‘Queen of Disco’ Gloria Gaynor on Her Faith: ‘Jesus is God with Us’
By Movieguide® Staff
Note: This story is part of our Faith in Hollywood series. For similar stories, click here.
Singer Gloria Gaynor, best known for her disco-era hits “I Will Survive” and “Let Me Know,” confessed that her journey to the faith had its ups and downs.
Gaynor began her career in music in the 1960s with the R&B and jazz band Soul Satisfiers, before landing a record deal with MGM. However, Gaynor struggled to give her life to Christ throughout her early career.
In 1982, Gaynor decided to visit a church with her grandmother.
“At a time in my life when I felt as if I were on a seesaw, praying one day and then smoking and drinking and partying the next, I went to a little Baptist church in New Jersey with my godmother,” Gaynor recalled in 1998. “At the end of the service, the minister asked if anyone wanted to accept Christ as savior. Accept Christ? I didn’t even know what that meant.”
“When I got home I dusted off a study Bible a friend had given me some years before. We had discussed religion, and she must have realized how little I knew. Now I wanted to find out more,” she added.
The visit to church prompted Gaynor, who was often called the “Queen of Disco” at the time, to open up her Bible.
“I sat down in my dining room and let the Bible fall open. God, I’ve been praying all my life. I believe my prayers have been answered, but now I want to know who this Jesus really is,” Gaynor wrote. “It was 1982 and I was the ‘Queen of Disco,’ with more success as a singer than I could ever have dreamed of. My single I Will Survive had been a hit, topping charts around the world, and yet I still felt empty. I needed to sit in that dining room in our New Jersey apartment, read the Bible and look back at how God had worked in my life.”
Gaynor, her six siblings, and her mother all loved to sing as a family. However, after a throat operation, her mother could not sing one of her favorite lullabies and asked if Gloria could sing the song to her.
“Finally she turned to me and said, ‘Gloria, sing it for me.’ I didn’t think she had ever paid any attention to my singing. And there she was asking me to do one of her favorites,” Gaynor said.
Soon, Gaynor started to receive public recognition for her voice.
“I wasn’t interested in applause. I just wanted my voice to be heard,” Gaynor said, adding that her first performance was with a band at a bar. “I sang along with the band. The next thing I knew the bandleader said there was a girl in the audience named Gloria and perhaps if the audience applauded, they could get her to do a number or two. Too surprised to ask questions, I went up onstage and sang. Afterward the band asked me if I would like to work with them—starting the next night! As it turned out, the person whose footsteps I had been serenading was the manager of the club.”
Gaynor said that despite her faithful prayer life, she did not have a personal relationship with Jesus.
“For as long as I could remember, I had prayed every night for all my family and friends. As a child I had a list that I said in the same order: God bless this one, that one. Whatever worries or troubles, I told God and asked him to put them right. I honestly can’t recall a time when God didn’t answer the smallest request, like a sunny day for a picnic or snow on Christmas,” Gaynor said. “But I still didn’t know who Jesus was.”
She continued: “Two things happened that led me to that New Jersey church and started me reading my Bible in earnest. First, my mother—my closest companion—died. With her gone, I became more and more aware of a great emptiness at the center of my life. I was looking for something to fill the ache inside me, yearning for something I couldn’t even identify.
“Then on March 12, 1978, I had a terrible accident onstage. I was performing at the Beacon Theater in New York City. I was doing a number during which I danced away from three backup singers and then turned around, twisted my microphone upside down and snapped the mike cable like a whip. The singers grabbed the cable, but they didn’t hold on to it. I crashed backward over a monitor at the side of the stage, severely injuring my back.”
Gaynor’s injury put her in the hospital for months, where she tried to open her Bible on several occasions.
“I was in the hospital for several months, and while there I began to read the Bible, almost out of boredom. I must have read the first chapter of Genesis 15 times. I never got further than that because I didn’t understand what I was reading; I don’t think I really wanted to,” she said.
“When I was released from the hospital I stayed away from partying for a while, but then I couldn’t stand being left out of the good times. I wanted to study and talk to people about God, but I didn’t know any Christians well enough to ask the questions that nagged me. It got so bad that I stopped praying at night because I returned home so late I just fell into bed,” she added. “Then came my visit to that little Baptist church. For the first time, I was really ready for whatever God told me. At home I sat at my dining room table with my study Bible. I prayed, God, I want to know who Jesus is. I’m listening. I want to hear from you.”
Gaynor said that the verse that stuck out to her was found in Isaiah 7:14, which reads: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel” (7:14).
“The study Bible referred me to Matthew, where it is explained that Immanuel means ‘God with us,’” she recalled. “At that moment, the Good News spoke to me. God with us. Jesus is God with us. He is with us always, every day. He had been with me when I was a girl listening to my mom sing, when I was teenager, when I was a young woman performing in clubs night after night. Jesus is God with us.”
She continued: “For the next two years I sat down at my dining room table every time I had the chance, and I spent an hour or two studying the Bible. Today I feel blessed, and unshakable in my faith because I didn’t get it from my aunt, my mother, my grandmother or the lady upstairs—the Lord taught me.
“I believe I was born again that first day that I sat down with the Bible. I had money and fame, but there was a great void, a God-shaped void, in my life. I was willing to let my old self die and ready to accept the gifts and strengths he would give me. I can’t tell you exactly what day it was because I never marked it on a calendar. But for me it was my second birthday.”