee." "There was a real need for music that people could dance to," Gaynor recalled in comments included on her official website. "The world needed an inexpensive way to release the tension and frustration" of daily life.

Gaynor firmly established herself as the "First Lady of Disco" in 1973 when she released "Never Can Say Goodbye," which climbed to number nine on the pop charts and became the first genuine disco hit. The song was the title track on her 1973 album, the first to feature nonstop programmed dance music. Gaynor released at least one album a year from 1973 through 1981, and all of them managed to climb into the top 40. The biggest selling album of all, however, was Love Tracks, released in 1978 and featuring the most memorable song of the disco craze--"I Will Survive." This was by far Gaynor's biggest hit, rocketing in 1979 to number one on the pop charts and adopted by generations of Americans as their personal anthem of defiance and survival. The single won Gaynor the one and only Grammy ever awarded for Best Disco Recording in 1979 and is still the song most closely associated with her career.

Only a short time before she recorded the song, Gaynor was told that she would very likely be paralyzed for life, the result of a devastating back injury she suffered in an accident that occurred during a stage performance. Defying the doctors and wearing a back brace that extended from under her arms to her hips, Gaynor was rolled into the recording studio in a wheelchair and gave the performance of her life. Although she has often said she knew from the start that the song would be a hit, she never realized that it would become her theme song. Surprisingly, the president of Gaynor's record company saw little promise in the song, although almost everyone else seemed confident it would be a big hit. In an interview with the Daily Recordof London, Gaynor recalled that she and husband/manager Linwood Simon took the record to the world-famous Studio 54 discotheque in New York City to drum up support for the song. "The DJ loved it, other DJs picked up on it, and soon the record company couldn't resist the public demand for the song." By February of 1979--only a short time after its release--the single had skyrocketed to number one on the pop charts. "I Will Survive" remains one of the most requested songs of all time, and is a wildly popular karaoke selection as well. Since its release in 1978, the song has been recorded in some 20 languages, including a French version recorded by Regine, the longtime queen of Paris nightlife.

Ironically, even as her popularity soared on the strength of "I Will Survive," marital problems and her abuse of both alcohol and drugs threatened to shatter her success. Like many of the other patrons of New York's popular club Studio 54, Gaynor and her manager husband abused cocaine. In her 1997 autobiography I Will Survive, she told how she and Simon eventually tired of the party circuit and began searching for greater meaning in their lives. Gaynor turned her back on drugs and alcohol and became a born-again Christian in the early 1980s. In an interview with People in 1996, Gaynor credited her faith with seeing her through the loss of her only sister, Irma, in the fall of 1995. Irma, the mother of three, was beaten to death by a suspected drug dealer after trying to break up a fight on a Newark street.

As the disco craze faded in the early 1980s, Gaynor's popularity in the United States declined. She remained extraordinarily popular in Europe, however. Between 1985 and 1990 she released six albums in Italy, and spent much of her time playing clubs across Europe. The title song from her 1984 album I Am What I Am was adopted as an anthem by the gay community, which at that time had been shocked to its core by the rapid spread of AIDS. Gaynor began to devote more and more of her time to performing at AIDS benefits.

A disco resurgence in the mid-1990s revived Gaynor's popularity at home, and she again began performing across the country. In 1995 she released two new albums: Best of Gloria Gaynor, released in Europe, included a completely remixed version of "I Will Survive," and in the United States, Radikal Records issued a double CD entitled I'll Be There, which featured a duet by Isaac Hayes and Gaynor on "You Are My Everything," the classic first introduced by Barry White.

Once again, Gaynor proved she was a real survivor. In the early years of the new millennium, the singer continued to appear frequently at clubs both in the United States and abroad. She and her husband, who still live in New Jersey, had no children, but doted instead on their many nieces and nephews.

by Don Amerman

Gloria Gaynor's Career

Discovered by Clive Davis, then head of MGM Records, after years of struggling in second-rate clubs; signed by Davis to a recording contract after three auditions; rocketed to fame as first "Queen of Disco" with such hits as "Never Can Say Goodbye" and number-one smash "I Will Survive," 1970s; title track from album I Am What I Am became an anthem for the gay community, 1984; toured extensively in Europe, late 1980s-early 1990s; released six albums in Italy, 1985-90; returned to the United States during revival of disco, mid-1990s; wrote autobiography I Will Survive, 1997.

Gloria Gaynor's Awards

Grammy Award, Best Disco Recording for "I Will Survive," 1979; World Music Awards Legend Award, 2002.

Famous Works

Further Reading



Visitor Comments Add a comment…