Gloria Gaynor’s special gift to University Hospital comes with great stories

At event honoring her donation of 7 Kinkade Disney paintings to pediatric wing, Newark native recalls time she sang ‘I Will Survive’ at karaoke bar and a few other gems

Let’s get the answer to the most important question out of the way first. Yes, Gloria Gaynor has sung “I Will Survive” at a karaoke bar.

And no one realized who she was.

It was one of a number of great tales the now 79-year-old Newark native told Friday afternoon at University Hospital, when it was announced that she was donating seven of her Thomas Kinkade paintings of Disney scenes to be displayed in the hallways of the hospital’s pediatric wing.

CEO Ed Jimenez, left, with Gloria Gaynor and others at the event. (University Hospital)

Here’s how the story goes.

It was about 10 years ago, and Gaynor was tricked by friends into thinking she had a gig — so, she got all dressed up. When the limo came, she realized it was just a goof to get her to have a night on the town in New York City.

After dinner and a show, the group found themselves at a karaoke bar, where someone dared Gaynor to sing her song, the most popular Karaoke song of all time — and pretend that she was just another drunken patron pretending they had made the big time.

“You don’t dare me,” she said — and then told how she put her name down like everyone else and waited her turn.

When the time came, Gaynor said she pretended to slur her words at the beginning — but then belted it out as only she can.

It appeared no one noticed.

After Gaynor sat back down with her friends, the only person who came over was the guy at the bar who thought it was tryouts for “American Idol” — you know, the multiple-song singer that’s always there.

Gaynor said he whispered, “You know, I think you could be great.”

The room at the hospital roared with laughter as she told the story.


Gaynor loves to entertain.

She was thrilled to bring some joy and laughter to University Hospital — the hospital where she was born, and where she and her family have visited for care countless times over the years.

She said she was blessed to have an opportunity to give back to a place that has given so much to her — a gift she hopes will be uplifting to the children getting treatment.

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“God has blessed me with so much since I was born here,” she said. “It’s an honor for me to share my blessings with the people who are coming here.”

When hospital officials found out someone wanted to donate works of art featuring Disney scenes to the pediatric wing, they were thrilled, CEO Ed Jimenez said. When they found out it was the legendary singer, they were overwhelmed.

“It’s the most amazing thing that could have happened,” Jimenez said. “It’s more than just a Newark resident, it’s somebody who was born here in this hospital. It’s someone who understands that this institution really is a fabric of this community.”

And then there’s this.

“This is a Newark native who is proud of where she grew up,” he said. “Someone who said: ‘I was a kid once. I remember what it was like to be a kid and not have what I need. So, let me do something to help.’”

The 10-bed wing is a special place. A multidisciplinary, cross-departmental program of the University Hospital and the New Jersey Medical School, the pediatrics wing offers family-centered care from birth through adolescence with a full array of services for health needs that range from routine to life-threatening.

Gaynor’s donation echoes the mission of the unit’s extensive Child Life Program that supports children in inpatient units through developmentally appropriate play activities, hospital officials said.

The artwork will be enclosed in protective glass casings — providing an energetic boost for the patients, families and staff that work in a wing where kids face tough challenges.

Jess Backofen, the executive director of the University Hospital Foundation, said the artwork will bring joy.

“This is a big deal for University Hospital,” she said. “When Ms. Gaynor reached out to us, and said she had this collection to donate, and that she thought about us because she was born here and because she and her family received great care here, I had goosebumps.”

Calvin Ledford, a Public Service Enterprise Group executive who serves as vice chair of the foundation, said the gift shows another way citizens can make a difference.

“When most people think about philanthropy, they always think about it monetarily,” he said. “This gesture is going to mean so much for so many families. So many children are going to be able to see these paintings on the wall and know that they are something special.

“And then when they hear the story behind it, that it came from Gloria Gaynor, it’s just going to be extra special.”


You need to hear the stories.

How Gaynor won a Grammy in 1979 for “I Will Survive” — then a second, in 2020, for gospel.

How mostly women — but sometimes men — share deeply personal stories with her about how “I Will Survive” changed their life.

How she changed some of the lyrics to the song (adding praise for Jesus) after she became a “committed Christian.”

Want to see her perform?

Gloria Gaynor is 79, but she’s still touring. After playing throughout Europe this summer, she will be performing at Bergen Performing Arts Center on Sept. 16.

Click here for ticket info.

How Gaynor still is performing on a regular basis. She toured Europe for much of the summer, with stops in Switzerland, Portugal, Spain and Italy — where she did a show with Andrea Bocelli, the world-famous tenor. On Sept. 16, she will perform at Bergen Performing Arts Center with her 10-piece band.

How her career almost didn’t get started.

Here’s that story.

Growing up, Gaynor wasn’t allowed to sing with her five brothers, who formed a gospel quartet. It was frustrating, she said.

“Nobody knew I could sing,” she said. “I wanted someone to hear me. I didn’t want accolades. I didn’t care about applause. I just wanted somebody to hear me sing.”

Gaynor got her chance in a most unusual way.

While babysitting for a friend, she could hear someone walking above her during the daytime hours. Whenever they stopped, she burst out into song. Unbeknown to her, the person above her worked nights, running the old Cadillac Club in Newark.

A few weeks later, she was at the club. The owner recognized her and called her up on stage and asked her to sing. It was karaoke before there was karaoke.

Gaynor admitted: At first, she was, in fact, petrified.

She also was great. And the rest is history.