Friday, June 11, 1999

Gladys Knight keeps busy and happy in her music 1999

Gladys Knight keeps busy and happy in her music by Steve Jones USA Today 06/11/1999

Gladys Knight has a lot to smile about these days. After a lifetime in show business filled with pain and glory, the R&B legend is right where she wants to be - happy, in demand and able to combine her work, family and faith.

Fifty years after Little Miss Gladys Knight rose in the pulpit of Atlanta's Mt. Moriah Baptist Church to give her first recital, the 54-year-old singer released Many Different Roads, her first inspirational album.

"A lot of people are like, this is your 50th anniversary, aren't you going to have a party?" Knight says. "It's a milestone, but I'm just in awe of my still being here. I have a mission to let my light shine."

Over the years, the three-time Grammy winner has shone frequently on such impassioned R&B classics as "Letter Full of Tears," "If I Were Your Woman," "Save the Overtime (For Me)" and her signature, "Midnight Train to Georgia."

The album, released at the end of 1998, was produced by her 37-year-old son and manager, Jimmy Newman, on Many Roads Records, of which he is president. It features her first recording in a decade with the Pips and two songs written by Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican - Utah.

And that's not all that's keeping her busy. Knight has been touring since September, and performs at Pine Knob tonight. Last year Columbia Legacy released Gladys Knight & the Pips Live at the Roxy, featuring unreleased tracks from a 1980 engagement at the West Hollywood club. Knight has a recurring role on The Jamie Foxx Show as the lead character's mother. And she and the group, already members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, were honored by the Rhythm & Blues Foundation last year. "I've had so many things happening to me this year, it's just awesome," Knight says, letting loose a peal of the throaty laughter that punctuates her conversation. "When you've been here for so long, you start feeling like you're supposed to get jaded, but when you get so many blessings, you just keep going."

Knight attributes her contentment to her newfound Mormon faith, which she embraced last year while dealing with her divorce from her third husband, inspirational speaker Les Brown.

Knight says she had long admired the way some members put the church's principles into practice, but she had concerns about joining.

"The questions I had to ask were questions that anyone of my descent would probably ask about blacks in the church. I was able to ask those questions and in my spirit be peaceful and satisfied with the answers."

Working on the 13-song inspirational album was another source of joy for Knight, who had always wanted to do one. On "Good Morning Heavenly Father" she reunites with brother Merald "Bubba" Knight and cousin William Guest. The third Pip, cousin Edward Patten, no longer sings because of a stroke five years ago.

She says that she'd had no idea that Hatch was a songwriter, but he'd been a friend of her son's for a long time and she was impressed with his lyrics. On the track "Many Different Roads," Hatch - who calls Knight "a great person and a great artist" - pays tribute to Princess Diana and Mother Teresa; Knight and gospel singer and producer Kurt Carr added a verse about Knight's mother, Elizabeth "Gram" Knight.

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