What are the best songs by Gladys Knights

Gladys Knight: a great career with and without pips

Few can look back on a career spanning more than 60 years. But looking back is not Gladys Knight's thing. The soul singer prefers to look ahead, far ahead.

The singer Gladys Knight went through three phases in her career: before Motown, at Motown, after Motown. The soul singer, who was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1944, is not alone in this. Gladys Knight and Diana Ross, for example, are only two months apart in age. Both were under contract with the style-defining label from Detroit. Musically, however, they are worlds apart.

While the lead singer of the Supremes was no mountain too high as a solo artist (“Ain't No Mountain High Enough”) and she found a direct route from the soul-pop tradition to the summit of the disco era, Gladys Knight had without her backing band - the pips - to fight hard. With one exception: their first solo single, the James Bond title “License to Kill” from 1989, indicated a promising solo effort. In the USA, sales left a lot to be desired. In the UK and Germany, however, the song was at the top of the charts.

Music and family

Instead of the breakthrough, a dry spell followed. Old school soul, with gospel music as a solid foundation, no longer had a large audience at the end of the eighties. New Jack Swing and Hip-Hop-Soul emerged in the early 1990s. MTV preferred to play the video clips of Aaliyah, Gladys Knight's highly talented niece, who appeared with her aunt in Las Vegas when she was just eleven (she died in a plane crash when she was only twenty-two).

Now, it's not that Gladys Knight didn't have success before Motown. Berry Gordy, the boss of the most commercial soul label of all, didn't buy the pig in a poke. Gladys Knight & the Pips (named after a cousin, James “Pip” Woods) topped the R'n'B charts as early as 1961 with the cover version of “Every Beat of My Heart” penned by Johnny Otis . Gladys left the Pips in 1962 after her career stuttered to start a family, but she returned in 1964 and formed the ensemble with her brother "Bubba" as well as William Guest and Edward Patten, again under the name Gladys Knight & the Pips was to write soul history for a quarter of a century.

Although their popularity did not match that of the Supremes, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye or Stevie Wonder, they recorded a number of hits, including "If I Were Your Woman" (1970) or "Neither One of Us" (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye) »(1973). An appearance in the first edition of the television show "Soul Train" made the quartet known nationwide in 1971, although "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" was already four years old at the time.

At the time, Gladys Knight was the mother of a nine-year-old son and a daughter who was a year younger. She divorced their father in 1973. Like many other black women, she felt the same way. The reality of everyday life was expressed accordingly in the repertoire and in their style. At the Supremes, almost every second song had the word "Love" in the title optimistically. Gladys Knight & the Pips sang more about crises and the end of love. That was also well received by the audience.

And it got even better. After switching to Buddah Records, they achieved a million-seller with “Midnight Train to Georgia” (1973), which also received a Grammy, and “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me” also climbed to the top of the charts in the same year. The share capital of Gladys Knight & the Pips was the early church trained voice of their singer. She combined hope and experience, could cheer and complain. Her brilliant lovesick song "It Should Have Been Me" from 1968 spoke of disappointment, even bitterness, and resonated. The deeply human shimmers through in the best songs to this day, no pink illusion is sold, nothing is turned on.

Inexhaustible energy

That is one of the reasons why the hedonistic concept of disco hardly caught on with the "old" fans. The disco era didn't know what to do with Gladys Knight, nor did Gladys Knight know what to do with disco. At the end of the 1970s, however, the disco gradually came to an end - just like Gladys Knight's relationship with her second husband, the marriage divorced in 1979. The last decade with the pips was dawning. In 1988 the formation, unchanged since 1964, had another hit: "Love Overboard". The pips retired, but Gladys Knight carried on.

Soon she was at home in contemporary gospel, now at jazz standards. Her energy seems inexhaustible, as she tours extensively through the USA after the detour to Switzerland. But for the time being it will be seen live for the first time in Zurich at Theater 11. Obviously, the woman has an extra talent: she also has a friendship with Motown rival and glamor icon Diana Ross. Who knows, maybe Gladys Knight will perform “That's What Friends Are For” in the concert. It wouldn't be a premiere.

Concert: Zurich, Theater 11, July 15.