Gladys began winning talent contests at the age of four and offers for a showbiz career were frequent, though her mother insisted that Gladys finish her education first.
Gladys Knight and The Pips were comparatively late arrivals at the Motown party, already well established when signed to the soul subsidiary in 1966.
Like every woman on the label who wasn’t called Diana Ross, Knight found herself some way down the pecking order when the songs were being handed out.
Yet with the Pips’ subtle promptings and an initial helping hand from producer Norman Whitfield she cut some glorious 45’s.
Gritty and intense, Knight was arguably the best female voice Berry Gordy ever signed, equally at home with up-tempo tracks (I Heard It Through The Grapevine) or on mighty ballads such as If I Were Your Woman. Gladys could sing her shopping list and turn it into an epic tearjerker.
But Knight’s raw, gritty emoting was just too soulful for Motown (which built its pop foundations on the gentler tones of Mary Wells and the honeyed sweetness of The Supremes) and it wasn’t until Gladys signed to Buddah Records in 1973 that she was fully appreciated – even if her material became smoother and more pop-oriented in the process.
Edward Patten was a Pip for 30 years, backing his cousin Gladys on more than 25 hit singles. When Knight went solo in 1989 he and fellow Pip William Guest (another cousin) invested in an ice cream business and launched Crew Records. Patten died in 2005.
Merald ‘Bubba’ Knight