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'It celebrates the tenacity of the human spirit': Gloria Gaynor on her hit I Will Survive

Gloria Gaynor reflects on her biggest hit, I Will Survive, how she pushed to make the song a success and why disco matters.
Singer Gloria Gaynor says her hit song, 'I Will Survive,' was a 'gift to me from God.' (Getty Images for Voices for the Voiceless)

Originally published April 20, 2017

If any song has earned the title of "anthem," it's Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive.

First recorded almost 40 years ago, it defined the disco era and reached number 1 on the Billboard charts. It's been covered by everyone from Diana Ross to Demi Lovato and it's lived on not just as the best breakup song ever, but as a rallying cry for female empowerment and LGBTQ rights. 

But did you know Gaynor's most popular song was recorded as a B-side? "I said, 'What are you, nuts? You're going to put this on the B-side?'" Gaynor recalls. "This is a timeless lyric, this is a hit song and they said maybe it'll get an opportunity — yeah, if it's up to me, it going to get an opportunity now."

And that's exactly what Gaynor did. Distributing the track herself, to Studio 54, which then spread to other clubs and eventually radio stations, the singer took matters into her own hands and made it the hit she knew it would be. 

Last year, the Library of Congress entered I Will Survive into its National Recording Registry. This year, they will celebrate the entire disco era at an event in Washington, D.C., and Gaynor is slated to perform. For more information about the event, head over to the Library of Congress website.

— Produced by Dawna Dingwall

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