By any measure, Gladys Knight is one of the greatest Soul singers of all time. Her expressive, powerful voice became the model for two generations of singers from Jennifer Holliday to Alicia Keys, and her work with the Pips stands tall among the best Soul music of the 60s, 70s and 80s.
Born and raised in Georgia, Knight showed her impressive vocal talent early, winning on Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour as a child. As a pre-teen in the 50s, she formed a singing group with brother Bubba and cousins William Guest and Edward Patten, a group that would later be called Gladys Knight and the Pips.
The group performed together around Georgia for several years and began recording in the early 60s. They scored a couple R&B hits on small labels, including “Every Beat of My Heart” and “Letter Full of Tears.” But it was their 1965 signing by Motown that gave them their first major national exposure. Considered the beautiful Southern darling by other artists at Motown, Knight was not always given the attention of Motown brass, and her career at the label was clearly one of a “secondary” artist, though she did record a number of memorable songs. Working with producer Norman Whitfield, Knight was generally given rawer, gutsier material than most of her Motown labelmates, and she scored big R&B hits with the original, funky version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (later remade into a smash by Marvin Gaye), as well as the dance cuts “Friendship Train” and “Nitty Gritty.” However, when given the chance, Knight also proved herself a great balladeer, such as on “If I Were Your Woman” and her last Motown hit, “Neither One of Us.”
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