Gladys Knight: Everlasting Empress of Soul
R&B Legend Gladys Knight has been touching the world with her iconic vocals since the age of four years old, when she began singing in church.
“I was introduced to music through my parents and we were members of the church since I can remember, she told Jazz Monthly.com. “ I can remember back when I was two and we’ve always had that spiritual environment in our family, in my life. My mom and dad had gone to our pastor, and talked about me doing a recital for the church. He wanted to do that for me, and we ended up doing that and that was the beginning of my public life with music.
The Atlanta, GA native then got the opportunity to showcase her talent on the “Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour.”
“When I was seven years old my mom and my Aunt Ann had written a letter to Ted Mack, who at that time had a talent show on national television similar to (American) Idol and Star Search and all of those shows that are on today. The original was the Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour. And they got me on right away and I performed and I ended up winning that particular contest, and when I came back [home to Atlanta], they gave parades for me and were very pleased with the success that I had accomplished.
Soon after, her brother, Merald Knight, and cousins Edward Patten and William Guest formed the R&B Soul group Gladys Knight and The Pips.
At the age of 16, the group debuted their first album in 1960 with Knight singing lead and The Pips providing lush harmonies and graceful choreography, the group went on to achieve icon status, having recorded some of the most memorable songs of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. The group went j from making Top 20 hits, like “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” and “If I Were Your Woman,” to Top 10 gold-certified singles like “Neither One of Us (Wants to be the First to Say Goodbye),” “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination,” “Best Thing to Ever Happen to Me” to their #1 smash-hit “Midnight Train to Georgia,” according to her biography.
In 1995, Knight earned herself a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and the next year, Gladys Knight & The Pips were inducted into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame. Knight also published her own autobiography, “Between Each Line of Pain and Glory in 1997, and the next year, she and The Pips were presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame, according to her biography.
Aside from singing, Knight has had her hands in television, movies, and restaurants to name a few ventures. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Knight guest-starred on hit shows like A Different World, The Jamie Foxx Show, Living Single, as well as others. She also co-starred on the CBS show Charlie &Co. Knight recorded the title theme for the James Bond movie “License to Kill” and she completed a starring run on Broadway in the smash musical hit “Smokey Joe’s Café” in 1999.
Knight, being the humanitarian and philanthropist that she is, has also devoted herself to causes like Diabetes. She is the national spokesperson for the American Diabetes Association , the American Cancer Society, the Minority AIDS Project, amFAR and Crisis Intervention, according to her biography.
Of course no one can mention Knight’s accomplishments without acknowledging her restaurant “Gladys Knight and Ron Winans’ Chicken and Waffles.” Her son, Shanga Hankerson, along with Knight and Gospel singer Ron Winans developed the restaurant together. Today, Shanga, continues the tradition of running a restaurant that serves food that he grew up enjoying, while also adding to the legacy of his mother.
Today, after 38 albums, 7 Grammy’s and a plethora of other awards, this 67 year old hall of fame legend is refusing to quit. She recently teamed up with American Idol Super-Producer Randy Jackson to start on a new album.
“This music business is amazing; it’s like starting all over,” she said in an interview on The Early Show. “It’s [exciting] because it allows me to still do what I do, be contemporary and have fun and enjoy a whole new genre of music, which is what I’ve had to do all of these years to define these different eras. ”
She is also headlining her own show in Las Vegas at the Tropicana Hotel. When she first played in Las Vegas almost 50 years ago, she as well as other Black entertainers had to enter through the back doors. Today, not only is Knight headlining her own Vegas show, but the theatre she performs in is named after her and Knight sees this as one of her greatest honors.
“All those fantastic, awesome, wonderful entertainers that have come through this city that are of color nobody’s ever had a room named after them. I mean Grammy’s and all of those things are wonderful but it’s a different kind of honor and representation. ”
Knight acknowledges that all of her career’s successes, milestones and honors, from childhood to where she is today, is all due to her faith in God.
“It is all about my God and my savior,” she told Las Vegas Black Image Magazine. “I allow Him to lead me and guide me. Sometimes when you get to talking about Him, some people get uncomfortable. I do a gospel medley in my show at the Tropicana, and when I first did a gospel tribute in some of my other shows I performed at other hotels, the hotel executives didn’t like it. I said, ‘You know what? If I can’t take (God) with me, then I can’t go either.’ My show at the Tropicana embraces the gospel medley and it is the part of the show I receive the most comments about. Some people don’t realize that people are hungry for it.”