Gloria Gaynor shares glorious stories from her monumental career

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By Jackie Moe

The colossal legend Gloria Gaynor has inspired the world for over five decades to belt out with sheer conviction that as long as they know how to love, they will survive. 

Her Grammy Award-winning 1979 hit disco tune “I Will Survive” has been heard around the world as the anthem for everything from women empowerment to break-ups to overcoming life’s most difficult tribulations. Forty years later, Gaynor continues to record, perform and inspire — even picking up a second grammy in 2020 for her recent album “Testimony.” 

The disco and gospel queen has amassed immense accomplishments and hits, including “Let Me Know (I Have a Right),” “I Am What I Am,” “Never Can Say Goodbye,” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” Her book, “We Will Survive: True Stories of Encouragement, Inspiration, and the Power of Song,” received a Grammy nomination for “Best Spoken Word Album.” 

Gaynor will make her debut at Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on Jan. 29. Before she hits the stage, she shared inspiration and phenomenally historic stories from her iconic career. 

First of all, congratulations on your second Grammy Award in 2020! Where are your Grammy’s currently? 

Gaynor: Right now, they’re in storage. They normally sit on my piano, but I just sold my house and I’m building a new house. And so they’re in storage, waiting for me to come and get them and put them up in the new house with the piano. 

What does it mean to you to be back performing with live audiences? 

Gaynor: It means everything because it was really, really such a drag. A lot of people were saying they were bored. I wasn’t bored. Cause I was able to keep myself busy, but you can’t help but miss the audiences. You know, I was doing a lot of videos for different organizations for Zoom things and parties and all of that kind of stuff, but there’s nothing like standing in front of a live audience. So I surely missed all that. 

What is your audience going to experience at this show?

Gaynor: Well, I always say something old, something new, something borrowed, nothing blue. I do the songs that people are expecting me to do. Like “I Will Survive,” “Never Can Say Goodbye,” “I Am What I Am.” Those songs that they’ve been requesting for years. And then I do new things that I’ve recently recorded or added to my repertoire. But nothing sad or blue. 

And do you do the glitz and the glamor and costume changes or anything like that? 

Gaynor: I actually don’t do costume changes during my show. I should say, I rarely do costume changes during my show, because I love getting dressed up and it’s almost like when you are a little girl, you know, you get dressed up just for the fun of it. So I love getting made up. I love getting my hair done. I’m a real girly girl in that sense. But I rarely change during a show because once I get in front of the audience, it’s all about them. 

It’s not about me doing a fashion show, you know? It’s about me and them and the relationship between us. Because I’m very aware of what I’m singing. And so I’m really communicating through my music with my audience. I’m singing to touch their hearts with the lyrics, you know, and bring up some kind of pleasant memory or encouragement or empowerment or something like that. So I’m all about that. 

Love that. I see that you’re going to have a 10-piece band up there with you. 

Gaynor: Yes, I have an amazing group of musicians and a wonderful music director. I mean, it’s like a family and however you are off stage, you bring that onto the stage. And the last thing that I say to all of them before they go on stage is have fun, because if you have fun, the audience will have fun. And it’s very easy for us to do that because we like each other. We really love each other. And most of us have been together for like eight or more years. And some of us have been together as much as 15 years. So we know each other very well and we get along really, really great. So it’s a party on stage and becomes a party in the place.

Sounds exciting! I listened to the song you recorded with MercyMe “Brand New.” It’s got a great 80’s dance sound! What was that experience like? 

Gaynor: Oh I loved it. It was great when Bart called me and asked if I wanted to be on his album. I was like, absolutely, because he’s on (my album) Testimony. So I was really happy for the opportunity to sing with him. And then he called me and asked me to do a video of myself singing the song and he plays it on stage. Oh my gosh. So it’s like we’re singing together on stage during his shows. And I was like, oh my God, this is wonderful.

I’ve only seen that once before with Natalie Cole and Nat King Cole. I was so jealous of her (laughs), so this is so great that Bart’s doing that. And then he sent me a video of the audience while he was performing it with me and how they responded to that. It was great. I just love Bart, you know, he’s a great guy. He’s so talented and such a sweet guy. 

Your career has been so vast and I feel like I can ask you a billion questions, but something I would love to know is what is the most memorable show you’ve performed? 

Gaynor: The most memorable show I performed? Now that’s the question I haven’t been asked before. Probably the Jackson Five reunion at Madison Square Garden in 2001, the night before that fateful night of 9/11. And I performed two songs, “I Will Survive” and “Never Can Say Goodbye.” And during “I Will Survive,” I went over to the side of the stage where I could see Michael Jackson sitting in the audience. And I said to him, “Michael, if there’s anybody in your life who has the unmitigated call to try to stop you from surviving, this is what you tell them.” And I went back into the song, “We’ll go now go…” So you can see it, it’s on YouTube. You can see his response to me. Then he called me the next day, which really put an exclamation point on that performance. He called me to tell me how much he enjoyed my performance and how much he appreciated me dedicating the song to him. 

What a story! 

Gaynor: Oh honey, have I got stories.

You’re such a legend. You’re such a treasure. And this is such an honor. What advice would you give 20-year-old Gloria?

Gaynor: 20 year old Gloria, I would say to her recognize that you are blessed with a gift and an opportunity to share that gift with the world. And that is a blessing, and make sure you never forget that. I would say to her, whatever it is you are striving for know that God is with you as long as it is within his design and desire for your life; and make sure that you are always checking on that, that you’re making sure that you are within his design and desires for your life, because he’s the only one who knows and wants everything that’s good for you. And he’s the only one that can deliver it all

Wow, a little teary-eyed here. Can you tell me what is in the future for Gloria?

Gaynor: What is in my future? Well I have a documentary coming out, a documentary of my life and I’m really, really looking forward to sharing that with the world. I’m always writing and so I’m looking forward to my next album. And the expansion of my Amazon store. So if you go to amazon.com/gloriagaynor, you can find inspirational t-shirts and sweatshirts and different merchandise. But my favorite is the sweatshirts and t-shirts that have an emoji that we call Little GG, and above her head, it says, “Yes, I can.” And on each t-shirt, she’s representing a different profession. She’s a doctor… a veterinarian…a teacher…an astronaut. I think there’s like 12 different professions to help young women understand that whatever you can conceive, you can achieve.

Gloria Gaynor

Where: Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 18000 Park Plaza Drive, Cerritos

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022

How much: $100/$90/$80/$70/$60

Ticket Information: Tickets are available only at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts’ Ticket Office, at cerritoscenter.com, or by calling (562) 916-8500. 

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