Beverley Knight MBE (born 22 March 1973) is a British soul and R&B singer, songwriter, and record producer who released her debut album in 1995. Heavily influenced by soul greats such as Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin, Knight has released six studio albums to date. Widely labelled as one of Britain’s greatest soul singers, Knight is best known for her hit singles “Greatest Day”, “Get Up!”, “Shoulda Woulda Coulda” and “Come As You Are”.
In 2006, Knight solidified her transmission into the mainstream by starring in BBC One music TV show, Just the Two of Us, a role she reprised in 2007. After releasing a platinum-selling compilation album in 2006, Knight went on to tour the UK with a reformed Take That. She has also hosted 4 series of the Radio 2 show Beverley’s Gospel Nights, which explores the origins and impact of gospel music. To date the show has run for four seasons and has featured interviews with stars such as Destiny’s Child and Shirley Caesar.
Knight is an ambassador for many charities such as Christian Aid and has travelled to areas affected by disease and poverty to help raise awareness. She is an active campaigner for anti-Aids organisations such as the Stop AIDS Campaign and The Terrence Higgins Trust and is also a vocal campaigner against homophobic lyrics in urban music. On Saturday 15 August 2009 she performed live at the 4th annual UK Black Pride event in Regents Park.
On Friday 4 December 2009, at the invitation of Sarah Brown, wife of Prime Minister, Knight performed 2 songs “Shoulda Woulda Coulda” and “Gold” to an invited audience at 10 Downing Street in support of the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood Million Mums charity.
After more than a decade in the industry, Knight was made an MBE by Queen Elizabeth II in February 2007 in recognition of her charitable work and the contribution she has made to British music. In September 2005, Knight was made an honorary Doctor of Music from the University of Wolverhampton. After receiving a host of awards, including three MOBO Awards, Knight was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004 at the Urban Music Awards in London.
In 1997 Knight was voted number 58 in the 100 Great Black Britons poll.
 Biography 1973–1993: ChildhoodKnight attended Woodfield Infant and Junior Schools and Highfields School in Wolverhampton. Knight was born to Jamaican parents, and she grew up in a strict Pentecostal household where church attendance was commonplace. It is here where she began her singing career: “The first time I heard music would have been in church. My mum was often called upon: ‘Come on sister Dolores. Lead us in song!’ Singing was the most natural thing in the world. I thought, doesn’t everybody’s mum lead the congregation at church in song?” Knight continued singing in her local church throughout her childhood, and her musical education was continued at home where she was often exposed to gospel music. Due to her parents’ religious beliefs, secular music was largely frowned upon, but artists such as Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin played a big part in her childhood.
Knight began writing her own songs – with varying degrees of success – at the age of thirteen. It was not until she turned seventeen, though, that she began to take her craft seriously. Knight began performing the songs that she had written on stage in local clubs in her hometown. At the age of nineteen, she was heard singing at a local nightclub by a record company executive and was offered a recording contract. She was adamant that her education should come first and that she should have something to fall back on, and so went to Cheltenham & Gloucester College of Higher Education to study Religious Theology and Philosophy.
1994–2000: Early successIn late 1994, Knight signed a record deal with Dome Records, a small, independent label. Shortly after, she went in studio to write and record her debut album. The backbone of the project was produced by London production trio 2B3, with additional beats provided by Don E (Knight’s cousin), Ethnic Boyz and hip-hop act Blak Twang. Also Klarmann/Weber the German songwriter/producer team (Chaka Khan, Randy Crawford) contributed two songs. The result was the album The B-Funk – hailed as “the best British soul album ever” by critics when it was released in November 1995. Knight went on to win two Black Music Awards in 1996 (“Best R&B Artist” and “Best Producer” for 2B3) and was named Best R&B Act by Blues and Soul Magazine, beating a host of American stars. However, the commercial success of the album failed to match its critical success and the album peaked on the UK album chart at number one-hundred-and-forty-five. Several singles were released from the project, the biggest being “Flavour of the Old School”, which peaked at number thirty-three in March 1996 when it was re-released.
In February 1997, Knight left Dome Records after disagreements, and signed a new four-album deal with EMI-controlled Parlophone. After returning to the studio with 2B3 and Don E and teaming up with new producers Dodge and Carl McIntosh, Knight released her second album Prodigal Sista in August 1998. Peaking at number forty-two in Britain, the commercial success of the album proved to be much greater than her debut. The album went on to sell 150,000 copies in Britain and be certified Gold in 1999. It contained five top forty hits – the biggest of which were “Greatest Day”, peaking at number fourteen, and “Made It Back 99″ featuring US rap star Redman, which peaked at number nineteen.
The commercial success of Prodigal Sista marked a big step forward in Knight’s career and was reflected in the widespread critical acclaim of the project. Q Magazine called the album “a triumph not only of Knight’s musical vision but also of the strength in her character” while The Times remarked “Prodigal Sista is a joy to hear – her vocal and intricate self devised and performed harmonies can make you catch your breath in wonderment”. Labelled as one of the greatest British soul albums of all time, the album won three MOBO (Music Of Black Origin) Awards with “Made It Back” and “Greatest Day” winning Best R&B Act in 1998 and 1999 respectively, and Prodigal Sista winning the Best Album Award.
2001–2005: Mainstream breakthroughThroughout 2001 Knight returned to the recording studio to write and record her third studio album. She was accompanied by a different array of writers and producers handpicked largely by Kevin and Bev from Britain and the United States, which included James Poyser, Che Guevara, Derrick Joshua & Derrick Martin, D’Influence, Mike Spencer and Colin Emmanuael. The result was Who I Am, which was released in March 2002. It was preceded by two singles, “Get Up!” and “Shoulda Woulda Coulda” which was a first in that it introduced Knight to the world of Nashville and one of its most famous son’s Craig Wiseman a giant in the country music business. This partnership became Knight’s most successful single up to that point, peaking at number ten on the UK singles chart. The success of the singles, together with wide critical praise, propelled the album to number seven on the album chart making Who I Am her most commercially successful album to date. It was re-released with new versions of the singles “Gold” and “Shape Of You (Reshaped)” and has sold 215,000 copies in Britain, earning it a Gold sales certificate.
The critical response to Who I Am was largely positive, with The Guardian stating “every song bubbles with the kind of expensive, polished confidence that often eludes British contenders, and she sings with the poise of an artist at the height of her powers” whilst the BBC remarked “Who I Am marks a significant change in direction for this tenacious 28-year-old singer, signifying her own personal growth as a true artist and developing songwriter….on this her most personal work to date, she takes us on an intimate journey where she bares her soul with such raw honesty that you get the distinct impression a healing process is taking place”. Although the album failed to match the widespread and unanimous acclaim of Knight’s first two albums, it still earned her two BRIT Award nominations (“Best Female”, “Best Urban Act”) and the album was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 2002.
After touring Britain in 2002, Knight set about creating her fourth album and entered the studio in the summer of 2003. Without the architect of her most successful song in her camp her new A&R team attempted to appeal to a larger mainstream audience, they enlisted the help of pop producers such as Guy Chambers and Peter-John Vettese as well as collaborating with R&B producers such as DJ Munro. The result was Affirmation, which was released on Parlophone in June 2004. The album entered the charts at number eleven and was preceded by the single “Come As You Are” – a rock/pop orientated song written with and produced by Chambers. The song marked a more mainstream pop sound that alienated Knight’s largely urban fan base and the song was not well received by urban radio stations. Nevertheless it became her biggest hit to date, peaking at number nine on the singles chart. The song was followed by two more singles, “Not Too Late for Love” and “Keep This Fire Burning”, which helped boost album sales and resulted in the album being awarded a Gold sales certificate in December 2004.
The themes running throughout the album, which were influenced by the events she had witnessed over the previous two years, marked a milestone in Knight’s career as a lyricist. The main essence of the project was centred on Knight’s relationship with Tyrone Jamison – a gay man whom she described as her “soul mate” and who died of an AIDS-related disease in 2003. Throughout the album, lyrics on tracks such as “Remember Me” (“One day we will be reunited, least I hope that is our destiny, so while you chill in the arms of angels, remember me, remember me”) and “No One Ever Loves In Vain” clearly point to her close relationship with Tyrone and rank as her most personal work to date.
Compared to the praise of her previous albums, the critical response to Affirmation was mixed. The mainstream press such as The Guardian praised her for branching out, whilst the black music press such as The Voice and Blues and Soul accused Knight of selling out and being manipulated away from urban music by her record label, a claim she flatly denies: “Everything I’ve done musically has been completely me. I write my own songs so I’m not just a vocalist who can easily be dictated to.”
2006–2008: Consolidating successIn February 2006 Knight consolidated her move into the mainstream audience by appearing on BBC1 music show, Just the Two of Us. The show, featuring celebrities who duet with established singers, ran for two weeks and proved to be a relative disappointment in terms of audience figures – averaging between fifteen and twenty-five percent audience shares. Nevertheless it provided a platform for Knight to reach out to a bigger audience and demonstrate her talent by performing a different array of songs than she would otherwise be known for. Reaching out to new audiences was also a driving force behind Knight’s decision to join Take That on their reunion arena tour. Take That – The Ultimate Tour 06, which ran from April to July 2006, sold 270,000 tickets in less than four hours on sale at the box office and featured Knight as a support act.
In March 2006 Knight released her fifth album, a compilation set featuring the majority of her top forty UK singles entitled Voice – The Best Of Beverley Knight. The album, which was certified Gold less than a month after its release, became her second highest charting of her career when it entered the UK albums chart at number ten and rose to number nine a month later. It was preceded by the single “Piece of My Heart” – a cover of the Erma Franklin classic made famous by Janis Joplin and entered the singles chart at number sixteen, spending eleven weeks inside the UK top 75 singles chart and becoming her longest-running chart single to date.
In October 2006, Knight recorded her fifth studio album, Music City Soul, in Nashville. Completed in less than five days, the album was released on 7 May 2007 and features collaborations with musicians such as Ronnie Wood and Scotty Moore. It spawned three singles, “No Man’s Land”, released on 16 April 2007, “After You”, released on 2 July 2007 and “The Queen of Starting Over”, released on 15 October 2007. This turned out to be her final album for Parlophone.
2009: Going independent and “100%”On 23 March 2009 Knight announced via her official web site that she had left Parlophone records after eleven years and would be releasing new material through her own label, Hurricane Records. Knight also announced that her sixth studio album would be released in summer 2009, having a more contemporary feel in comparison to previous retro soul album Music City Soul. New songwriters and producers associated with the project include Jam & Lewis, (whose previous credits include Janet Jackson, Usher and Mariah Carey) and The Rural along with previous collaborators Guy Chambers and DJ Munro.
On 31 March 2009 Knight confirmed that she would be releasing her sixth studio album in September through her own record label, Hurricane Records. In a video blog on her website she said that “for the past year, I’ve been writing for the record. I’ve been working with some new names and some old names for the album.” She also confirmed that she is expecting to go on tour in support of the album later this year.
The album is titled 100%. The first finished track revealed from the album was Knight’s collaboration with US producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, titled “Every Step”. The lead single from the album was “Beautiful Night”, co-written with Amanda Ghost and produced by The Rural. The album was released the same week on 7 September 2009 and entered the UK Albums Chart at number 17. The second single “In Your Shoes” premiered on BBC 1Xtra on 5 October. The radio remix features UK rapper Chipmunk.
In 2010, Knight made 6 guest appearances as a panellist on ITVs flagship show Loose Women.
2011: Seventh studio album “Soul UK”Knight announced in early 2011 that she would be releasing a new album in 2011. She then announced on Twitter and YouTube in March 2011 that the album would be a collection of British Soul covers, she also confirmed that the album would be released in Summer 2011.
In March Knight also announced (via her official mailing list) a one-off gig to be held at the Porchester Hall, London to record a live DVD which will be included in the album’s release. She also confirmed that the album would be released on 27 June (later changed to 4 July). Whilst performing the one-off gig at the Porchester Hall, Knight confirmed the album would be titled “Soul UK”. The first single to be released from the album will be “Mama Used to Say”, a hit single originally recorded by Junior Giscombe. The single will be released on 27 June. Other artists whose songs are covered on “Soul UK” include: Soul II Soul; Loose Ends; Omar;[disambiguation needed ] Jamiroquai; George Michael; Princess; Lewis Taylor; Heatwave; and Jaki Graham.
Creativity and influencesGrowing up in a Pentecostal environment of Jamaican descent, music – especially gospel music – became a staple part of Knight’s childhood. She entered the gospel choir of her local church at the age of just four years old and eventually became the musical director before she left in her late teens. Her musical education continued at home where her family would often sing together around the piano and listen to music from their favourite gospel and soul artists such as Sam Cooke. In 2005, Knight revisited her childhood when she hosted Beverley’s Gospel Nights, a BBC Radio 2 series exploring gospel music. Featuring interviews with artists such as Shirley Caesar, Percy Sledge and Destiny’s Child stars Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, the six-part series explored the roots of gospel music and the impact it had upon the black community. Such was the success of the show that a second six-part series was commissioned and began in March 2006 and featured new interviews with artists such as Candi Staton, David McAlmont and Marvin Winans. Knight’s interview technique and her ability to get her guests to open up and discuss issues in their personal lives such as domestic violence and depression received favourable reviews and led the Radio Times to comment “Knight’s passion for the music is obvious – but so is her warmth, which makes her a rarity among interviewers.”
The first artist to make an impact upon Knight was one of the true founders of contemporary gospel and soul music, Sam Cooke. Despite his untimely death in 1964, his music endured and became a staple part of Knight’s childhood:
“ My mother played Sam Cooke and he was the first voice I ever heard on record. His was the first voice that directly had a big impact on me, vocally. He still makes me cry. He’d take the very simple Bible stories that I grew up with and just make them into a two-and-a-half-minute song and yet with an intensity and a passion that the world had never heard before. He really was a major influence on my life. ”
Indeed the impact of Cooke can be seen throughout Knight’s career as she has often performed and recorded Cooke classics, the most notable of which is “A Change Is Gonna Come”. The track, which came to exemplify the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, has featured in many of Knight’s live performances (usually with the aid of the London Community Gospel Choir) and she even recorded a studio version with musician Jools Holland, which featured on his Small World, Big Band Volume 2 album.
In addition to Cooke, another major influence in Knight’s childhood was Aretha Franklin. Besides leading a tribute to Franklin at the BBC’s Music of the Millennium concert in 1999, Knight has recorded several of Franklin’s tracks, most notably “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” and “Think”, both of which were released as B-sides on Knight’s singles “Rewind (Find a Way)” and “Made It Back 99″ respectively. It was Franklin’s vocal delivery that has most had an impact upon Knight:
“ Aretha taught me my phrasing and the way I carry emotion. She makes me cry and then she brings me into the throes of musical ecstasy – with the same voice! I Never Loved A Man hurts, and the Amazing Grace album, which is the epitome of my childhood, will stay with me for ever.” ”
Knight has also recorded songs from of other artists such as Stevie Wonder (“Love’s in Need of Love Today”, which featured on the Warchild album Hope) and Curtis Mayfield (“Hard Times”, which appeared on Courtney Pine’s Back in the Day album). But this influence has also manifested itself on stage where Knight often incorporates songs by her heroines such as Nina Simone (“Feelin’ Good”), Chaka Khan (“I Feel For You” and “Sweet Thing”) and Billie Holliday (“God Bless the Child”) into her live performances.
In addition to the pioneering soul and gospel artists of the mid-twentieth century, modern artists such as Mary J. Blige and D’Angelo have also played a role in shaping Knight’s musical outlook. The most significant of her contemporary peers comes in the form of Prince, a man she describes as one of her heroes: “Prince goes back to me listening to preachers when I was a child, who tell a story to illustrate a point…the first song I heard by him was “Little Red Corvette”, when I was nine. Of course, I didn’t have a clue about what he was singing about; the sexuality is implicit and I love that.” The influence of Prince, whom Knight even mentions on her Prodigal Sista and Who I Am album sleeves, can be seen throughout her back catalogue with songs such as “Get Up!”, “Hurricane Jane” and “Supersonic” being compared to Prince due to their mix of funk and soul.
Throughout her childhood, Knight’s musical exposure developed as she got older. Gospel led to soul, which led to funk which led to R&B – but growing up in the Midlands meant that she was exposed to lots of other different influences too: “It wasn’t a case that there was a huge black community who all stuck together and only listened to reggae or R&B or strictly black music. I find that London is a bit more segregated. In Wolverhampton, black people weren’t so segregated and I think that had a massive impact on my musical influences.” This diversity is illustrated best by Knight’s fourth studio album, Affirmation. After working with Guy Chambers, the album had a more mainstream flavour compared to her previous albums and was led by the rock guitar driven single “Come As You Are”. Although the song became her highest charting single to date, Knight was largely criticised by urban radio and media for moving too far away from her urban sound. Nevertheless the song illustrated Knight’s determined effort not to become boxed in and “ghettoised”.
Achievements AccoladesIn 2006 it was announced that Knight was to be awarded an MBE in acknowledgement for her services to music and the work she does on behalf of several charities. She was presented with the accolade by Queen Elizabeth II at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace in February 2007. After the ceremony Knight remarked that the recognition “reflects not only on my whole career but the work I do for charities which is immensely important to me. I do not do that to be awarded for it, I just do it because it’s in my heart, but to be recognised for it, hopefully will put the magnifying glass on to them as well”.
In September 2005 Knight was presented with an honorary degree from the University of Wolverhampton “in recognition of her outstanding contribution to music and the local community, and in recognition of her extensive charity work.” Upon being made a Doctor of Music, she stated she was proud to be black, female, and British, adding: “it is still all me, I have not forgotten my roots.”
On 7 January 2010 Knight won an edition of the BBC’s television quiz series Celebrity Mastermind, answering questions on ‘The Life and Times of Prince’. Knight’s chosen charity for the show was the Terrence Higgins Trust.