Raised in a church-going family, Mary was one of seven children born to Andrew and Mary Gaines in Boston, Massachusetts, and there was always singing in the home. In fact, Donna’s musical debut was at 10 years old in her church. It was clear she was born to sing. However, as one of disco music’s greatest artists, Donna’s music was far from gospel. In 1975, her first hit single was a seductive disco track called “Love to Love You Baby,” and it was followed by hits such as “Hot Stuff”, “Bad Girls” and “Last Dance.” Later hits included “She Works Hard for the Money” and “This Time I Know it’s for Real,” among many others.
So I asked Mary how she thought about the secular versus the sacred aspects of performing. For her it comes down to what she calls “marketplace ministry.”
“Giving your gift to God is not just bringing it into the church,” she said. “They don’t expect a surgeon to just operate in the church. Music is the only thing they do that with. No, the Lord told us to go.”
During her years with Donna, Mary explained their performances were never really aimed at the church. And later as they grew in their walks with the Lord, they began to rethink their performances.
“We did some songs that could be considered inspirational songs and God laid on that.”
One example was the song, “Smile.” Mary said, “She would sing ‘Smile’ and there would not be a dry eye in the house.” Mary added that “in Vegas, we had a gospel section of the show, but we didn’t feel like we had to do that to validate us. It was simply bringing them back to where we came from; we came from the church.”
The street preacher
While her family went to church and it was common to see her Dad praying, Mary said she was saved by a Hollywood street preacher her sister Dara encountered. My sister brought me to him and he explained “you’ve got to be born again.” So I prayed. And while Donna was not originally as receptive, Dara brought the preacher to Donna’s house where he would sit and pray with her, and one day Donna came in and prayed too.
For a while the sisters attended The Church on the Way in San Fernando Valley, California, where Pastor Jack Hayford began to disciple them. She said he suggested that they should grow where they are planted. Mary explained, “The Kingdom of God is within us, so when I go into dark places I don’t become darkness… Love changes everything. …Our actions speak louder than words and it really is wearing your walk.”
While Mary admits “the average Christian won’t go where I’m going, but I have to do what God told me to do.”
She said “God gave me a vision and told me this is the anointing I put on you. It’s a family anointing on our singing voice that bypasses the intellect of the person who hears the music and He drops a seed in their spirit and they will begin to desire to know who the true and living God is. People will begin their search. This is my job in the Kingdom.”
When Donna passed away, Mary admitted it was hard. “We’ve seen God heal so many people. I can’t tell you how many fans came backstage, we’d pray for them and the next year they’re in remission.” And though they prayed for Donna, the answer was not what they had hoped for from God. “It’s one of those times when I have to acknowledge that I still love Him, but I don’t understand.”
Sing, dance and be happy
Asked what she thought Donna would say about her New Year’s Eve performance, Mary said, “I think she’d say, Go, Mary, go! Have fun. Life is short. Just sing! My family does a sing-a-long well, because that’s how God wired us.”
What should you expect if you go to this Musical Journey? Mary said, “It will be a night full of surprises – a trip down memory lane where you can sing, dance and just be happy. I’ll be telling stories about our life, Donna’s life and life on the road, stories behind the music that people may not know about. It will be a lot of fun.”
In the invitation to Donna’s fans, Mary wrote, “You can dance if you want to dance, sing if you want to sing, you can dress in a tuxedo, wear your blue jeans or your best disco dress and maybe even sport an afro wig. So unbutton that collar and put on your dancing shoes because we’ll be singing all of your favorite songs right into the New Year!”
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