Gladys Knight

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Gladys Knight
Gladys Knight.jpg
Knight in concert at the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez, California, on October 12, 2006.
Background information
Birth name Gladys Maria Knight
Also known as The Empress of Soul
Born (1944-05-28) May 28, 1944 (age 70)
Origin Atlanta, Georgia, United States
Genres Motown sound, R&B, smooth soul, pop soul, soft rock, gospel, funk, doo-wop
Occupation(s) Singer, actress, humanitarian, author, model, songwriter
Instruments Vocals, piano
Years active 1953–present
Labels Vee-Jay, Motown, Buddah, Columbia, MCA, Verve
Associated acts Gladys Knight & the Pips

Gladys Maria Knight (born May 28, 1944), known as the "Empress of Soul",[1][2] is an American recording artist, songwriter, businesswoman, humanitarian and author. A four-time Grammy Award-winner,[3] 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, which also included her brother Merald "Bubba" Knight and her cousins Edward Patten and William Guest.

Early life[edit]

Knight was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the daughter of Sarah Elizabeth (née Woods) and Merald Woodlow Knight, Sr., a postal worker.[4][5] 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.

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".

Success with the Pips[edit]

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), "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.[6]

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

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," 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".

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

Problems playing this file? See media help.

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 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[7] in 1989 and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame[8] in 1996.

Solo music career[edit]

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 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. 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.[9]

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.[10] Knight created and now directs the Mormon-themed choir Saints Unified Voices.[11] 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, Cindy Lauper, Jessica Simpson, Joss Stone and Patti LaBelle, in support of the Save the Music Foundation.[12]

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. 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.[13]

In December, 2010, Knight released the single "Settle" on iTunes and Amazon. In September 2011, a new, updated recording of Tom Jones' 1970 classic I (Who Have Nothing) was released on iTunes and Amazon.[14]

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.[15]

Where My Heart Belongs (2014) marked her 30th top 40 R&B album, including work by Gladys Knight & the Pips.[16] 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."[17]

UK Farewell Tour[edit]

In October 2009, Knight started her farewell tour of the United Kingdom[18] 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 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.[19]

Acting and other work[edit]

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. alongside comedian Flip Wilson, which lasted for one season. Gladys sang "America the Beautiful" to kick off Wrestlemania IV on March 27, 1988. 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 2003, she had a short role in the hit movie Hollywood Homicide, which starred Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett.

Knight's son Shanga owns a chain of chicken and waffles restaurants based in Atlanta, bearing her name.[20] 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.[21]

In 2008, she made a cameo appearance in 30 Rock as the rest of the cast sang "Midnight Train To Georgia," one of her best-known chart selections.

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.

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."[22] She also began a recurring role in the syndicated sitcom The First Family.

Personal life[edit]

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[23] 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.[24] Knight married 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.[25]

Awards, honors and achievements[edit]

For awards won by Knight with the Pips, see Gladys Knight & the Pips.

Grammy Awards[edit]

Year Recipient Award Result
1987 "That's What Friends Are For" (Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Gladys Knight & Stevie Wonder) Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals Won
1992 "Superwoman" (Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle & Dionne Warwick) Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals Nominated
1995 Just for You Best R&B Album Nominated
1997 "Missing You" (Brandy, Tamia, Gladys Knight & Chaka Kahn) Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals Nominated
2001 At Last Best Traditional R&B Vocal Album Won
2004 "Heaven Help Us All" (Gladys Knight & Ray Charles) Best Gospel Performance Won
2005 One Voice (Gladys Knight & Saints Unified Voices) Best Gospel Choir or Chorus Album Won

Other awards and honors[edit]

Academic Honors[edit]


Studio albums[edit]

Year Album Peak chart positions Certifications
(sales threshold)
Record label



1978 Miss Gladys Knight 57 Buddah
1979 Gladys Knight 201 71 Columbia
1991 Good Woman 45 1 MCA
1994 Just for You 53 6
1998 Many Different Roads 21
2001 At Last 98 30
2005 One Voice (with Saints Unified Voices) 95 2 Many Roads
2006 A Christmas Celebration (with Saints Unified Voices) 155 59 1
Before Me 93 18 4 Verve
2013 Another Journey Many Roads
2014 Where My Heart Belongs 34 8 Shadow Mountain
"—" denotes the album failed to chart


Year Single Peak chart positions


1978 "I'm Coming Home Again" 54
1979 "Am I Too Late" 45
1981 "When a Child Is Born" (with Johnny Mathis) 74
1985 "That's What Friends Are For" (with Dionne Warwick, Elton John & Stevie Wonder) 1 1 1 16
1986 "Loving on Borrowed Time (Love Theme from Cobra)" (with Bill Medley) 16
1989 "Licence to Kill" (Theme from Licence to Kill) 69 18 6
1990 "If I Knew Then What I Know Now" (with Kenny Rogers) 10
1991 "Men" 2
"Superwoman" (with Dionne Warwick & Patti LaBelle) [A] 19
"Meet Me in the Middle" 78
1992 "Where Would I Be" 66
1994 "I Don't Want to Know" 113 32
"End of the Road Medley" [A] 76
1995 "Next Time" 30
1996 "Missing You" (with Brandy, Tamia & Chaka Khan) 25 10 30
2010 "Settle"
2011 "I (Who Have Nothing)"
2015 "Soon"
"—" denotes the single failed to chart

Published works[edit]

  • Knight, Gladys. At Home With Gladys Knight, McGraw-Hill, 2001 – ISBN 1-58040-075-2
  • Knight, Gladys. Between Each Line of Pain and Glory: My Life Story, Hyperion Press, 1998 – ISBN 0-7868-8371-5



Year Title Role Notes
1983 The Jeffersons Herself "The Good Life" (Season 9: Episode 20)
1985-1986 Charlie & Co. Diana Richmond 18 episodes
1987 CBS Schoolbreak Special Dr. Donna Robinson "An Enemy Among Us" (Season 4: Episode 7)
1988 A Different World Herself "Three Girls Three" (Season 2: Episode 5)
1994 New York Undercover Natalie 2 episodes
1997 Living Single Odelle Jones 2 episodes
1999 Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child Chocolate "The Bremen Town Musicians" (Season 3: Episode 3)
1997-2001 The Jamie Foxx Show Janice King 2 episodes
2008 30 Rock Herself "210" (Season 2: Episode 10)
2009 House of Payne Herself "The Talent Show" (Season 5: Episode 20)
2012-2013 The First Family Grandma Carolyn 9 episodes


Year Title Role Notes
1976 Pipe Dreams Maria Wilson Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actress Nominee
1987 Desperado Mona Lisa
1993 Twenty Bucks Mrs. McCormic
2003 Hollywood Homicide Olivia Robidoux
2006 Unbeatable Harold Phyllis
2006 Holidaze: The Christmas That Almost Didn't Happen Candie (voice)
2009 I Can Do Bad All by Myself Wilma
2014 (expected) Seasons of Love Ms. Angie


  1. ^ a b "The Voice, Winter 2007, Society of Singer's 16th Ella Awards". 
  2. ^ a b ""Empress of Soul" Gladys Knight will be giving a special performance at Morongo Casino, Resort & Spa, November 7". September 22, 2010. 
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Grantham, Loretta (November 11, 1999). "KNIGHT'S QUEST: END DIABETES, FOR MOM'S SAKE". The Palm Beach Post. Retrieved September 12, 2009. 
  5. ^ McClure, Rhonda R. (October 25, 2001). "Ancestry of Gladys Knight". Retrieved August 31, 2010. 
  6. ^ Knight, Gladys. Between Each Line of Pain and Glory: My Life Story. Hyperion, New York, NY 1997, p. 179.
  7. ^ "The Georgia Music Hall of Fame Music Store". 
  8. ^ "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees Gladys Knight and The Pips". 
  9. ^ "James Newman, Gladys Knight's Son And Manager, Dies In Las Vegas At 36". Jet. 1999. 
  10. ^ 2006 September, Desert Saints Magazine
  11. ^ "SUV Choir". SUV Choir. Retrieved July 4, 2010. 
  12. ^ Live 2004 on
  13. ^ "Gladys Knight moves Jackson mourners to tears". 
  14. ^ "Information on and review of the new single". 
  15. ^ Friedman, Roger. "Lenny Kravitz Writes Gladys Knight an Oscar-Buzzed Song for 'The Butler'". Retrieved 10 August 2013. 
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ "The Empress of Soul-Gladys Knight". 
  19. ^ "Official Gladys Knight USB Wristband". Retrieved July 4, 2010. 
  20. ^ "Official Gladys Knight & Ron Winans Chicken and Waffles website". 
  21. ^ Family Business – Gladys Knight co-owner of restaurant in Atlanta. Jet Dec 11, 2000
  22. ^ Gladys Knight bounced from Dancing With the Stars, The Vancouver Sun, April 25, 2012 
  23. ^ Gladys Knight Weds Les Brown In Las Vegas In Private Ceremony. 
  24. ^ Soul Survivor In Her New Memoir, Gladys Knight Looks Back At Nearly Five Decades In Show Business. – October 05, 1997
  25. ^
  26. ^ Oprah Winfrey & Denzel Washington present Essence Award to Gladys Knight on YouTube
  27. ^ "The 5th Annual Trumpet Awards salutes outstanding black achievers during gala ceremony in Atlanta". Jet. February 3, 1997. Retrieved 2012-03-22. 
  28. ^
  29. ^ "The 38th NAACP Image Awards.". 
  30. ^ "1st Annual The BET Honors". 
  31. ^ "Westmark, Jan. Celebrity News Service". 
  32. ^
  33. ^ a b c d "US Albums Charts > Gladys Knight". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-10-04. 
  34. ^ "US Certifications > Gladys Knight". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved 2012-01-23. 
  35. ^ a b c "US Singles Charts > Gladys Knight". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-10-04. 
  36. ^ "UK Charts > Gladys Knight". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 2011-10-04. 

External links[edit]