Gladys Knight brings the funk to Queens College

Gladys Knight brings the funk to Queens College
Courtesy of Kupferberg Center of the Arts
By Tammy Scileppi

No one does R&B, Soul, Pop, Gospel, and Adult Contemporary like seven-time Grammy-winning superstar and dynamic Motown diva Gladys Knight, who is still going strong after dazzling audiences for 60-plus years.

New York fans are looking forward to her arrival and counting down the days until what is sure to be another unforgettable performance by the “Empress of Soul” next Thursday evening, when she sings her heart out on stage at Colden Center in Flushing. You can still get tickets if you’d like to spend “An Evening with Gladys Knight.”

Kupferberg Center for the Arts at Queens College celebrates 10 years of dedication to music, art and culture this fall. Kupferberg Presents, the entertainment hub of the center, will mark the occasion with a vibrant roster of world-class artists who reflect the rich diversity of Queens.

“When we present artists like Gladys Knight at the Kupferberg Center, we know we are giving audiences a chance to see top tier artists without having to leave their own borough,” said Executive Director Jeffrey Rosenstock.

“And, artists like Gladys Knight, find a rousing and welcoming crowd at our venue who value and appreciate the best talent; we know they love Gladys because she was here two years ago and people said, ‘When is she coming back?’”

The singer has recorded dozens of albums over the years, including: “Good Woman” (1991); “Just for You” (1994); the inspirational “Many Different Roads” (1999); and “At Last” (2001). She once again embraced her gospel roots with the release of her inspirational album “Where My Heart Belongs,” in September 2014. The album was a major success and won an NAACP Image Award for “Outstanding Gospel Album.”

Her recent music includes “Where My Heart Belongs,” “One Voice,” and “GK.” But who can forget those timeless, ever-popular soul tracks? “If I Were Your Woman,” “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye),” “Midnight Train to Georgia,” and so many others?

So, who is GK? Since the music legend wasn’t available for an interview due to her busy schedule, here are some fun facts that will give TimesLedger readers a glimpse into her personal life and amazing musical career.

Remember those spiffy, quick-stepping, harmonizing Pips? They got started when young Gladys and older brother Merald (“Bubba”) Knight, embarked on a singing career in their Atlanta hometown in the 1950s, enlisting various relatives.

Hefty doses of hard work, talent and luck resulted in Gladys Knight & the Pips’ first hit, “Every Beat of My Heart” in 1961. The group achieved icon status, having recorded some of the most memorable songs of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Their first Grammy award-winning hit “Neither One of Us,” was followed by “Midnight Train to Georgia,” another Grammy winner.

They became a household word, igniting that classic Motown sound with chart steamers, like “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” which has been described as a “gospel-grounded, brash and gloriously percussive floorshaker.” It became their biggest success of the 1960s, No. 2 on the pop charts and No. 1 on the R&B rankings.

Knight and her Pips traveled together for many more years, until she went solo in the early ‘90s. They became Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees in 1996.

For a singer who belts out songs with all the gusto she can muster, Knight revealed in a 1972 interview that she was “basically, a quiet person,” but joked that she didn’t think the Pips would agree with that, and added, “I think I’m true to my sign…I’m a Gemini and I do quite a bit of thinking.”

Another fun fact: The up and coming singer was a wholesome gal who liked “clean fun…picnics and stuff like that,” and when asked if she did any partying, she responded: “I have two children and I spend most of my off time with them.”

Knight also noted that she and the Pips were actually the first ones who had come up with “quick stepping” before the other groups like The Four Tops had.

The singer has been performing since she was 4. She would do recitals at local churches in the Fifties, and in 1951, won first prize on the “Ted Mack Amateur Hour,” which was like the “Star Search” of that time.

Knight has credited her parents for encouraging her to be a fighter.

In a 2013 interview with Fine Living Enthusiast, the entertainer talked about today’s music. “It has evolved. One thing that has changed is the lyrical content,” she said. “We had to be careful with the moral thing back then but not these days. If calling women names and swearing is your thing, then that’s your thing. But, it’s not mine. And I’m not sure it makes the music any better.”

She also mentioned that she and her son were opening a new soul food restaurant in Atlanta. “I’ve been busy of late, working out recipes, making sure the collard greens are seasoned just right. We use recipes that I got from my mom and grandmom.”

Knight, a longtime Las Vegas resident, returned to the Strip in the late-2000s, to the famed Tropicana Hotel. It was for a special engagement that ran in the newly named Gladys Knight Theater, making her the first African-American performer to have a venue named after her in that town. This followed a successful four-year show run at The Flamingo, which the Las Vegas Review-Journal praised as “the number-one show on the Strip,” according to her site.

When she’s not performing, Knight is a tireless humanitarian and a supporter of the Boys & Girls Club of America, to which she donated a Randy Jackson-produced song, “The Dream.”

Another interesting fact: She has a spot on VH1’s ‘100 Greatest Women of Rock’ list, and received the “Lifetime Achievement Award” at the 2004 BET Awards Ceremony.

Over the decades, millions have enjoyed listening to Knight’s number-one hits. Where were you when you first heard “Every Beat of My Heart,” “Neither One of Us,” or “The Friendship Train” on the radio? Now, a new generation of fans – who also think her music is very cool – have been downloading her songs on Spotify and iTunes.

Knight’s boundless energy and glowing talent have made her one of the greatest and most enduring performers of all time…and she has indeed survived the test of time.

And, while the beloved vocalist has provided a soundtrack for our lives, it should be noted that her involvement in other creative undertakings, business ventures and humanitarian activities, has been extensive, garnering Knight honors from industry and community alike.

The music industry has always been competitive, and when young Gladys was just starting out, it wasn’t very kind to women. But with faith and persistence, she overcame those hurdles and continues to be an inspiration to future generations.