Gladys Knight and The Pips

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Gladys Knight and The Pips

Gladys Knight and The Pips, one of the longest-lived family acts in rock music. Membership: Gladys Knight (b. Atlanta, Ga., May 28, 1944); Merald “Bubba” Knight (b. Atlanta, Ga., Sept. 4, 1942); William Guest (b. Atlanta, Ga., June 2, 1941); Edward Patten (b. Atlanta, Ga., Aug. 2, 1939).

Gladys Knight and the Pips have been together for more than 40 years, scoring smash R&B and major pop hits on six different labels. With the Pips functioning as an integral part of the group, Gladys Knight and the Pips featured the precise choreography of Cholly Atkins even before they (and he) joined the Motown organization. Despite the fact that Gladys Knight was favorably compared to Aretha Franklin, she and the Pips were treated as a second-line act at Motown, leading to their switch to Buddah Records in 1973. Developing a reputation as the best female-led soul group of the mid-1970s, Gladys Knight and the Pips became one of the few former Motown acts to retain (and even increase) their popularity and success after leaving the organization. Established as television and cabaret performers by 1974, Gladys Knight and the Pips recorded and toured the exclusive casino and supper-club circuit into the late 1980s, after which Knight performed and recorded solo.

Gladys Knight began singing with the gospel group the Morris Brown Choir in her native Atlanta, Ga., at age four, later touring with the group throughout the South. At age seven she won $2,000 on Ted Mack’s The Original Amateur Hour television show, thereafter touring with Mack for a year. In 1952 Gladys joined several close relatives to sing informally at brother Merald’s birthday party. Thus was born the first incarnation of the Pips, with Gladys, Brenda, and Merald “Bubba” Knight, and their cousins, Eleanor and William Guest.

The Pips began playing local engagements, then toured the nation with Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke in 1957. Initial recordings for Brunswick proved unsuccessful. Eleanor and Brenda dropped out of the group in 1959, to be replaced by another cousin, Edward Patten, and Langston George. Finally, in 1961 the group scored their first hit (a top R&B and smash pop hit) with the Johnny Otis ballad “Every Beat of My Heart” on Vee Jay as the Pips and on Fury as Gladys Knight and the Pips. They hit with “Letter Full of Tears” on Fury in 1962, but the company soon went out of business. Gladys Knight returned to Atlanta for a year while the Pips did session work. Langston George left, and Knight rejoined the group in 1963, signing with Maxx Records, achieving a moderate pop and R&B hit with “Giving Up” in 1964.

The first signing to Motown’s Soul label in 1965, Gladys Knight and the Pips languished with the company for several years before scoring a R&B smash and moderate pop hit in 1967 with “Everybody Needs Love.” Later that year, under producer Norman Whit-field, the group had a top R&B and smash pop hit with “I Heard It through the Grapevine,” only to see Marvin Gaye score an even bigger hit with the song a year later. Subsequent smash R&B and major pop hits on Soul include “The End of the Road,” “The Nitty Gritty,” “Friendship Train,” and “You Need Love Like I Do (Don’t You).” The group adopted a more mellow sound for later soul hits such as “If I Were Your Woman” (a pop near-smash), “I Don’t Want to Do Wrong,” “Make Me the Woman That You Go Home To,” “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)” (a pop smash), and Gladys’s own “Daddy Could Swear, I Declare” through 1973.

Gladys Knight and the Pips’ Neither One of Us album became a bestseller, but despite their consistent recording success and growing status as a live act, they felt they were not being treated as a front-line act by Motown, leading to their defection to Buddah Records in March 1973. Their debut Buddah album, Imagination, stayed on the album charts for more than a year and yielded three top R&B and smash pop hits with Tony Joe White’s “Midnight Train to Georgia,” Barry Goldberg and Gerry Coffin’s “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination,” and “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.” The soundtrack to the movie Claudine, recorded under songwriter-producer Curtis Mayfield, included the pop and R&B smash “On and On.” Subsequent major pop and smash R&B hits on Buddah included “I Feel a Song (In My Heart),” “The Way We Were”/”Try to Remember,” and “Part Time Love.” The R&B smashes “Love Finds Its Own Way,” “Money,” and “Baby Don’t Change Your Mind” became only minor pop hits. With the group recording the soundtrack, Gladys Knight made her acting debut with then-husband Barry Hankerson in Pipe Dreams in 1976, but the project left the group in difficult financial straits for years.

In 1978 Gladys Knight signed with Columbia Records as a solo, whereas the Pips—”Bubba” Knight, William Guest, and Edward Patten—began recording for Casablanca Records. Allowed to work in clubs but prevented from recording together for more than two years by legal disputes, Gladys Knight and the Pips reunited for the Nicholas Ashford-Valerie Simpson-produced About Love and Touch albums for Columbia. They scored R&B smashes with “Landlord,” “Save the Overtime (For Me),” and “You’re Number One (In My Book),” but none of the songs was more than a minor pop hit. Gladys Knight joined Dionne Warwick, Elton John, and Stevie Wonder to record the top pop and R&B hit “That’s What Friends Are For” in 1985, the year she starred with Flip Wilson in the short-lived CBS television situation comedy Charlie and Company. In 1986 she appeared in the HBO cable television special Sisters in the Name of Love with Dionne Warwick and Patti Labelle.

By 1987 Gladys Knight and the Pips had switched to MCA Records, where they managed R&B smashes with “Love Overboard” (a major pop hit) and “Lovin’ on Next to Nothin’.” In 1989 Gladys Knight began performing solo engagements, later recording Good Woman and Just for You for MCA. Gladys Knight and the Pips were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.


Everybody Needs Love (1967); Feeliri Bluesy (1968); Tastiest Hits (1968); Nitty Gritty (1969); //1 Were Your Woman (1971); Standing Ovation (1971); Imagination (1973); Neither One of Us (1973); Help Me Make It Through the Night (1973); The Best of Gladys Knight & The Pips: The Columbia Years (1974); All the Great Hits (1974); I Feel a Song (1974); Claudine (soundtrack; 1974); The Best of Gladys Knight & The Pips (1976); Bless This House (1976); Still Together (1977); Memories (1979); About Love (1980); That Special Time of Year (1980); Touch (1981); Visions (1983); All Our Love (1988); Christmas Album (1989); Soul Survivors: The Best of Gladys Knight & The Pips, 1973-1983 (1990); Greatest Hits (1990); Room in Your Heart (1994); The Best of Gladys Knight & The Pips: Anthology (1995); Blue Lights in the Basement (1996); The Lost Live Album (1996); The Ultimate Collection (1997); Live at the Roxy (1998); Essential Collection (1999); 20th Century Masters: The Millennium CollectionThe Best of Gladys Knight & The Pips (2000); Soul Grooves (2000). GLADY S KNIGHT : Good Woman (1991); Just for You (1994).

—Brock Helander