Saturday, August 28, 1999

Gladys Knight: Many Different Roads

by David Nathan 08/1999

"My mother always wanted to me do an inspirational album and it was just in my spirit to do it. I knew that eventually I would make this kind of record and I even started to do one [back in the late '70s] but never finished it. After my mother passed away in December 1997, it was time..."

Gladys Knight, unquestionably one of music's greats, is in at a New York radio station and she's talking "Many Different Roads," her latest album on her own Many Roads label, distributed through MCA (for whom Gladys continues to record). She's just wrapped up an interview with Isaac Hayes, who hosts a morning show on the city's popular KISS-FM outlet. She'll be leaving momentarily for rehearsals for the Broadway show, "Smokey Joe's Cafe": for a couple of weeks, audiences will be treated to Gladys' inimitable vocal style on songs originally penned by Leiber & Stoller, the legendary team who wrote so many classic hits during the '50s and '60s (including "Hound Dog," "Yakety-Yak" and "On Broadway"). As always, she is gracious, warm and open to conversation...

We talk about how she feels her loyal audience will respond to the new album: "Hopefully, it will touch them...and doing an inspirational record is something that we've had a lot of requests from fans to do and I always want to do what they would have me do. I'm making a spiritual statement with the album...that everyone may take different paths but the bottom line is to get to your destination." Many of the choices of material Gladys made for the album (which was originally distributed on a limited basis last year) had to do with her own life experiences: "I'd say a song like "Mercy's Arms" is my own testimony," she reflects. "It makes a statement that we're all just lowly human beings, we're so imperfect and we fall so short and yet God loves us no matter what." Her inclusion of the time-honored hymn "Precious Lord" was "because it was my mother's favorite" while a new version of the "Mr. Love" (originally released on her 1991 MCA album "Good Woman") is included because Gladys feel it was a song with a timeless message.

Timeless indeed as is all of her music. In between a tour with The Temptations, Gladys has begun work on a new album, reuniting with songwriter Jim Weatherly, who wrote so many of her classic hits with The Pips (including "Neither One of Us," "The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me" and "Midnight Train to Georgia). The untimely passing of Gladys' son and manager Jimmy Newman may mean that the album will not be released by the end of the year as originally planned but it's a safe bet that whenever Gladys Knight releases new music, her solid and loyal audience will be right there ready to hear it.

(c) 1999, David Nathan

Gladys Knight - Womens' Conference 1999

This address was presented at the 1999 Women's Conference, which was sponsored jointly by Brigham Young University and the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The theme of the conference was "The Arms of His Love." This presentation was selected for publication by Bookcraft in a volume titled after the theme.

“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in they sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). Song to me is symbolic of joy-the joy in my heart. That song is not “Heard it Through the Grapevine,” or “Neither One of Us Wants to Be the First to Say Good-bye,” or “You’re the Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me,” or my most popular son, “Midnight Train to Georgia” (though I love those songs-especially since they were hits). The song in my heart is of Jesus Christ and all the things in the restored gospel that I have learned and of the peace he has given me since I have joined th Church. He has blessed me with a wonderful family. My son Jimmy and my daughter-in-law Michelene set the example an led us to this Church. My daughter Kenya, and son-in-law, Jimmy, followed them. They , too were a great light to me, and along with them, my ten grandchildren.

Now I finally understand what my song is for. It is to be a part of my light, shining so that people may see and I can be a missionary for Heavenly Father. I’m so excited about all of this. I want to tell the world about it-shout it from the mountain tops! I’ve never been one for gossip, but I want to gossip about the Lord and what he has done by restoring his truths to the earth. I want to tell all about the blessings we can receive by following him. My friends have reminded me that because of my travels and singing I am in a position to share the message of the Restoration all over the world. I accept that. I am so pleased that God has chosen me to be one of his disciples, and I am so ready to shine his light.

Music and the gospel go hand in hand. To Emma Smith, the Lord said: “For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads” (D&C 25:12). To Brigham Young it was revealed: “If thou art merry, praise the Lord with singing, with music with dancing, and with prayer of praise and thanksgiving” (D&C 136:28). We also lean that the great latter-day events will be initiated with the “sound of a trump” (D&C 42:6) even up to the time where Michael the Archangel will sound his trumpet at the last resurrection. We don’t hear that kind of music much in meetings. But we should get ready for the great band of trumpets that will accompany the Lord at this great second coming.

When I come to bridging certain kinds of gaps, music is definitely one of our Heavenly Father’s best tools. That’s why music is considered the universal language. On a personal level, if you’re down, you can put on good music that lifts you; or if you need to meditate, you can play something that helps you get deeper into the Spirit. Music is like being quickened; it gets you close to the Lord right away. Music does touch the heart. To liken joy in the Spirit to having a song in your heart is a perfect analogy because of the role music plays in our lives. We all should carry a song in our hearts.

During the time of slavery, we were calling upon the Lord in the spirituals we sang in the fields. We found a way to put into song the heavy load we carried as a people, even the joys we felt in the midst of pain. The Lord gave us th gift of must to get us through, and the old Negro spirituals were definitely a part of that. When you’re troubled, you can sing your blues away. You can sing a lullaby to a little baby and soothe his tiny spirit. Son is a wonderful gift from the Lord.

The beauty of music is one side of the picture. Let me say a little about the other side if I may. The adversary is always working, trying to mess up Heavenly Father’s great works. And music is no exception. Too much music plays into the power of the adversary and it’s unfortunately making its mark. Music has power, so we must be very careful with the music we put into our spirits. If we choose the right music, we definitely experience a good power in our lives.

There are not words to express the power and joy I feel as the result of finally find this Church. The Lord said, “Seek, and ye shall find; knock , and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7). The Lord keeps all his promises; and after a long journey, the Lord kept that promise for me. He knew I was looking, He knew I was hurting, He knew I was confused. He knew I was diligently wanting to draw closer to him. But his way is like no other way. Now I know why Paul said, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God” (2 Timothy 2:15). We must learn to understand his language and to rise to his level of doing things.

The gospel was there all along, hidden in plain sight. Some people will see it, some won’t I’m so honored and happy that the Lord led me to find it. Coming to the fullness of the Lord’s gospel has been life-changing. Without a doubt, the Church is “The Best Thing Tat Ever Happened to Me”-if I were to sing my own song. The difference between my life yesterday and today is that I’m a brand new me. Even my show when I perform is different. People tell me all the item, “There’s something different about you. I see a light in you. What its it?” The gospel gives me hope. It give me joy. And I know it will do the same for others. What a wonderful song Heavenly Father has placed in my heart!

The Lord’s prophet today, President Gordon B. Hinckley, said, “I invite every one of you, wherever you may be as members of the Church, to stand on your feet and with a song in your heart move forward, living the gospel, loving the Lord, and building the kingdom. Together we shall stay the course and keep the faith, the Almighty being our strength.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign, November 1995, 72.) The best way to put a song in our hears is by following the counsel and teaching of the Lord’s prophet. I am so grateful that I know with certainty that we have a real prophet of God on this earth., just like Peter was to the ancient church.

Last October [1998] I had the privilege of meeting President Hinckley. It was another dream come true-but I never dreamed I would be so nervous about its fulfillment. I was waiting with my family in a room in the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City. My first sight of the prophet was when he walked by our door to speak to someone else. He wasn’t even in the room yet, and my hear began pounding. The moment was intense. He entered, and as we were introduced and shook hands, my mind went completely blank. We all stood there in a family receiving line, and I could not remember one single name of my grandchildren standing there with me. The prophet was very attentive to each of us. He started with my first grandchild, Sterling-whose name completely escaped me at the time. To help me out, the prophet suggested we all call my grandson “Bill” for the time being. “He kind of looks like a ‘Bill,’” President Hinckley sad. Finally , Sterling piped up and said, “My name is Sterling!” That broke the ice, and finally I was okay.

But later on I became flustered again when I remembered I was to sit at the table of President and Sister Hinckley the next afternoon at Sister Hinckley’s birthday celebration, when I would be performing for them. The next day rolled around, I was escorted to the table of President and Sister Hinckley, and, sure enough, I was nervous all over again. But the Lord certainly knows how to choose his prophets. What a wonderful man! He kept me laughing and eased my spirit all afternoon. Sometimes we imagine that our Church leaders are always stern, but I leaned first-hand that our prophet has great sense of humor. He mad me laugh, and he made me feel loved.

It’s wonderful to know that Heavenly Father speaks once more to his chosen servants. He communicates. He has not turned away from us. I have always felt that, but now I know it with certainty-a certainty given to me and magnified by the power of th Book of Mormon. It is the blueprint and foundation of my testimony.

I seek the Spirit in everything I do now. I don’t feel right if I don’t take the sacrament. I attend church every Sunday, wherever I am. I ‘m better at it than the postman-rain, snow, sleet, or the dark of night can’t keep me from my appointed sacrament meeting. In the se meetings, I hear the testimonies of my wonderful and loving brothers and sisters. The foundation of their testimonies I the same as min: Because of the Book of Mormon, we know our Lord is a gracious and merciful Savior. I am so grateful to be acquainted with his plan of salvation.

I’m blessed to have two earthly brother right now, Bubba and David. So many times I have sought their help, and always they’ve bailed me out. But that eldest brother of ours-Jesus Christ-oh, will I ever be out there singing his praises! He has bailed us out of physical death and also spiritual death, if we love him enough to follow his teachings and example. Our eldest brother gave up his life for us. It’s such an amazing gift to know that he loves us that much.

I am so grateful to Heavenly Father for my wonderful mother. I’m so glad she was still alive when I made that great conversion to this wonderful Church. She was not Mormon, but we were always coaxing her-knowing that very spiritual being that she was-to step into the waters and get into the true Church. And she would answer us by sing, “I’m more Mormon than any of you. Who tells you about general conference?” We’d answer, “You do, Gram.” “Who tells you to do what the prophets tell you to do?” Again we would reply, “You do , Gram.” I sincerely believe-though she never told me-that she was a believer in this Church. She was a great believer in God and in family. She knew that we are to nurture our children and help them find their way.

I attended a class in a ward other than my own a few Sundays ago. A class member who was new in the Church expressed concern about little children attending sacrament meetings. I raised my hand and said, “Llook at our world today and what it’s becoming. It’s jet-set, it’s microwave, but it’s not spiritual. In the restored gospel, as soon as our babies are born and breathing, we have them in church. I think this is a wonderful thing.” Church is the way we are exposed to this laws, his gospel, his word, his Spirit, and his light-by being taught from our very earliest years, when we are fresh from heaven. We should always be exposed to the truth and light found in this gospel, whether we are young or old.

In sacrament meeting, sometimes as my grandchildren are drawing pictures and coloring, I have the grates sense that the word is getting through. Just the environment itself-being in church with their moms and dad-promotes spirituality. Another thing I love about our Church is that the mothers and fathers come together to nurture and raise their families. That is so important. That’s why God gave us two parents. Even though we fall short of the mark sometimes, this is the way it was intended. I love it, even though sometimes I have to strain to hear over the children being a little noisy and wonder, What did that speaker just say? That’s okay; our children need to be her; it’s worth it.

In the world, there seems to be a pessimism about families and family relationships. But through the restored gospel, we know that we can have eternal families-something I did not know before. Just knowing that we can have our mates and our children eternally makes our life’s journey worthwhile; it helps us keep ht song in our hearts eternal. True sisterhood, true brotherhood, the sealing covenant, and eternal families are some of the unique gifts o love our Heavenly Father extended to us through the restored gospel.

Our Heavenly Father is so generous and kind to us. He also chastens his children sometimes. But to me that’s the measure of a good parent, because then you know he really loves you. If ewe ever feel his chastening, we know that he is very mindful of us-that we have his attention-and that he wants us to qualify for all the wonderful gifts he has to bestow.

God deals with us on our level. He knows we can’t comprehend certain things in a worldly environment, so he has a house right here among us. On weekdays, I like to find a nearby temple to attend. I’m addicted to the temple-it has been a journey unlike anything I’ve ever known. Just as the glory we will experience after this life is unimaginable, so also has been this experience for me in contras to my life before I joined this church. Like visiting a friend, I can go to the Lord’s house to visit him. I feel his presence, and I know he is there. He welcomes me to his holy house, where I can feel his Spirit in great abundance.

I am so grateful for Jesus Christ. We’re like fish swimming around in water. The water is a fish’s lifeblood, just like the gospel is ours. It’s everything! But the fish doesn’t realize it until he chases that worm that’s on a hook. When he’s pulled out of the water, then he realizes, Where’s my water! I need my water! I miss my water! At last he sees how precious that water was to him.

I know this is the Lord’s true Church and kingdom here upon this earth. God is truly just and merciful. On the basis of how we use our agency, he gives us those things we are willing to receive, I am so grateful that in this dispensation of time Gladys Knight has been given the fullness of the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ.