When Gloria Gaynor wanted to record a gospel album, she couldn’t because her management disagreed with the decision to do so. When she was ready to record it, no label wanted it. After self-funding the project and winning the 2020 GRAMMY Award for Best Gospel Roots Album, the singer hasn’t only survived, she’s thriving! I spent a few moments with Gloria Gaynor to talk about the project, life and as the album is aptly titled, her incredible testimony.
When you think of Gloria Gaynor, you immediately think of the disco hit “I Will Survive”. Both the singer and the song have stood the test of time and as fate would have it were a match made in Heaven! When Gaynor encountered the song, she was in a back brace. After suffering a horrific fall and multiple surgeries, she was on the mend and set to record a new single for her record company. When she inquired about the B-side of the single, destiny took over. When she read the lyrics, she knew that she wanted to record and after going over it with the writers, they felt that she is who they’d been waiting for (two years) to sing it!
Gaynor had recently lost her mother and coupled with her recovery from back surgery, she had the perfect motivation to inspire survivors everywhere! The fight wasn’t over once the song was recorded, however. The label still felt that their original choice for the A-side was optimal and continuously rebuffed Gaynor’s protests about “I Will Survive”. After dropping it off at Studio 54 and putting it in the hands of disc jockeys in New York, the world had a hit on its hands. In the wake of its success, the label fielded numerous calls about the song’s whereabouts. Much to the chagrin of the execs, they had to concede that the song was closer than they thought…it was on the B-side.
As is common with many superstars, life was not without complication and challenges. Personal and financial challenges could have derailed the heralded disco diva, but she is a survivor! After visiting several churches and reconnecting with her mother’s bible, she made a commitment to Christ during while the music played on in discos around the world! Her commitment to Christ is widely unknown because few people ever get to know the artists behind the songs they love and for many, it’s so much better that way. When I asked about how “Testimony” came about, Gaynor had this to say: “I’ve wanted to record a gospel album for years but management that I had back then didn’t really want me to do it.“
After all these years, she was finally ready to put her faith on record but because no record company wanted to do the record, she funded the album herself and co-wrote each song.
Even after we were done, we tried to take if to different record companies and nobody wanted it. I think probably because they think of me as a disco artist and just couldn’t imagine that I would do a gospel album- that I was sincere about it.
Gaynor has found a way to share her faith and connect with her throngs of fans across the world. In 2000, she released a book entitled, “I Will Survive” detailing her life’s challenges and how she overcame them with faith. In 2013, she released “We Will Survive” with Sue Carswell that featured stories from fans detailing how the song impacted their lives. The audio book version garnered a 2015 Grammy nomination for Best Spoken-Word Album (in audio formats). Even with all that to take into consideration, the gospel album was still a hard sell.
We take different paths to the Lord and mine was different as well, so they for whatever reason couldn’t see it.
Gaynor persevered beyond each closed door and rejection to get the project done on her own and heard a comforting confirming word following her appearance with Bill Gaither.
A girl came up to me in church right after I got the Gaithers and she didn’t know anything about the album. She didn’t even know I’d recorded an album and she came up to me and she said, “Gloria, I believe I have a message for you from the Lord” and I said, “really?” She said, the Lord said there are going to be people saying, “what did we do?” and I couldn’t imagine what she was talking about. I’m like, “ok, thank you!” And so, I imagine that some of those companies and labels that turned down the record are probably saying just that after it’s won a GRAMMY, “what did we do?”
Considering her life’s story, I asked the disco diva if “Testimony” is a legacy project for her, to which she emphatically replied, “YES”.
I do because, it’s so much. It’s aptly named “Testimony” because it is my testimony- of the mercy, love and grace…the goodness and the faithfulness of God! I feel so blessed and so honored to have won this GRAMMY, to have been able to work with all these people-these wonderfully talented people and then to be recognized by my peers as having released something that is worthy of the GRAMMY.
Gaynor’s GRAMMY wins have come 40 years apart and each in fairly new categories. Her 1980 Best Disco GRAMMY win is the sole win in the category and by a woman. The Best Gospel Roots Album category was introduced in 2015 and Gaynor joins the likes of music icons Reba McIntyre, The Fairfield Four and Jason Crabb as past winners of note. In her acceptance speech, Gaynor said this win would ‘balance out her piano’, and with the newest win, Gaynor is back on top- a sentiment she shares in a song on her album.
Yeah, I’m back on top! The word of God is true! He promotes, He knows when you’re ready for it and He brings it to pass. I just feel so completely blessed that He has used me in the way that He has with this album because people are writing to me telling how the album has encouraged, uplifted, inspired and empowered them and that was my purpose so I feel that I am fulfilling my purpose. I hope and believe that God has more for me to do, but I think I’m on the right path.
Testimony was recorded in Nashville’s historic RCA Studio A by Grammy Award winning producer engineers F. Reid Shippen and Christopher Stevens.
Testimony was recorded live in analogue sound format, highlighting the warmth and soul in Gloria’s legendary voice as well as the top tier musicianship of all the players involved. Duets on Testimony include a who’s who of contemporary Christian singers Jason Crabb, Yolanda Adams, MercyMe’s Bart Millard, and Mike Farris, who performed with Gloria on “Man of Peace” by Bob Dylan.
Testimony Track Listing:
1. Amazing Grace
2. Back On top
3. He Won’t Let Go ft. Bart Millard
4. Joy Comes In the Morning
5. Only You Can Do
6. Singin’ Over Me ft. Jason Crabb
7. Talkin’ Bout Jesus ft. Yolanda Adams
8.Take My Hand, Precious Lord ft. Jason Crabb, Mike Farris and Bart Millard
Man of Peace ft. Mike Farris
10. Day One
Listen to the full interview with Gloria Gaynor on SP Radio
“On the Record”