Before Whitney Houston, before Madonna or even Donna Summer, there was Gloria Gaynor. The true first lady of disco, Gaynor was the dance floor's first reigning diva. Born
September 7th, 1949 in Newark New Jersey, Gaynor born as Gloria Fowles, was one of several children which included brothers  Ronald, Larry, Ralph, Robert, Arthur and eventually baby
sister Irma. Gloria grew up poor, but loved. The family lived in public housing until 1970 and singing was always a part of her home life. Her first public singing performance came in high
school as part of the mixed choir. She nearly missed her chance by succumbing to stage fright. After struggling through her performance, encouraging words from her teacher helped her
to overcome the stage fright and instilled a confidence that lasts till this day. All through high school Gloria took college preparatory classes in the hopes of attending college and
eventually becoming a teacher. The summer after graduation she realized that college was expensive and that she needed practical skills to sustain her if her dream of singing didn't
work out. She went to beauty school and took secretarial and bookkeeping courses on the side. After that summer she took her first job at the local department store,
Bamberger's as a
sales auditor. Several non-singing jobs followed; comptometer operator at
Canadian Furs, an IBM sorting machine operator for a bank, and even a job with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, her
last before plunging headlong into singing.
   Her career started by chance. One night on the way home from the movies, Gloria and brother Arthur stopped at the Cadillac Club. The featured act was Eddie McClendon & The
Pacesetters. The manager of the club recognized Gloria and had heard her singing around the projects. He encouraged Eddie to call Gloria up for an impromptu song. Gloria shocked and
frightened obliged, choosing a Nancy Wilson tune,
"Save Your Love For Me." In true Hollywood fashion Gloria received thunderous applause and when the band finished it's set they
approached Gloria with an offer to join them. The next day Gloria met with the group, armed with a list of over 200 songs that she had learned to sing from the radio, and they
rehearsed all day. That night, in an old party dress, she made her first professional appearance. Within two weeks she was off to Canada with the band for a 2-week tour of Ontario
clubs and hotels. Upon returning the group did a couple of weeks worth of appearances in and around Jersey, and then suddenly the engagements stopped and the band split up. She
went back to Bamberger's but the showbiz bug had already bitten her. Working in the department store during the day, Gloria and brother Arthur, would haunt the club scene nightly.
With Arthur's chutzpah he would convince the  local bands and club managers that Gloria was this great singer from out of town and that if they wanted, he might be able to persuade
her to sing a song of two. The ploy worked and Gaynor received quite a few gigs by doing this.
    Gaynor reflected; "I worked for years in clubs, singing with the house bands. I would go in with my book of two hundred songs, with the keys I sang them in, or sometimes we would agree on keys right on the spot.
I'd update my list regularly so that it always included the top 40. The band would choose enough songs to get through the engagement, then we'd go to work. It was a wonderful experience. It built character, fortitude
and a sense of confidence. The reality was that at eighteen I had embarked on more years than I cared to remember on the chitterling circuit."
    A singer with a duet called The Soul Brothers, Bill Johnson, caught Gloria's performance one night and took her to the Orbit Lounge in downtown Newark, where he and his brother Sam performed nightly. An
introduction to the manager landed Gloria a weekend gig for the grand sum of $25.00 a week. While performing at the Orbit Lounge she met Johnny Nash (
"I Can See Clearly Now," "Stir It Up") and auditioned for his record
company. The label Josida, a name formed from the names Johnny, Sissy, his wife, and Danny, his brother-in-law, who all ran the company together. She recorded her first record for them,
"She'll Be Sorry." The name
Gloria Gaynor came from Johnny Nash. Her real name was Gloria Fowles, but Johnny said,
"This is not a stage name. There's no way you can use that name. Why don't you choose a name that starts with a G, so people
will call you G.G.? It'll stick; it'll be like a little affectionate nickname for you."
She said, "That's a good idea....but I don't really know any names that start with a G." "Well, you know, like Gaynor or..." She said, "That's
good!"
She took it and has been Gloria Gaynor ever since. "She'll Be Sorry" was a minor R&B hit and she toured briefly with Nash and the other Josida label acts, Johnny Day, Sam and Bill Johnson and The Cowsills. The
record company folded and the record died before it ever really hit. Gloria was out of work and back home soon.
   
 Next came a meeting with Cleave Nickerson and The Soul Satisfiers, joining them as featured vocalist, Gloria traveled the New York-New Jersey area playing local clubs and bars, and gaining valuable experience and
exposure. While the Soul Satisfiers were touring the Midwest, saxophone player Sport got married and was replaced by future legend Grover Washington Jr. While on the road with the Soul Satisfiers Gloria received a
phone call that her mother had passed away in March 1970. This was just one of many painful experiences Gloria would endure. Gloria also had two abortions before she was 21 and carried the shame and guilt with her for
many years. Cleave left the Soul Satisfiers and out of the ashes came a new group,
The Un-Silent Minority featuring Miss G.G. This formation lasted briefly and then Gloria and Billy McClellan (guitarist) worked a few shows
with Johnny "Hammond" Smith. Gloria then wound up working at Manhattan's Wagon Wheel, a go-go club that featured topless dancers. Gloria sang with the house band Radio and sometime between late 1971 and early
1972 she met Benny. Benny became her first manager and introduced her to Paul Leka a Columbia Records producer, who was interested in recording her. Benny also introduced Gloria to Norby Walters who became her
agent and put her with an up & coming band City Life, they were billed as
"City Life with G.G."
    She traveled up and down the East Coast with City Life and a year later they were joined by a singing group, The Simon Sisters. Sondra, Cynthia and Tera worked as a trio and were managed by their brother Linwood
Simon. They agreed to join City Life and back Gloria on vocals, Gloria renamed them Simon Said. This arrangement kept Gloria busy for the next several years, between 1972 and 1975 Gloria, Simon Said and City Life
toured the East Coast constantly and actually had made somewhat of a name for themselves in the emerging club (disco) scene.
   
 Paul Leka introduced Gloria to Clive Davis, then president of Columbia Records. Clive had expressed an interest in making her a recording artist. When he first recorded Gloria it was for a single only and did not use
City Life. The song was
"Honey Bee" which became a huge club hit. Gloria performed "Honey Bee" nightly with City Life which created a certain amount of tension between singer and band, they also did a version of
"Never Can Say Goodbye," a song Gloria had been singing since her days with The Un-Silent Minority.
   
 Clive Davis left Columbia Records and the powers that be seemed less interested in Gaynor than Clive had been. When Bruce Greenberg from MGM Records heard "Honey Bee" he decided that he wanted the song and
the singer. He contacted Columbia, who agreed to release Gaynor from her contract, after endless delays and disagreements about the contract Gloria had to hand deliver it to the MGM offices with a 30 minute deadline.
Gloria invited Bruce Greenberg and the head of MGM Records down to hear her perform
"Never Can Say Goodbye," because she was convinced that it should be her next single. She told them how "Honey Bee" had
become a sort of disco cult hit, but that they were getting even more response to their version of
"Never Can Say Goodbye." They agreed and when it came time to record it City Life was given credit for the
arrangement but not utilized in the actual recording. This created a terrible riff between Gaynor and City Life and their relationship was never the same. In 1974 MGM released the album
"Never Can Say Goodbye" with
"Honey Bee" as one of the tracks. It went Gold immediately and made disco history by being the first album of nonstop programmed dance music and it earned a spot in the World Book Encyclopedia as the first "disco"
record to ever be played on AM radio. Without a doubt this album was a milestone in the new emerging "disco scene" and Gaynor was about to become the first Queen on the scene.
   
 Gloria's excellent sophomore effort, 1975's "Experience Gloria Gaynor," found the influential disco diva embracing the same format she had favored on her first album. Side one is a Tom Moulton nonstop three-song
dance mix that clocks in at almost 19 minutes, whereas on side two, there are breaks between songs. Not surprisingly, disco  D.J.'s tended to favor side one, which opens with the dreamy
"Casanova Brown" and keeps the
momentum going with the hit
"If You Want It (Do It Yourself)" and Gaynor's glossy interpretation of the standard "How High The Moon." To her credit, Gaynor breaths new life into the standard and demonstrates that it
can work remarkably well in a disco-soul setting. Side two isn't nearly as danceable as side one; the tempos are generally slower, items like the melancholy
"What'll I Do" and the ballad "I'm Still Yours" are clearly for
listening rather than dancing. Side two ends on an impressive note with an inspired cover of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David favorite
"Walk On By," which had been previously recorded by Dionne Warwick, among others.
   
 The summer of 1976 brought Gloria to her first appearances outside of the U.S. Her third album, "I've Got You," is a generally decent but uneven disco-soul release that has its moments. Once again, Gaynor turns side
one into a nonstop three-song dance mix while providing breaks between songs on the less club-oriented side two. Club jocks, as expected, were drawn to side one, which includes the charming
"Let's Make A Deal" as
well as the catchy, if unremarkable
"Be Mine" and Gaynor's interpretation of the Cole Porter standard "I've Got You Under My Skin." By 1976, that standard had been recorded by numerous artists, and Gaynor deserves a lot
of credit for bringing something fresh to a song that had been done so many times; in fact,
"I've Got You Under My Skin" is the most memorable track on the album. Backgrounds were provided by Simon Said, Gloria's
touring singers from her days with City Life. Meanwhile, side two contains five soul offerings that are enjoyable but not mind-blowing. The album did confirm Gloria's status as Queen Of the Discos.

    1977 brought about several changes, first came a legal battle with her manager Benny that forced Polydor to buy him off. Polydor had absorbed MGM at this point and Benny had been squandering Gloria's royalties so a
parting of the ways was inevitable. With that behind her a decision was made to also change producers. While her first three albums were produced by the Meco Monardo/Tony Bongiovi/Jay Ellis team, her fourth album,
"Glorious," was produced by disco ace Gregg Diamond and guitarist Joe Beck. The latter is primarily a jazz musician, but like so many jazz improvisers, Beck knows how challenging it can be trying to earn a living playing
jazz; so in the 1970's, he took part in some more commercial projects. Most noticeably his work on Esther Phillips disco piece
"What A Difference A Day Makes." For Gaynor, working with different producers and
songwriters meant some changes. Side one isn't turned into a nonstop dance mix this time, and Gaynor got away from the idea of having the dance-oriented tracks in one place and the slower material in another.
Unfortunately, Diamond and Beck don't do as much for Gaynor as one would hope;
"Glorious" isn't a bad album, but it's an album that never really catches on fire either. "This Side Of The Pain," "Life Ain't Worth Living,"
and other disco-soul numbers are competent but not remarkable; except for the haunting
"Most Of All," none of the material is in a class with earlier gems like "Casanova Brown" and "Honey Bee." Meanwhile, Gaynor's disco
version of the standard
"As Time Goes By" is surprisingly stiff. While Gaynor really soared on her interpretations of "How High The Moon" and "I've Got You Under My Skin," she doesn't sound nearly as inspired on "As Time
Goes By."
Considering that Diamond's work with the Andrea True Connection had been excellent, one would expect him and Gaynor to be a powerful combination. But "Glorious" fails to live up to its potential. The year
did have it's upside as Gloria signed a new management contract with Linwood Simon and they became romantically involved.
    When Linwood moved into new offices on Park Avenue, Gloria was inspired to title her 1978 release
"Gloria Gaynor's Park Avenue Sound." So decided because the concept and its contents were conceived in those
offices, but it might as well have been titled
Gloria Gaynor's Broad Street Sound because much of this album is heavily influenced by Philadelphia R&B. (Broad Street is a main thoroughfare in Philly). Two of the
arrangers are Norman Harris and Ron "Have Mercy" Kersey, both of whom were prominent figures on Philly's R&B scene in the 1970's, and Bobby Eli, another well known R&B musician from Philly, is employed on guitar. With
such heavyweights on board,
"Park Avenue Sound" should have been a gem. But the album isn't as strong as it could have been. One of the less Philly-sounding tunes on "Park Avenue Sound" is a remake of the Marvin
Gaye/Tammi Terrell classic
"You're All I Need To Get By," which is arguably the best thing on the album and favors the type of disco meets Motown approach that had worked well for Gaynor in the past.
    While appearing with City Life on stage at the Beacon Theatre on March 12th, 1978 Gloria fell and seriously injured her back. A two week hospital stay in traction seemed to fix the problem. But by April 15th Gloria was
once again rushed back to the hospital where spinal surgery kept her bedridden in the hospital until July 3rd. The day she came out of the hospital coincided with the final day of the International Billboard Disco
Convention in Manhattan. Gloria, with the wheelchair in the trunk of the limo, arrived and was escorted to the dais. Donna Summer was being honored that year and when she was announced she received a standing
ovation. After Donna thanked them for their applause she said,
"Before I continue, I must recognize one person who should be home this evening because she's just been released from the hospital after having had
spinal surgery, but she decided that she just could not be here.....Ladies and gentlemen, could we please have a round of applause for the First Lady Of Disco....Gloria Gaynor."
Gaynor received a standing ovation. She
was touched by Donna's words which showed how classy a lady Donna is. It was Donna's night but it was like she was saying,
"I'm Queen this year, but this is still the First Lady!" A truly sweet and generous gesture.
    It started quietly in late 1978, the beginnings of disco history. While preparing for another single and album Gloria was asked to record a song that had been a hit in Britain earlier.
"Substitute" had been a hit for the
group Clout and the new head of Polydor wanted Gloria to record it for the American market. Freddy Perren was selected as the producer with the stipulation that the b-side would be one of his songs. Dino Fekaris met
with Gloria and mapped out a song, when he arrived at the studio he had forgot to bring the lyrics. Tearing open a paper bag he jotted down the lyrics for Gloria to rehearse and after reading through them Gloria realized
that this song would be important.  But the record company's attitude was not at all confident, on its first release in 1978,
"I Will Survive" was put on the b-side of "Substitute." No one at Polydor wanted to buck Freddy
Hayan, the new president.
"Substitute" was his baby, so that's what they went with. Luckily a copy landed in the hands of Richie Kaczor, Studio 54's influential D.J. He loved it and started playing it constantly. Gradually
word spread and disc jockeys all over started playing the b-side of
"Substitute." Finally, early in 1979, Polydor released "I Will Survive" as an a-side single. It entered Billboard's charts at #-87 and twelve weeks later it
dethroned Rod Stewart's
"Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" for the #-1 spot on March 10th, 1979. It took the Bee Gees with "Tragedy" to remove it three weeks later. Within a few short months it became #-1 in five different
countries, including the U.S., Britain and South America and eventually over the years it has become #-1 in every country imaginable. Boasting the mega-hit
"I Will Survive," Gloria Gaynor's sixth album, "Love Tracks," was
the strongest, most consistent album she had recorded since 1975's
"Experience Gloria Gaynor." "I Will Survive," one of the most famous anthems of the disco era, is the gem that made this 1979 LP a big seller, but it isn't
the only song on the album that deserves to be called a gem. Gaynor is also captivating on five-star offerings that range from the funky club hit
"Anybody Wanna Party?" to the smooth soul ballad "Please Be There" and a
memorable remake of Little Anthony & The Imperials'
"Goin' Out Of My Head." The album's up-tempo selections didn't hurt Gaynor's standing with dance clubs, and yet "Love Tracks" is a great LP to sit down and listen to.
The album sold over 14 million copies and earned Gloria a Grammy for
Best Disco Record. Over thirty years later the song is still a hit and has been re-recorded and remixed numerous times.
    Hot on the heels of her most successful album ever, her seventh release was equally as fulfilling if not as highly lauded. 1979's
"I Have A Right" produced another club smash with the 12" of "(Let Me Know) I Have A
Right"
a blatant attempt at another "I Will Survive." But the rest of the album features some rather tasty treats like "Midnight Rocker" and "Don't Stop Us." Gaynor always included at least one cover on her albums, and on
"I Have A Right," the cover is the Stephen Sondheim/Leonard Bernstein classic "Tonight," which she transforms into a glossy disco barn burner. Gaynor rode the crest of her newly reborn success to the max, topping the
year with a sold-out six night appearance at London's famed Palladium. Touring the world she has appeared in over seventy countries on radio and television making her truly one of discos most international superstars ever.
    Gaynor became seriously rich at the turn of the decade and being the hottest ticket on the club scene led to a dark period personally and another downward spiral for her recording career. Gloria and Linwood, now her
husband, first began using marijuana in the late 1970's. As her success skyrocketed they turned to alcohol, (
champagne her drink of choice), and eventually cocaine, the designer drug of the disco-era. As her drug habit
increased her album sales decreased. Her next release was 1980's
"Stories." Oddly enough there was no 12" single released but it did manage a club charter with "Ain't No Bigger Fool." 1981's "I Kinda Like Me" featured the
12" single of
"Let's Mend What's Been Broken," but by then club music had shifted and Gaynor had not followed the trend. Between 1979 and 1982 Gloria bounced between a drug lifestyle and bouts of religion and God.
    In 1982 she released her tenth album, simply titled
"Gloria Gaynor." The Atlantic album had two minor hits with the 12" singles of "Tease Me" and "Stop! In the Name Of Love." The album also featured three tunes
written by her husband Linwood. The bottoming out point came in 1982 when one of Linwood's girlfriends became pregnant and had a daughter. Gloria realized that their lifestyle had to change in order for their marriage
to
"survive." That year she attended a local Baptist Church and got "saved." Within a short time she had converted to and became a member of a Pentecostal Church in her New Jersey neighborhood. Gloria was the first to
seek and find religion, she was also the first to give up alcohol, drugs and even cigarettes. The rebirth process took a while longer for Linwood. Gloria left Linwood briefly before his healing process began but by the early
1990's their relationship was stronger than ever and both were deeply committed to each other.
    By 1983 Gloria was clean and sober and ready to record again. The opportunity came from Joel Diamond and his Silver Blue Records label. While putting together material for a proposed album Gaynor was introduced to
the film
"La Cage Aux Folles." The play was on Broadway and was a huge success, one of the key numbers was a song about acceptance, resignation, and survival, themes that were all too familiar to Gaynor. Gaynor quickly
recorded the song and it was rush released as a 12" single.
"I Am What I Am" became an instant club hit and was easily adopted by Gloria's gay fan base. The song was the third time she had peaked with the club scene and
brought her a whole new base of fans. Columbia Records picked up the distribution rights and released the 1984 album,
"I AM Gloria Gaynor" and two subsequent singles, "Strive" and "Chain Of Whispers" both of which did
well in the clubs but failed to generate any radio action.
    Her next release was a 1985 cover of an earlier disco hit by Space.
"My Love Is Music" was released on the French label Carrere and although only an import it proves to be one of her all-time strongest club tracks. That
summer an import remix was released of
"Love Is Just A Heartbeat Away," a song Gloria had recorded for the soundtrack to the 1979 film "Nocturna." Originally released as an MCA Records 12" single in 1979 it was a
medium-sized hit back then but the remix added punch and made it an even bigger hit.
    During the late 1980's Gloria immersed herself in her religion and gave herself to the Lord. During this period she hosted a Gospel show on England's BBC entitled
"The Gospel Train" and gave two Christmas concerts at
London's Hippodrome. She also began a friendship that lasts to this day with another disco diva turned gospel-singer. It's interesting how many of disco's stars came from gospel roots and a few even went from disco to
gospel like Candi Staton (
see her biography here at The DiscoMuseum). By 1988 Candi had already received Christ in her life and had established herself on the gospel music circuit. Through a mutual friend Gloria was
given Candi's number and after talking on the phone briefly Candi sent Gloria a package of gospel songs to enjoy. An invitation to Candi's church followed and the two have been close friends since.
    The string of remixes and remakes of
"I Will Survive" began with a 1990 version on New Music Records, a set of Shep Pettibone remixes on Gig, also that year, and then a 1993 Phil Kelsy remix on Polydor. Gaynor herself
re-recorded
"I Will Survive" for her 1990 compact disc "I'll Be There." She was allowed to change the lyrics to reflect her new found faith. The gospel/dance album also featured the 12" single "Mighty High." The duet with
the Trammps was a cover of the 1975 Mighty Clouds Of Joy gospel/disco hit. Besides remakes of her previous hits like
"Never Can Say Goodbye," "How High The Moon," "Reach Out," "I Am What I Am" and "Strive" the
album had new material as well. Gloria covers such treats as
"You're My First, My Last, My Everything," "I Will Always Love You" and "I'll Be There." Another stunning track is her version of the gospel turned pop turned
disco number
"Oh Happy Day." The album featured two of Gloria's own compositions "Remember" and "Wonderful Day." This was her most fulfilling album in years. The release brought her to a second generation of club
fans, most of whom were still in diapers when she first hit it big in 1975.
    1995 was another tumultuous year for Gaynor. The high point was her autobiography release in the U.K. of
"Soul Survivor" which was expanded and re-released in America in 1997 as "Gloria Gaynor-I Will Survive." The
book was an instant bestseller and topped many book review lists. The low point was the murder of her only sister Irma. Irma was beaten and stomped by an unknown assailant while aiding a woman he was terrorizing. She
was in a coma for several days before passing away. Gaynor, with her faith strong in God, miraculously came through this horrible ordeal. That faith was tested again in 1996 when brothers Ronald (in March) and Ralph (in
May) passed away within months of each other. Gaynor has remained as strong as ever and
"survived."
    During the 1990's "Disco Revivals" started cropping up like wildfires. Gaynor, now a living legend, was soon in-demand and as popular on the concert circuit as ever. With the resurgence in disco music several
compilations were released highlighting Gloria's long and prolific career. During the late 1990's, she dabbled in acting for a while, guest starring on
"The Wayans Brother Show," "That '70s Show," and "Ally McBeal" before
doing a limited engagement performance in Broadway's
"Smokey Joe's Café."
     In the new millennium Gaynor's career was as strong as ever. She toured the globe delighting millions of world-wide fans. In 2000 she teamed with Giorgio Moroder for the club smash
"Last Night." Then came "The
Gloria Gaynor Album."
The 2001 compact disc features old hits as well as Gloria's surprisingly good versions of "Careless Whisper," "Suddenly," "The Heat Is On," "Every Breath You Take," "Every Time You Go Away,"
"The
Power Of Love," "The Eye Of The Tiger," "Feels So Real," "I Want To Know What Love Is" and "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" proving that Gloria could sing the yellow pages and make it hers. Her 2002
release
"I Wish You Love" brought her back once again to yet another new generation of club goers. Not only did she sound fantastic but she looked marvelous. The two singles released from the album, "Just Keep
Thinking
About You" and "I Never Knew," both topped Billboard's Hot Dance Music/Club Play. On September 19th, 2005, Gaynor was honored twice when she and her music were inducted into the Dance Music Hall of
Fame. She was inducted in the Artist Inductees category along with fellow disco legends Chic and the late Sylvester. And her classic anthem
"I Will Survive" was inducted under the Records Inductees category. In January
2008, The American Diabetes Association named Gaynor the Honorary Spokesperson of the 2008 NYC Step Out To Fight Diabetes Walk.
    Still as beautiful as ever and still performing regularly, Gaynor has earned her spot in
The DiscoMuseum many times over. To see and hear more about a true legend visit her web site at: www.gloriagaynor.com