Gladys Knight, Singer   Leave a comment


Gladys Maria Knight (born May 28, 1944), known as the “Empress of Soul”,[1][2] is an American singer-songwriter, actress, businesswoman, humanitarian, and author. She is best known for the hits she recorded during the 1960s and 1970s, for both the Motown and Buddah Records labels, with her group Gladys Knight & the Pips, the most famous incarnation of which also included her brother Merald “Bubba” Knight and her cousins Edward Patten and William  Guess.

Knight was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the daughter of Sarah Elizabeth (née Woods) and Merald Woodlow Knight, Sr., a postal worker.[3][4] She first achieved minor fame by winning Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour TV show contest at the age of 7 in 1952. The following year, she, her brother Merald, sister Brenda, and cousins William and Elenor Guest formed a musical group called The Pips (named after another cousin, James “Pip” Woods). By the end of the decade, the act had begun to tour, and had replaced Brenda Knight and Eleanor Guest with Gladys Knight’s cousin Edward Patten and friend Langston George.

 Success with The Pips

Main article: Gladys Knight & the Pips

Gladys Knight & the Pips joined the Motown roster in 1966, and, although regarded as a second-string act, scored several hit singles, including “I Heard It Through the Grapevine“, (recorded later by Marvin Gaye), “Friendship Train” (1969), “If I Were Your Woman” (1970), “I Don’t Want To Do Wrong” (1971), the Grammy Award winning “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)” (1972), and “Daddy Could Swear (I Declare)” (1973). In their early Motown career Gladys Knight and the Pips toured as the opening act for Diana Ross and The Supremes. Gladys Knight stated in her memoirs that Miss Ross kicked her off the tour because the audience’s reception to Knight’s soulful performance overshadowed her. Berry Gordy later told Gladys that she was giving his act a hard time.[5]

Knight and the Pips perform aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger on November 1, 1981.

The act left Motown for a better deal with Buddah Records in 1973, and achieved full-fledged success that year with hits such as the Grammy-winning “Midnight Train to Georgia” (#1 on the pop and R&B chart), “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination,” and “You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me“. In the summer of 1974, Knight and the Pips recorded the soundtrack to the successful film Claudine with producer Curtis Mayfield. The act was particularly successful in Europe, and especially the United Kingdom. However, a number of the Buddah Belly hits followed a number of years after their success in the US. For example “Midnight Train to Georgia” hit the UK pop charts Top 5 in the summer of 1976, a full three years after its success in the U.S.

During this period of greater recognition, Knight made her motion picture acting debut in the film Pipe Dreams, a romantic drama set in Alaska. The film failed at the box-office, but Knight did receive a Golden Globe Best New Actress nomination.

Knight and the Pips continued to have hits until the late 1970s, when they were forced to record separately due to legal issues, resulting in Knight’s first solo LP recordings–Miss Gladys Knight (1978) on Buddah and Gladys Knight (1979) on Columbia Records. Having divorced James Newman II in 1973, Knight married Barry Hankerson (future uncle of R&B singer Aaliyah), then Detroit mayor Coleman Young‘s executive aide. Knight and Hankerson remained married for four years, during which time they had a son, Shanga Ali. Upon their divorce, Hankerson and Knight were embroiled in a heated custody battle over Shanga Ali.

In the early 1980s, Johnny Mathis invited Gladys to record two duets – “When A Child Is Born” (previously a hit for Mathis) and “The Lord’s Prayer”.

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Gladys Knight & the Pips’ version of the song, from their 1967 album Everybody Needs Love.

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Signing with Columbia Records in 1980 and restored to its familiar quartet form, Gladys Knight & the Pips began releasing new material. The act enlisted former Motown producers Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson for their first two LPs–About Love (1980) and Touch (1981). During this period, Knight kicked a gambling addiction to the game baccarat.

In 1987, Knight decided to pursue a solo career, and she and the Pips recorded their final LP together, All Our Love (1987), for MCA Records. Its lead single, “Love Overboard”, was a successful hit and won a third Grammy for the act as well. After a successful 1988 tour, the Pips retired and Knight began her solo career. Gladys Knight & the Pips were inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame[6] in 1989 and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame[7] in 1996.

 Solo music career

While still with The Pips, Knight joined with Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, and Elton John on the 1986 AIDS benefit single, “That’s What Friends Are For” which won a Grammy for Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal. In 1989, Gladys Knight recorded the title track for the James Bond movie Licence to Kill, a top 10 hit both in the UK, reaching #6, and Germany.

Knight’s third solo LP, Good Woman, was released by MCA in 1991. It rose to #1 on the R&B album chart and featured the #2 R&B hit “Men”. The album also featured “Superwoman”, written by Babyface and featuring Dionne Warwick and Patti LaBelle. Knight and LaBelle would collaborate the same year on “I Don’t Do Duets”, a duet with Patti LaBelle from LaBelle’s album Burnin’.

Her fourth solo LP, Just for You, went gold and was nominated for the 1995 Grammy Award for Best R&B Album.[8]

In 1992 Vernon Ray Blue II, choir master of the year asked Gladys to record his first single “He Lifted Me”

Knight joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1997. She had occasionally teased LDS Church president, the late Gordon B. Hinckley, that his flock needs to inject some “pep” into their music.[9] Knight created and now directs the Mormon-themed choir Saints Unified Voices.[10] SUV has released a Grammy Award-winning CD titled One Voice, and occasionally performs at LDS church firesides.

In 2005, a duet between Knight and Ray Charles of “You Were There” was released on Charles’ duets album Genius & Friends.

In 2008, a duet between Knight and Johnny Mathis was released on Mathis’ album A Night to Remember. Knight is ranked number eighteen on VH1 network’s list of the 100 Greatest Women of Rock.

In the spring of 2008, Knight appeared alongside Chaka Khan, Patti Labelle and Diana Ross at the ‘Divas with Heart’ concert in aid of cardiac research, at New York’s Radio City Hall.

In 2008 Gladys, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr. and Ben Stiller performed on American Idol to raise money for charity. In March 2010, Randy Jackson mentioned on a new episode of the same show that he is back in the studio with Gladys Knight working on a new album.

In 2009 Knight sang “His Eye Is On The Sparrow” and “The Lord’s Prayer” at the funeral service for Michael Jackson.[11]

On December 21, 2010, Knight released the single “Settle” on iTunes and Amazon. In September 2011, a new, updated recording of I (Who Have Nothing) was released on iTunes and Amazon.[12]

 UK Farewell Tour

In October 2009, Gladys started her farewell tour of the United Kingdom[13] which featured Tito Jackson as her supporting act and special appearances by Dionne Warwick.

Speaking ahead of the Manchester show, Jackson said: “The UK was a very special place to my brother Michael and I’m so excited to be able to pay my respect to his fans here. To be able to do this whilst supporting our dear friend Gladys is a complete blessing.” On the October 9 concert, his mother Katherine Jackson and his brothers Jackie and Marlon were acknowledged in the audience.

The UK Farewell Tour featured higher production value than previous “Gladys Knight, a mic and a light” appearances by Gladys in the UK. A glossy program was available and the show featured pre-produced animation on large on-stage screens. The tour was promoted by an appearance on the TV program Later… with Jools Holland where Gladys performed “If I Were Your Woman” and “Help Me Make It Through the Night“.

At select performances on the UK Farewell Tour recordings of the concerts were made available for sale on USB flash drives.[14]

Acting and other work

Knight and Ron Winan’s Chicken & Waffles in Atlanta.

Knight guest-starred on several television series throughout the 1980s and 1990s ,with roles on Benson, The Jeffersons, A Different World, Living Single, The Jamie Foxx Show and New York Undercover. In 1985, she co-starred on the CBS sitcom Charlie & Co. with comedian Flip Wilson. It lasted for one season. In April 2009, she made a special guest appearance and performed a song on Tyler Perry’s House of Payne. Knight has also made a number of television cameo appearances, including Las Vegas, and 30 Rock.

Knight’s son Shanga owns a chain of chicken and waffles restaurants based in Atlanta, bearing her name.[15] Gladys Knight & Ron Winans’ Chicken & Waffles currently have three locations in the Atlanta area. One location was featured on the Travel Channel original series Man v. Food.[16]

In 2009, Gladys was featured in Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself and performed her song The Need To Be from the 1974 album I Feel a Song.

In 2008, she had a cameo in 30 Rock as the rest of the cast sang Midnight Train To Georgia.

Personal life

Knight has been married four times and has three children of her own. In 1960, Knight married her high school teacher, Jimmy Newman. Gladys gave birth to their son, Jimmy III, in 1962. She retired from the road to raise the child while The Pips toured on their own. After giving birth in 1963 to a daughter, Kenya, Knight returned to recording with the Pips in order to support her family. Newman and Knight divorced in 1973. She lived in Detroit neighborhood (Sherwood Forest), and her children attended Gesu Catholic Grade School. She married producer and Blackground Records founder, Barry Hankerson, who was the uncle of the late R&B singer Aaliyah, in 1974. They had one son, Shanga Hankerson, and divorced in 1981. She married motivational speaker Les Brown[17] in 1995 but they separated and divorced in 1997. Also in 1997, she was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, following her son and daughter.[18] Knight married current husband, William McDowell, in 2001. They have sixteen grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Posted February 17, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Singer

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