Empress of Love returns to Miami for Valentines Day

admin | 2/8/2012, 11:40 a.m.

Gladys Knight still riding that Midnight Train

Gladys Knight has earned her way to the top of R&B superstardom with seven Grammy Awards, a plethora of # 1 hits and enough success as a recording artist, actress and businesswoman to make the average person more than willing to rest on their laurels. But then the Atlanta-born Knight, dubbed as the Empress of Soul, is no ordinary woman. This is my 63rd year in the business but when I started singing at the age of four, it was because my parents believed in my talent and cultivated it, she said. I started in the church at Mount Mariah Baptist Church and then won first prize on the televised Ted Mack Amateur Hour when I was seven. We formed The Pips a year later. Back then, I didnt even know I could sing. With her signature throaty vocals and the harmonies and dance steps of the Pips, the group would soon earn a following on the Black Chitlin Circuit, opening for such stars as Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke. My parents instilled great morals and a dedication to excellence in me and my brother {Merald Jr., Bubba] and always told us that people are born with certain gifts, she said. Its our job to use those gifts the best we can and to do it in a way that is pleasing to God. When it came to my singing, I figured that was the way to use my gift. Memories, like the corner of her mind This writer first remembers when he was a teenager and Knight a young mother and up-and-coming star living in Detroit. Her son and I attended the same high school and we often played basketball in her mothers backyard in Sherwood Forest [a northwest, upwardly-mobile, mostly-Black community] until the wee hours of the nights. She would often come out to supply us with energy, including plates of spaghetti and a whole lot of Kool-aid. I have had some great memories in my life and baby, I have had some bad ones, she admitted. My children are a blessing to me and my first gift. But its been my faith that has kept me moving. I have a wonderful husband [William McDowell] and we are very real people. We get at it from time to time and dont agree on everything but after several failed marriages I understand that its a covenant that two must enter. I have matured in age and in spirit. The Pips scored minor success when they first signed with Motown Records but it was the move to Buddha Records that would prove to be the key to the groups success. Motown gave us hand-me-down songs sometimes they gave us songs that I did not believe in, like Cloud Nine, which The Temptations later recorded. I had to perform songs that had messages that I could both understand and affirm. I guess you could say I eventually stopped being obedient to management and drew the line in terms of what kinds of music I was willing to sing. In hindsight, Knight made the right decision. Starting in 1967 with I Heard it Through the Grapevine, a huge hit later for Marvin Gaye, the group scored hits on both the R&B and pop charts with If I Were Your Woman, Neither One of Us Wants to be the First to Say Goodbye, Midnight Train to Georgia, Love Overboard and this writers favorite, The Way We Were. I am still working on me and walking by faith and its all because of the love and guidance of my parents, she said. So far, it has been a wonderful life. By D. Kevin McNeir kmcneir@miamitimesonline.com