When discussing the great artists of soul and R&B, you’ll typically hear names like Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, James Brown and Stevie Wonder. One name that is rarely recognized, however, is Gladys Knight. For some reason, her music has failed to penetrate our generation. Hopefully, after reading this, more of you will be interested in listening to her fantastic oeuvre and giving her a spot alongside the other titans of her genre.
Knight is a monumental figure in music, having won seven Grammy awards and written two No. 1 hit songs on the Billboard Hot 100. Knight was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 and is listed on Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Singers of All Time.” With a career now spanning six decades, Knight is still as energetic and powerful as ever, proving her love for music has never gone away.
While Knight brought her A-game to Saturday night’s show, there was still one notable element absent from her performance. When she began her musical career, Knight toured with an entourage of three backup dancers and singers known as “The Pips.” One was Merald “Bubba” Knight, her younger brother. The other two, Edward Patten and William Guest, were their cousins. Unfortunately, Patten and Guest both passed away in 2005 and 2015, respectively.
Even without the presence of The Pips, Knight still dazzled, showing off her incredible talent. Her new backup singers were also fantastic, each with a powerful singing voice that could easily reach the back of the house. The band touring with her was also very impressive, especially the guitarist. Some sound issues tainted the beginning of the show, as Knight’s voice was drowned out occasionally by the instruments due to an unequal distribution of sound.
Knight’s setlist had an interesting balance of her own classic hits as well as covers of other popular musicians’. In a touching tribute toward the end of the show, Knight and her two female backup singers performed a rendition of Aretha Franklin’s classic “Natural Woman.” While we like to think of these artists as individuals, it is important to remember that many of these singers and musicians were friends and collaborators, supporting each other as African Americans sought greater artistic appreciation and success. Though Franklin died earlier this year, I am sure this was a performance she would have been proud of.
After playing many of famous singles like “I Heard it Through the Grapevine, ” “If I Were Your Woman” and “Love Overboard,” Knight closed with her two biggest crowd-pleasers, “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)” and “Midnight Train to Georgia.”
The beautiful thing about Knight’s music is its accessibility. Knight’s vocal range can travel from high powerful bursts to low soothing tones that touch the heartstrings. Her music features themes of love and heartbreak which everyone can relate to, regardless of background or position. Listening to these songs can both move and make you reflect on your own life and relationships with others. That is something only the very best art is able to do.
Evan Burns is campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.