|Date(s):||October 23, 1978|
|Tag(s):||Popular Music, Minority Groups|
|Course:||“US Since 1945,” Juniata College|
On October 23, 1978, the American singer Gloria Gaynor released the famed disco anthem “I Will Survive.” The song’s lyrics traced the story of a woman who was wronged by a man and left heart broken and alone. She was both “afraid” and “petrified” by the event. As the song progressed, the woman transformed her pain into a newfound sense of personal strength. “I used to cry/ But now I hold my head up high,” Gaynor belted out in the third stanza. The woman directly asked the man, if he underestimated her ability to move on without him. “Do you think I’d crumble/Did you think I’d lay down and die?” Finally, Gaynor breaks into the song’s chorus. “Oh as long as I know how to love/ I know I’ll stay alive/ I’ve got all my life to live/ I’ve got all my love to give and I’ll survive/ I will survive.”
Historian Tim Lawrence has argued that the “black female diva” became an important figure within the disco movement. Singers such as Gaynor were able to embrace both a deep emotional vulnerability and a fighting spirit that appealed to a wide and diverse audience. Minority groups, including blacks, women, Hispanics, and gay men, made up a substantial portion of disco’s primary listeners. Offering these groups a sense of collective spirit, disco became what Barry Walters, a writer for The Advocate, described as “a public music.” ‘I Will Survive’ fit well into this mold. It provided listeners with a message of resilience, serving as a source of inspiration for many who felt oppressed by society. With its emphasis on being strong and moving on, “I Will Survive” became an immediate hit among disco lovers across the country.
As the sole singer, Gaynor’s voice and message were clear and direct. “I Will Survive” became an anthem for anyone who felt victimized by society. This was especially apparent among gay men, who made up the song’s primary fan base. As Gaynor said, “It made all the sense in the world that ‘I Will Survive’ became an anthem of the gay movement. Who felt more oppressed than they did?” The song’s empowered message was especially appealing in the 1970s, when newly enfranchised minorities were attempting to define themselves and show their strength. From January 20, 1979 to May 25, “I Will Survive” held the number one spot on the pop charts, and became Gaynor’s most popular single.