Gladys Maria Knight dubbed the "Empress of Soul" is an is an American singer-songwriter, actress, businesswoman, humanitarian, and author. She was born on 28 May 1944, in Atlanta, Georgia, to Sarah Elizabeth (née Woods) and Merald Woodlow Knight, Sr., who was a postal worker. She was raised in a sound Christian home, and both of her parents were singers in the Wings Over Jordan Gospel Choir.
She is a seven-time Grammy Award winner (four as a solo artist and three with the Pips) and is currently ranked number eighteen in the 2005 Guinness Book of World Records' list of the most successful female musical artists of all time. She is also ranked number 18 on VH1 network's list of the 100 Greatest Women of Rock, and in 1995, she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles.
Gladys Knight's Early Career
Gladys’ extraordinary music career began at the age of four when she began singing in a Baptist church choir. Her mother told her God had given her an amazing voice and that He meant for her to share it. When she was seven, she moved to a larger stage, winning the Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour contest on television. The following year, in 1953, when she was about eight, she, her brother Merald "Bubba" Knight, her sister Brenda, and her cousins Eleanor and William Guest started a group called The Pips. The group was named after their manager and cousin, James Woods, nicknamed Pips. In 1961, they had their first hit.
The group went through many changes as various members left and others joined. The group altered its name to Gladys Knight & the Pips. However, Gladys left the group after their second hit to be a stay-at-home mother, and the group continued without her until she returned later to support her family.
Gladys Knight Sensational Career and Search for Truth
Gladys became best known for her soulful recordings on both the Motown and Buddah Record labels during the 1960's and 1970's with her group Gladys Knight & the Pips. Songs which she and the Pips recorded such as "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," "Neither One of Us," "Midnight Train to Georgia," "If I Were Your Woman," and "You Are the Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me" are classics by all rights.
Gladys faced a great many trials in her life, including several divorces and a gambling addiction battle. In 1989, she left the Pips and embarked on a solo career. Despite being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, and enjoying many of the perks of success, including #1 hits on the R&B charts over the years, she understood something was missing. She wanted to be better than she was. She had been raised in a religious home and she went on her own search for faith, exploring a variety of religions. She wanted to live forever with God but wondered what happened after you reached that milestone. No one could tell her, and she was frustrated.
Her Children Introduce Her to the Gospel
She had no idea the foundation for her to receive that answer was quietly being laid for her. Her oldest son, Jimmy, and his wife became members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Initially, they didn’t tell the rest of the family about this dramatic change in their lives. However, one-day Jimmy opened his scriptures on an airplane as he sat next to his sister, Kenya. When he told her that he was reading his scriptures, she was puzzled because what he was reading was not the Bible. The Bible is a part of the Mormon religion, but on this day, Jimmy was reading the Book of Mormon. He began to share his new faith with his sister, who, with her husband, soon joined the Church as well.
Jimmy and Kenya soon began sharing their new-found knowledge of the gospel with their mother who was still deep in her own personal search for religion. She agreed to meet with the missionaries, who had the answer to the question she had been asking in every church, and in 1997, Gladys Knight was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She has said, "You know me, I was raised to love Christ and His Gospel, I would not believe something that doesn’t testify of Him."
People have been noticing a change in Gladys Knight since she became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "Since I joined the Church, I desire to be more and more obedient to God. As I do so, many people say to me, 'I see a light in you more than ever before. What is it?' … During one performance at Disney world … [a member of the audience asked,] 'Could you please tell us … how you got that light?' The question was direct. So, I gave a direct answer: 'I have become a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.' To the surprise of some of my friends watching the show, the audience suddenly burst into applause" (Why I Believe, Bookcraft, 2002, quoted on LDS.org Newsroom).
Marriage to William McDowell and the Start of Saints Unified Voices
Gladys married William McDowell in 2001. Despite his initial determination not to be converted, he joined the Church as well, keeping his studies of her faith a secret from her until the very day before his baptism. It was a surprise only to her, however, as everyone else was aware of his quiet investigation and his decision.
In 2002, she formed the Saints Unified Voices, or, as she likes to call it, the SUV Choir in Las Vegas. The group, a multi-cultural choir that predominately shares the rich African American heritage of music along with music from other cultures, released a Grammy Award-winning CD entitled One Voice, and performs gospel music in free concerts held in LDS churches and on television, and records music as well.
Jimmy, the son who gave Gladys the gospel, died in the late 1990’s. She told the Ottawa Citizen, "He brought me to my Church and I just grew immensely from his example. I am happy in my spirit for where I know for sure he is. That (death) is something we all must go through, it’s not our time and place to dictate when, where or what, it’s not our business. It belongs to the Lord and that’s how I've dealt with it. I know I'll see him again." (Ottawa Citizen)
In addition to her performing career, she is also the author of several books - At Home with Gladys Knight - A Cookbook, 2001, Many Different Roads: A Common Path, by Jock W. Rolfe, Gladys Knight, 1998, and Between Each Line of Pain and Glory: My Life Story - Biography and Autobiography, 1997. Where My Heart Belongs received an Image Award for Outstanding Gospel Album at the 46th NAACP Image Awards on 6 February 2015. The album features ten gospel songs and was originally intended to be a Christmas CD, but Gladys said, "Why should we have to wait until Christmas when Christ is here all the time?" She had previously won an Image Award in 2007 for Outstanding Jazz Artist.
- Wikipedia article, includes discography and filmography
- LDS Living: Things you didn't know about Gladys Knight
- How Gladys Knight Became a Mormon
- More at MormonMusic.org