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Gladys Knight, her brother Merald "Bubba," sister Brenda, and cousins Eleanor Guest and William Guest formed their first vocal group in their native Atlanta, Georgia in 1952. Calling themselves the Pips, after their cousin James "Pips" Woods, the youngsters sang supper-club material from Monday through Saturday and gospel music on Sundays. They first recorded for Brunswick Records in 1958, releasing the single "Whistle My Love." Another cousin of the Knights, Edward Patten, along with Langston George, were brought into the group the following year when Brenda and Eleanor left to get married. Three years elapsed before the Pips' next sessions, which produced a version of Johnny Otis' "Every Beat of My Heart" for the small Huntom label. This song, which highlighted Knight's bluesy, compelling vocal style, was licensed to Vee Jay Records when it began attracting national attention, and went on to top the U.S. R&B chart and reach the pop Top Ten. By this time, the group, now credited as Gladys Knight & the Pips, had signed a long-term recording contract with Fury Records, where they issued a re-recording of "Every Beat of My Heart" that competed for sales with the original release. Subsequent singles such as "Letter Full of Tears" and "Operator" sealed the group's R&B credentials. A switch in 1964 to the Maxx label -- where they worked with producer Van McCoy -- generated minor hits with "Giving Up" and "Lovers Always Forgive." Langston George retired from the group in 1962, leaving the four-strong lineup that survived into the '80s.
In 1966, Gladys Knight & the Pips signed to Motown Records' Soul subsidiary, where they were teamed up with producer/songwriter Norman Whitfield. Knight's tough vocals distinguished them from Motown's pop-soul roster. Between 1967 and 1968, they had major R&B and minor pop hits in the U.S. with "Everybody Needs Love," "The End of the Road," "It Should Have Been Me," and "I Wish It Would Rain," but enjoyed most success with the original release of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," an uncompromisingly muscular performance of a song that in 1969 became a Motown standard in the hands of its author, Marvin Gaye. Gladys Knight & the Pips' version topped the R&B chart for six weeks at the end of 1967 and also reached number two on the pop chart.
The group enjoyed further R&B and pop hits at the end of the decade with "Didn't You Know (You'd Have to Cry Sometime)," "The Nitty Gritty," "Friendship Train," and "You Need Love Like I Do (Don't You)," while the poignant "If I Were Your Woman" was one of the label's biggest-selling releases of 1970 and provided the group with its third R&B chart-topper. In the early '70s, Knight & the Pips slowly moved away from their original blues-influenced sound toward a more middle-of-the-road harmony blend. Their new approach brought them success in 1973 with the smash hit "Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)" (number one R&B, number two pop, and a Grammy winner for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals), while further hits during this period included "I Don't Want to Do Wrong," "Make Me the Woman That You Go Home To," "Help Me Make It Through the Night," and "Daddy Could Swear, I Declare."
In late 1973, Gladys Knight & the Pips elected to leave Motown for Buddah Records, unhappy with the former label's shift of operations from Detroit to Los Angeles. At Buddah, the group found immediate success with "Where Peaceful Waters Flow" and "Midnight Train to Georgia," an arresting soul ballad that topped the R&B and pop charts (and won a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals). Major hits such as "I've Got to Use My Imagination" and "Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me" (R&B chart-toppers and pop Top Five hits) mined a similar vein. In 1974, the group performed Curtis Mayfield's soundtrack songs for the movie Claudine, spawning the major hit "On and On," and the following year the title track of I Feel a Song gave them another R&B number one. Their smoother approach was epitomized by the medley of "The Way We Were/Try to Remember," released in 1975, the same year that saw Knight and the group host their own U.S. television series.
Gladys Knight made her acting debut in Pipe Dreams in 1976, for which the group recorded a soundtrack album. Legal problems then dogged their career until the end of the decade, forcing Knight & the Pips to record separately until they could sign a new recording contract with CBS Records. Knight enjoyed minor R&B hits at the end of the decade with the solo singles "I'm Coming Home Again" and "Am I Too Late," and during this period released her first two solo albums, Miss Gladys Knight and Gladys Knight. About Love in 1980 teamed the reunited group with the Ashford & Simpson writing/production partnership, and resulted in strident pieces of R&B social commentary in "Landlord" and "Bourgie Bourgie." Subsequent releases alternated between the group's R&B and MOR modes, generating hits such as the R&B chart-topper "Save the Overtime (For Me)" and "You're Number One in My Book" (both 1983). In 1985, Knight appeared on the chart-topping and Grammy-winning pop hit "That’s What Friends Are For," alongside Elton John, Dionne Warwick, and Stevie Wonder. After a move to MCA Records in 1986, "Love Overboard" demonstrated that Gladys Knight & the Pips could work equally well in both R&B and pop genres, taking the group back to the top of the R&B chart and into the pop Top 20 at the end of 1987. The latter song earned them a Grammy Award for the Best R&B Performance in early 1989, the year the group enjoyed two final R&B hits with "Lovin' on Next to Nothin'" and "It's Gonna Take All Our Love."
In 1989, Gladys Knight & the Pips parted company following a tour. Merald remained with his sister when she achieved a U.K. Top Ten hit that year with the James Bond movie song "Licence to Kill" (her highest U.K. chart position since Gladys Knight & the Pips' 1977 Top Five hit "Baby Don't Change Your Mind"). Knight's third and fourth albums, Good Woman and Just for You, followed respectively in 1991 and 1994. The former topped the R&B chart and the latter peaked at number six and went gold. She scored her last Top Ten R&B hit in 1996 with "Missing You," a collaboration with Chaka Khan, Brandy, and Tamia, recorded for the soundtrack of Set It Off. The same year, she and the Pips were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Eleanor Guest died of heart failure the following year. Released in 2001, Knight's sixth solo album, At Last, made her a solo Grammy winner when it won the award for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Album. In 2004, she won a Grammy in the category of Best Gospel Performance with the Ray Charles collaboration "Heaven Help Us All." One Voice, a collaboration with Saints Unified Voices, won the award the following year for Best Gospel Choir or Chorus Album. Later that year, Edward Patten died from diabetic complications.
Knight's periodic subsequent recordings have alternated between contemporary gospel and adult contemporary R&B, and temporarily changed course in 2006 with Before Me, a set of jazz standards recorded for the Verve label. The next year, Langston George died of heart failure. Knight resumed performing, including a tour intended to be her U.K. farewell in 2009. She released Another Journey and the Top Ten gospel LP Where My Heart Belongs during the first half of the 2010s. William Guest died of heart failure in 2015. Knight's television roles during the remainder of the decade included appearances in episodes of Star and Hawaii Five-O, and in 2019, she competed on The Masked Singer. She has continued to tour into the early 2020s. ~ TiVo Staff & Andy Kellman
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