Gladys Maria Knight (born May 28, 1944), known as the "Empress of Soul", is an American singer–songwriter and actress. A seven-time Grammy Award-winner, Knight is best known for the hits she recorded during the 1960s and 1970s, for both the Motown, Soul and Buddah Record labels, with her group Gladys Knight & the Pips, which also included her brother Merald "Bubba" Knight and her cousins Edward Patten and William Guest.
Knight was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the daughter of Merald Woodlow Knight, Sr., a postal worker and Sarah Elizabeth (née Woods). She first achieved minor fame by winning Ted Mack's The Original Amateur Hour TV show contest at the age of seven 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. In 1961 the group recorded "Every Beat Of My Heart" on the tiny Atlanta Huntom label, which was picked up by Vee Jay. At the same time, the group signed with Bobby Robinson's Fury label. Both labels issued different versions of the song, with the Vee Jay/Huntom version outselling the Fury remake. With the success of their follow-up, "Letter Full Of Tears", Fury released their first album. They stayed with Fury through 1962, although the hits dried up. They signed with Larry Maxwell's Maxx label in 1964 and released several modest hits produced by Van McCoy, including the original version of "Giving Up" and "Lovers Always Forgive".
Gladys Knight & the Pips joined the Motown Records roster in 1966, and, although initially regarded as a second-string act, scored several major hit singles, including "I Heard It Through the Grapevine", (recorded first by Marvin Gaye but actually released a year later), Take Me in Your Arms and Love Me" (1967), "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 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
The act eventually 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," "The Way We Were/Try To Remember" 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 singles became hits in the UK long 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". 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 albums--About Love (1980) and Touch (1981). During this period, Knight kicked a gambling addiction to the game baccarat. In 1983 Gladys Knight and the Pips scored again with the hit "Save The Overtime For Me". The song, under the artistic direction of Leon Sylvers III (known for collaborating on Shalamar hits), was done in a soulful boogie style. The single was released from their LP "Visions" and reached number sixty-six on the Hot 100, but was more successful on the R&B where it hit number one for a single week in mid 1983. The single was the first time the group hit number one on the R&B chart since 1974. 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 infectious lead single, "Love Overboard", was a #1 R&B hit and won another 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 in 1989 and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
"MIDNIGHT TRAIN TO GEORGIA"
"I HEARD IT THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE"
"I'VE GOT TO USE MY IMAGINATIOM"
Solo music career
While still with the Pips, Gladys joined with Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, and Elton John on the 1986 AIDS benefit single, "That's What Friends Are For", a triple #1 mega-hit, which won a Grammy for Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal. In 1989 she recorded the title track "License to Kill" for the James Bond movie Licence to Kill, a Top 10 hit in the UK and Germany.
Gladys released her third and most successful solo LP, Good Woman, on MCA in 1991. It hit #1 on the R&B album chart and featured the #2 R&B hit "Men". It also reached #45 on the main Billboard album chart – her all-time highest showing. The album also featured "Superwoman", written by Babyface and featuring Dionne Warwick and Patti LaBelle. The track was also nominated for a Grammy Award. 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.
In 1992 Vernon Ray Blue II, choir master of the year asked Gladys to record his first single "He Lifted Me"
Knight created and now directs the Mormon-themed choir Saints Unified Voices. SUV has released a Grammy Award-winning CD titled One
Voice, and occasionally performs at LDS church firesides.
In April 2004, Knight performed during the VH1's benefit concert Divas Live 2004 alongside Ashanti, Cyndi Lauper, Jessica Simpson, Joss Stone and Patti LaBelle, in support of the Save the Music Foundation.
In 2005 a duet between Knight and the late 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.
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.
In December 2010, Knight released the single "Settle".
In September 2011, a new, updated recording of Tom Jones' 1970 classic I (Who Have Nothing) was released on iTunes and Amazon.
In 2013 Knight recorded the Lenny Kravitz written and produced song "You And I Ain't Nothin' No More" for the soundtrack from Lee Daniels' motion picture The Butler. The song was added to the movie's soundtrack of older songs by various artists so that the producers had a song to compete in the Best Song from a Motion Picture category at the Academy Awards.
Where My Heart Belongs (2014) marked her 30th top 40 R&B album, including work by Gladys Knight & the Pips. In a 2014, interview she expressed a hope that women would "Stand Up" and stop selling sex in the music/entertainment industry. She commented that the growing trend saddened her heart and that she had been taught to dress respectfully for her audiences . . . "not take it off, put it on." Knight is ranked number eighteen on VH1 network's list of the 100 Greatest Women of Rock.
UK Farewell Tour
In October 2009, Knight started her farewell tour of the United Kingdom which featured Tito Jackson as her supporting act and special appearances by Dionne Warwick.
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 Knight 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
In 1976 Knight made her acting debut as the lead in the film Pipe Dreams for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actress. In 2003, she had a short role in the hit movie Hollywood Homicide, which starred Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett. In 2009, Knight was featured in Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself, the film version of a play he had dramatized, and performed her song "The Need To Be" from the 1974 album I Feel a Song.
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. alongside comedian Flip Wilson, which 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. In 2012, she began a recurring role in the syndicated sitcom The First Family. In 2012 Knight competed on the fourteenth season of ABC's Dancing with the Stars, partnered with Tristan MacManus. They were eliminated on April 24 after losing a "dance duel" to Disney Channel star Roshon Fegan and partner Chelsie Hightower, ironically on the show's "Motown Week."
Gladys Knight & Ron Winans' Chicken & Waffles
Knight's son Shanga owns a chain of chicken and waffles restaurants based in Atlanta, bearing her name. 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. On Tuesday, June 21, 2016, authorities in Georgia raided two of the restaurants and its headquarters. WSB-TV reported that Shanga is at the center of an investigation involving unpaid taxes, penalties and interest. Georgia Department of Revenue Special Investigations Chief Jeff Mitchell told the station that the investigation solely involved Hankerson and not Knight. “Shanga's accused of stealing over $650,000 in both sales and withholding tax,” Josh Waites, a special investigator, told WSB-TV. “(With) penalties and interest, it’s up to over $1 million owed.”
Knight has been married four times and has three children. In 1960, she married her high school sweetheart, James Newman. They had one son, James "Jimmy" Newman (1962–1999). She retired from the road to raise their child while the Pips toured on their own. In 1963, after having her only daughter, Kenya, Knight returned to recording with the Pips in order to support her family. In the early 1960s, Gladys, James, and the Pips moved to Detroit, Michigan. Knight and her family lived on Sherbourne in Sherwood Forest, an upscale neighborhood on Detroit's West Side. She also resided on LaSalle for a time. Her children attended Gesu Catholic Grade School. James and Knight divorced in 1973. In 1974, Knight married producer and Blackground Records founder Barry Hankerson, who is the uncle of the late R&B singer Aaliyah, in Detroit. Around 1977, they relocated to Atlanta. (The Pips, however, remained in Detroit.) The couple had one son, Shanga Hankerson, and divorced in 1981. Knight married motivational speaker Les Brown in 1995, but they separated and divorced in 1997.
Previously a Baptist, in 1997 she was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, following her son and daughter. She had occasionally teased LDS Church president, the late Gordon B. Hinckley, that his flock needs to inject some "pep" into their music. Knight married her husband, William McDowell, in 2001. They have sixteen grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
In 1996 Gladys Knight & the Pips were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. One year before, Knight had received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2007, Knight received the Society of Singers ELLA Award at which time she was declared the "Empress of Soul". She is listed on Rolling Stone's list of the Greatest Singers of All Time.
Awards, Honors and Achievements
NOMINEE / WORK
"That's What Friends Are For"
(Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Gladys Knight & Stevie Wonder)
Best Pop Performance
by a Duo or Group With Vocals