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R&B legend still has passion for music

Long considered a survivor in a cutthroat industry, Gladys Knight has managed to escape the sullen “Behind the Music” tales of woe common among many of her peers; a longevity she credits to her faith.
/ Source: NBC News producer

She’s one of the best-loved soul singers of all time. But for Gladys Knight, it took years of soul searching to arrive at her latest CD. Entitled “One Voice,” her powerful vocal presence is, in fact, enriched by a 100-voice choir, celebrating gospel music.

Even at the tender age of four, her voice was anything but. By seven, her powerful performance style won the top prize at an amateur singing competition. She would continue to nurture her talent with the help of her family, forming the legendary Gladys Knight and the Pips, which enjoyed success throughout the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.

Along with the Pips, Knight enjoyed chart success with the R&B hit “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” (which actually pre-dated the Marvin Gaye favorite).

But the songs that have proven perennial favorites are the “You’re The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me” and crossover hit, “Midnight Train To Georgia.”

After going solo in 1989, Knight built an eclectic resume, continuing her recording career, appearing in countless television sitcoms and music specials, authoring her autobiography, starring on the Broadway stage, even writing a cookbook in memory of her diabetic mother.

While she continues to tour the country, she’s established roots in Las Vegas as a headliner at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino.

Long considered a survivor in a cutthroat industry, Knight has managed to escape the sullen “Behind the Music” tales of woe common among many of her peers; a longevity she credits to her faith.

A new project, a legendary Grammy Award winning career, and a few passions you probably wouldn’t expect make 10 Questions with Gladys Knight, well, as multifaceted as she is.

So many people love your music — why do you keep fans waiting so long in between CD’s?

(Laughter) Well ... it’s sort of like this. I have been blessed to have sort of a varied career, so to speak. And I am definitely one of those artists that is performance driven — I love to perform, and consequently I am on the road quite a bit ... until I got this stability thing going in Vegas when I’m at the Flamingo five nights a week. So you know it’s just about scheduling and that kind of thing.

Plus, I’ll give you the real deal — our past record companies had been a little slow about getting the music out ... so we’re with a different avenue of people now so its been a wonderful, wonderful journey this time.

So here we are!

What was the inspiration for this CD?

Well, over the years I have really matured spiritually. About 8 years ago, I started to search and seek ... I started looking at different churches, and I ended up at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints ... I had been talking to the people saying “I love this church and the hymns, but they’re so ... they need something!” And somebody told the Prophet. ... And right there in front of everyone he said, “Well Gladys, I hear you’re not satisfied with our music! Well maybe you’re going to have to do something about it!”

Two of my friends came to me a while after that and said “you should do a choir.” I ended up with a choir of one hundred voices ... and that inspired me to do this CD.

Take me back to the moment when you were putting together ‘Gladys Knight And The Pips’. Was anyone in the group saying, “Are we sure we wanna go with PIPS? I’m not so sure about this PIPS thing!” Was there ever any doubt at all?

Not for a moment! We gave ourselves that name in honor of a cousin of ours.

His nickname was Pip and he just did everything for the group. ... As a matter of fact, when we finally got an opportunity to play the Copacabana, Jules Podell, who was a big man in the industry at that time, he wanted us to change our name. He said, “I don’t see having ‘PIPS’ in the Copacabana!” (Laughter.) And you know what? We refused to change our name! Barry Gordy talked to us about it too. He said, “You’ve gotta be out of your mind!” and we said “That’s what we came up with, take it or leave it!” They later became some of our staunchest supporters.

Let’s stage a pop star intervention. Is there anyone you would like to pull aside and say, “Okay, here’s what you need to do to stay on the right track...’?

(Laughter.) Well, I could get myself into a lot of trouble! And you know I could!

But there are a few, and I’m not afraid, because the truth is light. I feel that our industry has just gone totally to another level. And to be honest, I’m not very pleased about it. We used to have integrity. We used to have class and sophistication in the things that we do. I remember going to the Grammys when it was the epitome of an award. It was so well and classily done. There were certain things you were just not allowed to do, and there was a certain way you had to dress. It wasn’t up to you, it was their party. I think the girls need to put some clothes on and the guys need to pull up their pants.

Is there anything in your CD collection that would surprise people?

They may be surprised that I listen to classical music. I love Beethoven.

I also listen to a lot of country music, some people may not know that. Subsequently, they may not know that a lot of my hits are from the country arena. Jim Weatherly was a popular country writer and he gave us “Midnight Train To Georgia,” “Neither One Of Us Want To Be The First To Say Goodbye,” and “You’re The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me.” So all of my music came from the country field. They put a story together like nobody I’ve ever known!

Aside from your music, you’ve written a book, starred on Broadway, the list goes on ... But I also see that in 1988 you were on ‘Wrestlemania!’ What was that all about? Did you put anyone in a headlock?

(Laughter.) Well, I got a chance to meet everybody, I’ll tell you that. Andre the Giant, all of them! I did the National Anthem for Wrestlemania in Atlantic City.

My son Shanga, he was a Wrestlemania fan. He knew everybody. And he said, “Mom you gotta see this!” So I started watching. You know how you wanna do things with your kids, and then I got into it! And then when they called me to do the National Anthem, I accepted. And it’s a world unto itself, did you know that?

I’m just glad you weren’t hurt! Any other bizarre places we should be looking for you?

Let me tell you what I’m doing now — my husband William is a car enthusiast. I don’t say fanatic because he has such a gift for cars and he knows about them.

I have always been a driver, a lover of fastness. I drive pretty fast. So I’m into this Nascar thing now!

I want to drive the Grand Prix down in Long Beach. I was going to drive in that one year and for some reason I didn’t get a chance to do it. So one of these days you’re going to see me on the track!

Do you have a favorite song to sing? Or one that you feel you’ve sung to death and would like to put on the back burner for a while?

I have been very blessed to love all the material that I do. My favorite songs are not always the ones that were popular.

For a minute I took a break from “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” because you only have so much time when you perform and you never get a chance to do the things that were not quite as popular unless you take a license. But the one that they would never allow me not to do is “Midnight Train.”

Yeah, you’re never gonna get away from that one. Sorry honey, it's not gonna happen.

I know! (Laughter.) But we’ve made so much music that was just as great but did not get out to the people, so they’re not aware of it. And most of the people that I run across, that’s the one crossover song that we had that was huge. Sometimes it’s the only song that people will know. But at least it was that big.

You wrote a cookbook for diabetic people. But there has to be a food that no matter how sugar laden, how fattening, you could never give it up. What is it?

Pound cake. Pound cake, I love it, I love it, I love it. It’s not just any pound cake, because not everybody can make a pound cake. Some of them are rubbery, some of them are not sweet enough. But my cousin makes an awesome pound cake, and my mother-in-law Maxine makes an awesome pound cake and she sends me two of them every Christmas.

When you look at your life right now, what is ‘the best thing that ever happened’ to you?

The gospel and my church. Absolutely ... the best thing that ever happened to me.

Gladys Knight’s “One Voice” is now in stores.