Gloria Gaynor will tell you, “I have more than survived. I have thrived.” Indeed, an optimistic message accentuates her new gospel album, Testimony, and it’s delivered with the exhilarating vocals that have become the legendary performer’s trademark.
“I named this album Testimony because that’s what it is. It’s my testimony of the grace and goodness of God,” she says. “He is always there for you. He’s the only one who knows and wants what is best for you, and He’s the only one who can make it happen.”
For Testimony, Gaynor partnered with Grammy-winning producer Chris Stevens (TobyMac, Mandisa) to create a roots gospel collection that relies on Gaynor’s own songwriting, a couple of hymns, and a stunning interpretation of Bob Dylan’s “Man of Peace.” Special guests include Yolanda Adams, Jason Crabb, Mike Farris, and MercyMe’s Bart Millard, as well as first-call studio musicians Daru Jones (drums), Drew Ramsey (guitar), Shannon Sanders (keyboards/B3), Jason Webb (piano/keyboards), and Willie Weeks (bass). Latrese Bush, Melinda Doolittle and Jason Eskridge provide dynamic background vocals.
As a songwriter, Gaynor considers herself primarily a lyricist and she embraced the collaborative process of setting her words to music. She also appreciated Stevens’ concept of roots gospel, noting, “That means to me that the roots of the music, and the lyrics, are based in what gospel used to be years ago. I think that the basic thing is that it’s more bluesy.” Yet she is quick to clarify that Testimony is not a sad album, observing, “There’s enough sadness in the world.”
Testimony begins with “Amazing Grace,” the familiar hymn that opens with a thoughtful reflection from Gaynor’s point of view. Later she puts her own spin on “Precious Lord,” while maintaining its spiritual essence. Asked how she struck that artistic balance, Gaynor replies, “He knows who I am and He made me who I am. As long as I’m being reverent, I can still be me.”
For the first time in a career that stretches back to the 1970s, Gaynor recorded in Nashville. The sessions took place inside one of Music Row’s most historic buildings, the former RCA Studio A. “The idea of having all the musicians in the room with me, recording some of these songs, was electrifying – so inspirational,” she says. “Whenever anybody asks me what I think is the main difference between music today and music back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, I always say the spontaneous creativity that can only happen between live musicians working in the studio together, inspiring one another.”
Testimony may be perceived as a natural extension of Gaynor’s signature song, “I Will Survive.” In the wake of releasing that 1979 global anthem, she built an international audience – and she still travels the world performing full-scale concerts with her ten-piece band. “I Will Survive” won a 1980 Grammy in the Best Disco Recording category, in the only year that disco was recognized. As proof that her music has endured, the recording entered the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2012. Four years later, “I Will Survive” joined the Library of Congress National Recording Registry in recognition of its cultural, artistic and historical significance. Gaynor celebrated the achievement with a dazzling disco party inside that hallowed hall.
“‘I Will Survive’ uplifts, empowers, inspires, and encourages people, and it’s become the core of my purpose,” Gaynor says. “It’s a great honor to have that song because I think it’s my responsibility to share that message as broadly and as widely as I possibly can — to bring that hope, and encouragement, and empowerment to people. I think that what this song has done is brought me the notoriety that gives me a good platform so people will listen to what else I have to say.”
Gaynor nearly lost everything after falling backwards over a stage monitor at the Beacon Theatre in 1978. Paralyzed from the waist down, she endured spinal surgery and a four-month hospital stay. Thus, it isn’t a coincidence that Testimony begins with these lyrics: “There was a time I was broken / I didn’t know which way to turn / I was paralyzed…” Gaynor remembers turning to God to fix the situation. “I left the hospital pretty certain that He would, not knowing how,” she says. “The record company had called and said, ‘It’s over. We’re not renewing your contract.’ But God had other plans and as we always say in Christianity, ‘But God.’”
The label acquired a new president who kept Gaynor on the roster; she cut “I Will Survive” while wearing a back brace. The song’s message of resilience and strength resonated across generations, serving as a cornerstone of the disco era. And because the universal appeal of “I Will Survive” transcends genres, it continues to be a mantra for multitudes of music fans.
Immersed in the temptations of fame and wealth, Gaynor recommitted herself to Christ in 1982 after a night of reckoning with drugs and alcohol. She recalls, “I literally felt the Holy Spirit grab me by the collar, stand me on my feet, and say, ‘That’s enough.’ I was visibly shaken. That was a huge turning point for me. It feels like it happened yesterday. I’ll never forget it, ever. When God puts his hands on you, you don’t forget it.”
“Now seems like the right time, only because God’s timing is perfect,” she says. “You have to be persistent about being patient. When you’re doing what you love – what you’re created to do and fulfilling your purpose – patience comes easier because you’re having so much fun. All the other stuff is icing on the cake. I mean, we all love icing! But you need to have a little more patience. It’s easier to have patience, getting to that part, when the cake is good!”
A gospel album has always been part of Gaynor’s musical vision, and Testimony proves to be worth the wait.