Gloria Gaynor on the lasting legacy of "I Will Survive"

GREEN BROOK, N.J. -- When you're in Gloria Gaynor's recreation room, listening to her jukebox, what song do you think you're gonna hear?

Her 1978 hit "I Will Survive," of course.

The Library of Congress has just chosen her disco anthem for preservation as a key artifact of american culture.

"That song taps into the inherent survival instinct, and it taps into the tenacity of the human spirit," Gaynor told CBS News.

Gaynor wasn't singing lyrics off a sheet of music -- she was singing her own life story.

Growing up in poverty, the victim of childhood sexual abuse, she had an accident six months before recording the song that left her temporarily paralyzed from the waist down as she headed to the studio.

She was in a back brace while recording the song. "That is why I was able to sing that song with such conviction."

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U.S. singer Gloria Gaynor shown April 1979.
AP/Jean Renard

The song changed her life. Number one in five countries, "I Will Survive" won Gloria Gaynor a Grammy, while becoming the universal anthem for those struggling to overcome challenges.

"With this song, and only with this song, I am able to give people something that they take home with them, something that they make a part of their lives," Gaynor said. "It is absolutely a blessing."

A blessing for the singer, and for everyone who's ever needed to hear her message.

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.