Tuesday, May 28, 2013

May 28: "Empress of Soul,” Gladys Knight is 69-years-old today.

Gladys Maria Knight was born in Atlanta, Georgia She first gained attention at the age of 7 when she won Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour TV show 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 1950s, 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.

Gladys Knight & the Pips joined the Motown roster in 1966. Although regarded as a secondary act, they scored several hit singles, including "I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” "Friendship Train," "If I Were Your Woman," "I Don't Want To Do Wrong,"the Grammy Award winning "Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye") and "Daddy Could Swear (I Declare.)"

Early on, 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.

The group left Motown for 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 U.K.

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At the same time, Gladys 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 on Buddah and Gladys Knight on Columbia Records.

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 as a quartet, 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 and Touch. During this period, Knight kicked a gambling addiction to the game baccarat.

In 1987, Knight decided to pursue a solo career, and in 1987, she and the Pips recorded their final LP together, All Our Love 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.

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.
In 2008, a duet between Knight and Johnny Mathis was released on Mathis' album A Night to Remember.

In October 2009, Gladys started her farewell tour of the United Kingdom. On December 21, 2010, Knight released her new single "Settle" on iTunes and Amazon.
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. She is ranked number eighteen on VH1 network's list of the 100 Greatest Women of Rock.

Gladys 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.


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