Born: May 28, 1944
Place of Birth: Atlanta, GA
Zodiac Sign: Gemini
Career and Life
Gladys Maria Knight also professionally known as Empress of Soul, is a singer songwriter, actress, businesswoman, and author. A seven-time Grammy Award-winner, Knight is known for the hits she recorded during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s with her group Gladys Knight & the Pips, which also included her brother Merald "Bubba" Knight and cousins Edward Patten and William Guest.
Knight was born the daughter of Merald Woodlow Knight Sr., a postal worker, and Sarah Elizabeth (née Woods). She has a sister, Brenda, 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, Knight and her group recorded the single, "Every Beat of My Heart", which was written for Knight by R&B producer Johnny Otis. It was released on the tiny Atlanta Huntom label, which was eventually picked up by Vee Jay Records. At the same time, they were also signed with Bobby Robinson's label, Fury Records. Both labels issued different versions of the song, with the Vee Jay/Huntom version becoming a hit and outselling the Fury remake. After the success of their follow-up, "Letter Full of Tears", Fury released their first full-length album. They stayed with Fury through 1962 until signing with Larry Maxwell's Maxx label in 1964, releasing 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 (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 Knight 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 "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 Knight 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 number-one 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.
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 No. 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.
On March 27, 1988, Gladys performed a rendition of America the Beautiful at Wrestlemania 4 in Atlantic City, NJ.
Gladys released her third and most successful solo LP, Good Woman, on MCA in 1991. It hit No. 1 on the R&B album chart and featured the No. 2 R&B hit "Men". It also reached No. 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'.
Also in 1991, Gladys performed the national anthem at Game 1 of the World Series.
Her fourth solo LP, Just for You, went Gold and was nominated for the 1995 Grammy Award for Best R&B Album.
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 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. Also in 2008 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 the funeral service for Michael Jackson.
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 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.
In 2019, Knight accepted an invitation to sing the national anthem at Super Bowl LIII. She faced criticism for agreeing to perform due to the alleged blacklisting of Colin Kaepernick by the National Football League after he began protesting police brutality during pre-game anthem ceremonies. Similar criticism was expressed against the half-time show performers, Maroon 5, Travis Scott, and Big Boi. Knight defended her decision to sing, claiming to understand Kaepernick's reasons for protesting but criticizing him for kneeling during the national anthem.
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 Knight 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 small 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.
In 1975, Knight starred the variety show, The Gladys Knight and the Pips Show, which was canceled after four episodes. She also guest-starred on several TV series throughout the 1980s and 1990s, appearing 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 cameo appearances, including on Las Vegas and 30 Rock. In 2012, she began a recurring role in the syndicated sitcom The First Family.
In 2012, Knight competed on season 14 of 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 in the musical-drama TV series Star. In February 2019, she was revealed to be the Bee on The Masked Singer, in which she placed third.
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. "[With] 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 Barry Hankerson (who would later create Blackground Records, the label that would sign his niece, the late R&B singer Aaliyah, to a record deal) 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 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. Knight 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. Knight and McDowell reside in North Carolina, where they own a community center that was formerly a school attended by McDowell.
In 2017, Knight helped raise $400,000 for the Children's Learning Centers of Fairfield County. The event was held at the Palace Theatre and was co-hosted by Carol Anne Riddell and Alan Kalter.