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Arts: Gloria Gaynor spends time at inlet home preparing for concert

By Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

Charming. Talented. Humble. There are no fancy airs about Gloria Gaynor. The Disco Queen is no diva.

Gaynor shot to fame in 1978 with her Grammy winning song “I Will Survive.” And, although she never had another mega-hit, she’s fine with that.

“Yes, I was disappointed. It took a long time, but I finally got it. That song is the core of my purpose,” said Gaynor, nestled in her sunny Murrells Inlet condo.

Purpose, indeed. The song sold 14 million copies and inspired the world. It became an anthem of survival to anyone who had ever struggled to overcome — minorities, women, the depressed, the gay community, cancer patients, athletes and the disabled.

It was after a fall while performing on stage, following surgery on her spine, and not knowing if she would recover, that she asked for the Lord’s help. He delivered. During her recuperation, the president of her record company presented her with the opportunity to record “I Will Survive.” She knew it would succeed.

Nearly 40 years after its release, Gaynor continues to ride its success touring the country and the world performing her signature song. She’ll perform it live at the Carolina Opry in August and has asked the Coastal Carolina University Premier Gospel Choir and the Socastee Singers to join her on stage. She was here recently with her manager and music director to put the show together.

Her primary home is in New Jersey where she’s involved in several philanthropies. “But I plan to spend more time here in Murrells Inlet and get involved here helping underprivileged children fulfill their potential.

“And the major thing on my heart is preventing fatherless children. My father was not there. Anything I can do to bring fathers back together with their children whether they live with them or not, I’ll do.”

Gaynor said growing up poor in a home without a father impacted her greatly. “It hurt me tremendously and made a huge difference in my life. A father teaches a girl who they are and validates them. I never had that validation.”

Her mother was her foundation. “When mother passed away the bottom dropped out for me. I was 25. I became a wild child for a couple years,” she said.

She and her then-husband/manager turned to drugs and alcohol. “Such foolishness. I thought I needed to do it to belong to the ‘in’ crowd. I wonder how many of them thought the same thing,” she said.

She’s written an autobiography, “I Will Survive,” about the ups and downs of her life journey. Her latest book, “We Will Survive: True Stories of Encouragement, Inspiration and the Power of Song” received a Grammy nomination for best spoken word album.

Fame and fortune were a long time coming. She was 35 years old when “I Will Survive” hit the charts. After years of singing in clubs and bars, her first real success came in 1975 with the release of her album “Never Say Goodbye.” The first side of the album consisted of three songs (“Honey Bee,” “Never Can Say Goodbye” and “Reach Out, I’ll Be There”) with no break between the songs. This 19-minute dance marathon proved to be enormously popular.

Shortly after, the International Association of Discotech Disk Jockeys deemed her Queen of the Discos, crown and all, at Club Les Jardins in New York. Her next two albums and the single “After the Loving” also hit the Top 40.

Since then, she’s recorded dozens of albums and performed for the likes of Michael Jackson, President Clinton, Pope John Paul and Princess Grace. She’s traveled to more than 80 countries.

She looks incredible for her age. Her secret? “Genes and Jesus.”

A reborn Christian, the disco icon expanded her recordings to include gospel. She thrives on ballads, she said, and has a bevy of unsung original tunes stashed away.

At a recent visit to meet the singers at Socastee High School, she spoke of her life lessons, about integrity, and kindness to other people. “I tell them to be the same on stage as off stage. Always be yourself.”

Gaynor adores Murrells Inlet and purchased her home there several years ago to get away from the snow up north. “I fell in love with the people when I performed here in 1975. They were so warm and friendly. I always wanted to come back here. I hope to make a difference,” she said.

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