Gloria Gaynor, Sister Sledge Kick Off Free Summer Series
Two icons of the disco era, Gloria Gaynor (I Will Survive) and Sister Sledge (We Are Family) delighted the crowd at MGM Grand Theater at Foxwoods on June 21 to kick off the Free Tunes Tuesday series of free summer concerts.
After the band started things off with a Broadway-style overture of her hits, Gaynor began with I Am What I Am, first singing from offstage then making a grand entrance befitting the Queen of Disco. Then she launched into her 1974 smash Never Can Say Goodbye, a remake of the Jackson 5 classic that was one of the first big disco hits. The song defines Gaynor's sound; the infectous beat sweeps you up and speeds you along like a runaway freight train.
Gloria looked fabulous in a black pantsuit with elaborate white trim (she designs most of her own stagewear with some help from a Los Angeles designer) and looked slimmer and moved better than we recall from when we saw her in 2006. She was warm and personable and makes you feel you an old friend. Her musical director/keyboardist and rhythm section of guitar, bass and drums were joined by three backup vocalists and a three-piece horn section.
She introduced a song from her most recent album, Just No Other Way,as a song about "a young lady lookin' for love in all the wrong places but then she was blessed because she had her true love by her side all along, it was her best friend." The natural follow-up to that was a song about true love, "I Never Knew" ("right beside me was an angel").
Known for her ability to fashion songs in her own style for familiar hits, Ms. Gaynor showed just how it's done with a gorgeous, disco-style version of Little Anthony & The Imperials Goin' Out Of My Head. Vocalist Ronnie Quinn joined her at center stage for Barry White's You're The First, The Last, My Everything. Her cover of Stop! In The Name Of Love was a departure from the Supremes, but her marvelous reworking of Sting's Every Breath You Take was a sheer delight.
Ronnie Quinn joined Gloria Gaynor for a Barry White classic
Gloria suffered a career-threatening injury in an on-stage accident years ago, just before recording her biggest hit, I Will Survive. We spoke to Gloria a few days before the show and she shared with us how, along with her physical self recovering, she experienced a spiritual awakening after her accident, as well. In the hospital, she said, "they came around with books you could read and I chose the Bible.The Lord used that to drop a seed in my heart that He would water and grow into an experience with Him in my life.Finally, I got to a place where I needed to give God some time."
"I began to have a spiritual awakening and decided that I wanted to have more purpose to my singing," she said. "I wanted to continue as long as possible to give people songs that would have positive impact on their lives."
She took a moment in the show to mention her Christian faith and to say that "my voice is a gift from God and when I share it, I honor the Giver." With that, she sang her new signature song, He Gave Me Life from her forthcoming Contemporary Christian CD.
The song was originally called - ironically - I Will Survive. She told in our exclusive interview how the Holy Spirit led her to the track while visiting a bookstore in New York. Though she had double-parked her car to rush in and buy a book, she heard "what I believe is the voice of God saying, ‘Go over to the music.’I thought, ‘that’s just the devil, he’s trying to get me a parking ticket!’ Then I heard it again.Three times I heard it.I got out of the line and went over to the music and saw one that said I Will Survive.I thought, ‘Someone has tried to make my song into a gospel song.’I took it out and saw that it was a different song called I Will Survive but that I now call He Gave Me Life.And I realized that it was the story of my life."
She closed with her signature hit, I Will Survive, a song as popular now as it was 32 years ago and reverberates with deep meaning for so many, and not just those who were jilted by their lovers. “"I do feel blessed to have a song that gives people hope and encouragement and empowers them to make it through the difficulties they find themselves in life,” Gloria told Connecticut Concerts. “I’ve had people come to me and say the song has empowered them to get through all kinds of adversities.People find hope in the song to gather their strength and make it through. The song gives you hope, it gives you encouragement, it celebrates the tenacity of the human spirit.And most of all, it gives voice to a woman in a man’s world.”
Feared to have no chance of continuing her music career after being paralyzed from the waist down from her accident years ago which required many surgeries, I Will Survive was as much a personal testament to persevering for her as it was to others. Co-written by songwriter Freddie Perren (who, sadly, passed away in 1993) and producer Dino Fekaris, the song packs an emotional wallop that makes you feel that the singer is not going to just survive, but thrive. “I don’t know which one of them had their heart broken, or if they empathized with someone else who had their heart broken," she told us, "but they put so much into that song.I feel so blessed that they chose me to record it."
She returned for an encore of Just Keep Thinking About You.
Another iconic group from the era, Sister Sledge, performed first, opening the show before Gloria Gaynor. The four sisters are not performing together these days, it seems, but each has rights to the name. One of the middle sisters, Joni (far right in photo at right) led the group on this night. We saw Kathy Sledge at Foxwoods in 2006 at the same show Gloria was in (a KC & The Sunshine Band concert that grouped together some disco giants) and Joni's show was similar in some ways was uniquely Joni in others. The girls were beautiful, playful and fun in an interesting set that was well-planned and executed, moving along quickly to various elements within the tight timeframe of their set. The girls showed off their vocal skills and dancing and Joni shared the spotlight with her talented band, as well, displaying her own unique sound, heralded as "alternative soul," infused with her interest in African rhythms, jazz, classical, Spanish guitar and R&B.
One of Sledge's hits was He's The Greatest Dancer and typically one guy gets dragged onstage to dance with the ladies. On this night, it was Timo Stoute of Waterford who was put under the spotlight and he responded with some moves that delighted the singers and the crowd. Timo told us after the show that he worked for the Sledge sisters as a driver years ago and his brother, Leonardo, also in attendance, worked as a drummer for them at some shows in the past.
Timo Stoute was The Greatest Dancer
Joni switched gears by taking a stool and introducing her guitar player, whose name we unfortunately missed. She said he heard him play one day and "it was so beautiful, I said 'I have to write something to this beautiful, passionate music." He began to play the song, in Spanish-style, and she sang her original composition, Forever. Gifted young saxophonist Dominick Amato soloed on the song as well.
Joni and the girls were strutting their stuff again and showing the audience how to do it too on Lost In Music, the us to get up and dance. That set up their finale of We Are Family, starting out with a beat-heavy, almost tribal opening then settling into the well-loved groove.
We would like to see Joni Sledge again in a longer set when she can expand on the creativeness and original music she displayed here along with the Sledge showmanship she's instilled in her new team.
Known for their hits, We Are Family, He's The Greatest Dancer, Frankie and others, Sister Sledge started out when they were aged 12 to 16 and first hit the charts in just four years later, in 1975. Joni is also active in the We ARe Family movement, focused on creating a vehicle to point individuals and organizations back to family values.
Upcoming Free Tunes Tuesdays concerts include June 28, with country star Tracy Lawrence, Blue Oyster Cult and Foghat on July 5, the Court Yard Hounds with former members of the Dixie Chicks on July 12 and another legendary disco act, Kool & the Gang, on July 19. Admission is free for all holders of the casino's Dream Rewards Card.