Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


KNIGHT, Gladys, and the Pips

Soul vocal group formed '52 in Atlanta GA: lead singer Gladys Knight (b 28 May 1944), Merald 'Bubba' Knight (b 4 September 1942), William Franklin Guest (b 2 June 1941, d 24 December 2015), Brenda Knight, Elenor Guest. An incredibly long-lived family act (the Guests are cousins) began on Merald's tenth birthday, when Gladys, who had been singing in a touring church group before she was five, had won talent competitions and appeared several times on TV and organized an impromptu group. They opened for acts such as Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson '56, but an abortive record contract resulted in Brenda and Elenor being replaced by Edward Patten (another cousin, b 2 August 1939; d 25 February 2005) and Langston George. George stayed until just before the first top ten hit 'Every Beat Of My Heart', though he may have been involved in it: the situation is confused because two versions charted the same week in May '61, by 'The Pips' on Vee-Jay and 'Gladys Knight and the Pips' on Fury (though only the Fury record made the R&B chart). Their total of 39 Hot 100 entries '61-83 (20 in UK) and 24 albums '67-85 was carried on with top 20 'Letter Full Of Tears' on Fury '62, then mostly minor hits while Gladys became a mother (the only top 40 hit was 'Giving Up' '64 on Maxx) until they signed with the Motown subsidiary Soul: 'Everybody Needs Love' made the top 40 July '67, but 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine' was no. 3 USA Oct. '67. Marvin Gaye's later no. 1 version of the song was said to have been cut earlier and held up by a dispute between Motown and producer-songwriter Norman Whitfield, but those who heard the call-and-response of the group riding over a beat that rocked and floated at the same time will never forget the first hit.

The Motown era lasted into '73, including hits 'If I Were Your Woman', 'Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye)', and a fine cover of Kris Kristofferson's 'Help Me Make It Through The Night'. Sooner or later many artists quarrelled with Motown; the Pips went to Buddah '73 and immediately had their biggest success: top ten album Imagination '73 had half the songs written by white singer/songwriter Jim Weatherly including hit singles 'Where Peaceful Waters Flow', 'Midnight Train To Georgia' ('Midnight Plane To Houston' in Weatherly's original version), and 'Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me'; the album also included another big hit in Gerry Goffin/Barry Goldberg's 'I've Got To Use My Imagination'. 'On And On' from '74 film Claudine was a fifth top five million-selling single in a row. Medley 'The Way We Were'/'Try To Remember' '75 was no. 11 USA (and their biggest in UK along with 'Baby Don't Change Your Mind' '77, both at no. 4).

Gladys made her acting debut in Pipe Dreams '76; there was a split with Buddah and a brief split with the Pips as Gladys was prevented from working with them because of a dispute with Buddah (they were on Casablanca; Gladys on CBS/Columbia) before an inevitable reunion. There were no more big hits, but four chart albums, and faithful fans always give a listen to see what's going on. Other albums include Everybody Needs Love '67, Feelin' Bluesy '68, Silk'n'Soul and Nitty Gritty '69, If I Were Your Woman '71, Standing Ovation '72, All I Need Is Time '73, compilations two-disc Anthology '74 and A Little Knight Music '75, all on Motown/Soul; I Feel A Song and 2nd Anniversary (of signing with Buddah) '75, Still Together '77, The One And Only '78, all on Buddah; The Touch Of Love '80 on K-Tel. On Columbia/CBS: About Love '80 (top 50 LP), Touch '81, Visions '83 (no. 34 LP), Life '85. She switched to MCA '85; All Our Love '87 was her 25th album. She starred in TV series Charlie And Company '85 as well as several films. Further albums were Good Woman '91 and Just For You '94 on MCA, Blue Lights In The Basement '96 on RCA. She was also heard on Frank Sinatra's Duets II '94 (one of the better tracks on his last album).