Gladys Maria Knight (born May 28, 1944), known as the "Empress of Soul", is an American singer, songwriter, actress, businesswoman, humanitarian and author. A seven-time Grammy Award-winner, Knight is best known for the hits she recorded during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, for both the Motown and Buddah Records labels, with her group Gladys Knight & the Pips, which included her brother Merald "Bubba" Knight and her cousins Edward Patten and William Guest.
Knight has recorded two number-one Billboard Hot 100 singles "Midnight Train to Georgia" and "That's What Friends Are For," eleven number-one R&B singles, and six number-one R&B albums. She has won seven Grammy Awards and is an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with The Pips. She also recorded the theme song for the 1989 James Bond film Licence To Kill. Knight is also listed on Rolling Stone magazine's 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.Knight was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the daughter of Merald Woodlow Knight Sr., a postal worker and Sarah Elizabeth (née Woods). She has a sister, Brenda, and one living brother, Merald Jr. and one deceased brother, David. She first achieved minor fame by winning Ted Mack's The Original Amateur Hour TV show contest at the age of seven in 1952. That same 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 PipsMain article: Gladys Knight & the Pips
Gladys Knight & the Pips joined the Motown Records roster in 1966 (while the band had no "sure hit"), 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, his version not released until 1968), 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.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," "The Way We Were/Try To Remember" and "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 (uncle of future hip/hop, 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".
|"I Heard It Through the Grapevine" Gladys Knight & the Pips' version of the song, from their 1967 album Everybody Needs Love.|
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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.
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 "Licence 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 spite of her "farewell", Knight started touring the UK again a few years later, playing gigs in Scotland and England in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
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 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 starred in her own variety show, "The Gladys Knight and the Pips Show" in 1975 that was cancelled after only 4 episodes. She also 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 2005 she portrayed a singer in an episode of JAG. 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."
In 2017 she appeared as herself on the musical drama TV show Star
Gladys Knight & Ron Winans' Chicken & WafflesKnight and Ron Winans' Chicken & Waffles in Atlanta.
Knight's son Shanga Hankerson 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. “ penalties and interest, it’s up to over $1 million owed.”
Knight has been married four times and has three children. At 16 years old she became pregnant and married Atlanta musician James "Jimmy" Newman in 1960. She had a miscarriage but the couple went on to have two children. Newman became a drug addict and abandoned the family when Knight was 20.  Their son, James "Jimmy" Gaston Newman III was born on August 13, 1962. 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 Avenue for a time. Her children attended Gesu Catholic Grade School. After being separated seven years, Knight divorced Newman in 1973, and he died only a few years later. 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. Their marriage ended in 1979 with a prolonged custody battle over their son. Knight spent over a million dollars looking for her son after he was kidnapped. In 1995, Knight married motivational speaker Les Brown, but they separated and divorced in 1997.
Knight suffered through a gambling addiction that lasted more than a decade. In the late 1980s, after losing $60,000 in one night at the baccarat table, she joined Gamblers Anonymous, which helped her quit the habit.
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 needed to inject some "pep" into their music. He agreed, which resulted in the Grammy Award-winning Saints Unified Voices gospel music choir. Gladys later led the Be One Choir at "Be One 40th Anniversary Celebration of the Revelation on the Priesthood."
Knight's son Jimmy Newman managed her career through his Newman Management Inc. until his death from heart failure on July 10, 1999. Newman was survived by his wife, Michelene; daughters Nastasia and Gabrielle; and sons Rishawn, Stefan and Sterling.
Knight married William McDowell in 2001. They have seventeen grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.
In 2017, Knight helped raise $400,000 for the Children's Learning Centers of Fairfield County. The April 22nd event was held at the Palace Theatre and was co-hosted by Carol Anne Riddell and Alan Kalter.
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 achievementsFor awards won by Knight with the Pips, see Gladys Knight & the Pips.
Gladys Knight has won seven Grammys with twenty-two nominations altogether.
|1967||"I Heard It Through The Grapevine"||Best Female R&B Vocal Performance||Nominated|
|1969||"Friendship Train"||Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals||Nominated|
|1971||"If I Were Your Woman"||Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals||Nominated|
|1972||"Help Me Make It Through the Night"||Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals||Nominated|
|1973||"Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)"||Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals||Won|
|1973||"Midnight Train To Georgia"||Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals||Won|
|1974||"I Feel A Song (In My Heart)"||Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals||Nominated|
|1975||"The Way We Were"/"Try to Remember"||Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals||Nominated|
|1977||"Baby Don't Change Your Mind"||Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals||Nominated|
|1980||"About Love (Album)"||Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals||Nominated|
|1986||"That's What Friends Are For"||Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals||Won|
|1988||"Love Overboard"||Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals||Won|
|1992||"Superwoman"||Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals||Nominated|
|1995||Just for You||Best R&B Album||Nominated|
|1997||"Missing You"||Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals||Nominated|
|2001||At Last||Best Traditional R&B Vocal Album||Won|
|2004||"Heaven Help Us All"||Best Gospel Performance||Won|
|2005||One Voice||Best Gospel Choir or Chorus Album||Won|
Other awards and honors
- 1992: Essence Award for Career Achievement
- 1995: Hollywood Walk of Fame
- 1997: Trumpet Awards Foundation Pinnacle Award
- 2005: BET Lifetime Achievement Award
- 2006: Las Vegas Music Awards Legendary Award
- 2007: NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Artist
- 2007: Society of Singers Ella Award, also declared the "Empress of Soul"
- 2008: BET Inaugural Best Living Legend Award
- 2008: Stardust Music Awards Lifetime Diva Award
- 2008: National Black Arts Festival Honoree at Legends Celebration
- 2011: Soul Train Music Awards Lifetime Achievement Award
- Honorary Doctorate in Performing Arts, Shaw University
DiscographyMain article: Gladys Knight discography See also: Gladys Knight & the Pips discography
Billboard Number 1 R&B Albums
- Neither One of Us (1973)
- Imagination (1973)
- Claudine (1974)
- I Feel a Song (1974)
- All Our Love (1987)
- Good Woman (1991)
Billboard Number 1 R&B Singles
- "Every Beat of My Heart" (1961)
- "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" (1968)
- "If I Were Your Woman" (1970)
- "Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)" (1973)
- "Midnight Train to Georgia" (1973)
- "I've Got to Use My Imagination" (1973)
- "Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me" (1974)
- "I Feel a Song (In My Heart)" (1974)
- "Save the Overtime (For Me)" (1983)
- "That's What Friends Are For" (1985)
- "Love Overboard" (1987)
- 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
|1981||The Muppet Show||Herself||Season 5, Episode 16|
|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|
|2003||American Juniors||Herself / Judge|
|2005||JAG||Etta||"Unknown Soldier" (Season 10: Episode 20)|
|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|
|1976||Pipe Dreams||Maria Wilson||Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year - Actress Nominee|
|1993||Twenty Bucks||Mrs. McCormic|
|2003||Hollywood Homicide||Olivia Robidoux|
|2006||Holidaze: The Christmas That Almost Didn't Happen||Candie (voice)|
|2009||I Can Do Bad All by Myself||Wilma||Performed "The Need To Be" from the 1974 album I Feel a Song|
|2014||Seasons of Love||Ms. Angie||Holiday TV movie|
|2016||Almost Christmas||Dorothy, Shelter Director|