Gladys Knight





Gladys Knight and her brother Merald 'Bubba' Knight were born into a family rooted in singing. Their parents, Merald and Elizabeth, had both been members of Wings Over Jordan, one of Atlanta's foremost Gospel choirs. Gladys made her public singing debut at the Mount Mariah Baptist Church when she was only four, and had toured Florida and Alabama with The Morris Brown Choir before her fifth birthday. It was at Merald's tenth birthday party that Gladys, now eight, Merald, their sister Brenda, and two cousins, William and Elenor Guest, first sang together as a quintet. Another cousin present, James 'Pip' Woods, suggested they sing together professionally. Taking his advice, they hired him as their manager and called themselves The Pips in his honor. In later years the group would say that Pips stood for "Perfection In Performance." The Pips won a local talent contest and soon afterwards they were offered nightclub engagements, club appearances, and Gospel performances on Sundays.

By 1957, The Pips had made their recording debut for the Brunswick label, with the single "Whistle My Love". After touring with Sam Cooke, B. B. King and Jackie Wilson, both Brenda Knight and Elenor Guest left the group in 1959 to get married. Their replacements were Edward Patten, yet another cousin, and Langston George. The following year, "Every Beat Of My Heart", originally written for Jackie Wilson, became their first minor hit on the Atlanta label Huntom, before the master tape was sold to the Vee Jay label in Chicago. As Vee Jay re-issued the single, The Pips, now signed to the Fury label, had released a re-recording of the same song, and by mid-1961 both recordings were in the U.S. R&B chart.

Demand for live performances rose sharply as 1962's "Letter Full Of Tears" was the first single credited to Gladys Knight & The Pips. It reached #6 on the Hot 100, while British rocker Billy Fury had a minor UK hit with a cover of it. Langston George quit, leaving the group with its permanent line-up, but Gladys left the group for two years in order to get married and start a family. The others spent this time in session work, re-emerging on the Maxx label in 1964 with "Giving It Up" (#38) before the label folded. Live work continued, notably a spot on the Motown touring revue in 1966. The audience response led to their being signed to Soul, one of Motown's subsidiary labels, where they charted again with "Everybody Needs Love" (#39) in the Fall of 1967. Massive amounts of air play on pirate radio helped provide the group with their first UK chart hit, "Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me" in 1967. Their breakthrough hit Stateside came later that same year with their original recording of "I Heard It Through The Grapevine", which became a million seller and a crossover smash that reached #2 on the Hot 100.

In 1973 Gladys Knight & the Pips' contract with Motown was drawing to an end. Feeling that her choice of material at Motown didn't allow her to sing enough Gospel, Country, and Blues, Gladys Knight decided not to renew the contract. Feeling left out at Motown, The Pips also didn't want to continue there, and they moved on after having spent seven years at with the label. Before they left, Gladys and her family had one more big hit with "Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye)". Not only did this song reach #2 in the U.S. and sell over a million copies, but it also won the group the 1973 Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group, Or Chorus.

When their Motown contract expired, they signed to Buddah, where Mississippi songwriter Jim Weatherly would provide the hits that would consolidate their careers. As a solo artist, Weatherly had written and recorded a song called "Midnight Plane To Houston". Re-titled "Midnight Train To Georgia", it became Gladys Knight And The Pips' biggest hit, achieving a Pop and R&B #1 and a British hit two years later. It also won them one of two Grammy awards in 1974. The song was featured on their debut LP for Buddah, "Imagination", as was another Weatherly classic, "Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me" (#3 in 1974).

1975 produced hits like "The Way We Were" and the LP "I Feel A Song", but after a final Buddah single, "Baby Don't Change Your Mind" in 1977, Gladys Knight & The Pips became embroiled in a complex legal battle involving several different labels. Consequently, they were unable to record as a unit, although Gladys recorded the solo "Miss Gladys Knight" in 1979, for Buddah, while The Pips signed to Casablanca, releasing "At Last... The Pips" and "Callin'".

After an out-of-court settlement in July 1980, the group, now signed to CBS, enlisted the songwriting and production services of Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson. The resulting LP," About Love", spawned two British hits, "Taste Of Bitter Love" and "Bourgie Bourgie", but was quickly forgotten as was the LP "Touch". More warmly received was "Visions" in 1983, which went Gold in America and gave them an unexpected R&B chart-topper with "Save The Overtime (For Me)". In 1985, Gladys had a leading role in a short-lived American TV sitcom, Charlie & Co. Later that year she joined Stevie Wonder and Elton John on Dionne Warwick & Friends' AIDS charity single, "That's What Friends Are For", which was a US #1 and a Grammy winner. In 1988, at the second annual Soul Train Music Awards, Gladys Knight & the Pips celebrated thirty years of recording by receiving the Heritage Award. Later that same year, the group scored one final Grammy with an R&B smash called "Love Overboard". Unfortunately Gladys suffered through an alleged gambling problem that lasted more than a decade. In the late 1980s, after losing $45,000 in one night at the baccarat table, Knight joined Gamblers Anonymous, which helped her quit the habit. By 1989, The Pips had had enough of touring and decided to dissolve. Edward Patten and William Guest went into the ice-cream business, while brother Merald continued to work with Gladys, who had worldwide chart success in 1989 with the theme to the James Bond film License To Kill. The original quartet briefly reunited again the next year to perform on the CBS special Motown 30: What's Goin' On! and again in 1996 when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.

Over the years, Gladys has had a tough time in the romance department. She married her first husband, an Atlanta musician named Jimmy Newman, at age 16. The marriage produced two children, James and Kenya, before Newman, a drug addict, abandoned the family and died only a few years later. Her second marriage, to Barry Hankerson, ended acrimoniously in 1979 after five years in a prolonged custody battle over their son, Shanga. Knight married author and motivational speaker Les Brown in 1995. That marriage ended in 1997. In April 2001, she married William McDowell, a corporate consultant whom she reportedly met ten years before but had only begun dating the previous January.

Gladys joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1997, but maintained an active touring and recording career into the new millennium. In 2005 she was included on the Ray Charles album, "Genius & Friends", on which she and Charles sang "You Were There". In 2008, a duet with 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 Music Hall. Later that year, Gladys, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr. and Ben Stiller performed on American Idol to raise money for charity. In 2009, Knight sang "His Eye Is On The Sparrow" and "The Lord's Prayer" at Michael Jackson's funeral. In March 2010, Randy Jackson mentioned on American Idol that he was recently in the studio with Gladys Knight working on a new album. On December 21st, 2010, Gladys released the single "Settle" on iTunes and Amazon, and in September 2011, a new, updated recording of "I (Who Have Nothing)" was also made available from those two sources.

Sad news came on December 24th, 2015 when William Guest died of heart failure at the age of 74. After the group ended, Guest and Edward Patten, who passed away in 2005, formed a production company. Guest later served as CEO of Crew Records. He released his autobiography Midnight Train From Georgia: A Pips Journey in 2013.

Although Gladys had traveled around Great Briton in October, 2009 in what she called her Farewell Tour, she still continued to appear across America and had a short series of shows booked for 2017 in support of a new single release, "Just A Little".