Inductees: Gladys Knight (vocals; born May 28, 1944), William Guest (vocals; born June 2, 1941), Merald “Bubba” Knight (vocals; born September 4, 1942), Edward Patten (vocals; August 2, 1939 - February 25, 2005)
Gladys Knight and the Pips - brother Merald “Bubba” Knight and cousins Edward Patten and William Guest - are one of the most respected and longest-lived soul groups, with hits spanning four decades. Knight was born in Atlanta, Georgia, where she began singing at age four with her brother and cousins at Baptist church functions. The group first recorded for the Brunswick label in 1958 and dented the charts with “Every Beat of My Heart” and “Letter Full of Tears," both released in 1961 on Fury Records. After a few more singles and personnel changes, which cemented Gladys Knight and the Pips in their most enduring and best-known lineup, the group signed with Motown’s Soul label in 1966. Motown founder Berry Gordy, who saw them perform at Harlem’s Apollo Theater in 1966, made note of Knight’s “class, artistry and stage presence....She could talk to an audience and articulate what she wanted to say with just the right words.”
At Motown, Gladys Knight and the Pips quickly rose to prominence with their version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (#1 R&B, #2 pop), which boasted more of an uptempo, gospel-style arrangement than Marvin Gaye’s classic version from the following year. Their tenure at Motown yielded a lengthy run of R&B hits, including “Friendship Train” (#2 R&B, #17 pop), “If I Were Your Woman” (#1 R&B, #9 pop) and “I Don’t Want to Do Wrong” (#2 R&B, #17 pop). They exited Motown on a high note with “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)” (#1 R&B, #2 pop) and “Daddy Could Swear, I Declare” (#2 R&B, #19 pop).
The group moved Buddah Records in 1973, where they had their biggest hit, “Midnight Train to Georgia,” a #1 hit for two weeks on the pop chart and four weeks on the R&B chart. Songwriter Jim Weatherly had originally entitled this piece of sultry Southern soul “Midnight Plane to Houston.” Three more Top Ten singles followed in quick succession: “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination,” “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me” and “On and On.” Legal problems kept Knight and the Pips from working together in the late Seventies, but they rebounded in 1980 with a move to Columbia and the hits “Landlord” (written and produced by ex-Motown staffers Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson) and “Save the Overtime (for Me)” (a #1 R&B single).
Knight continues to record with and without the Pips, and her old-school soul vocals keep her much in demand on the concert circuit. Along with Elton John and Stevie Wonder, she contributed vocals to Dionne Warwick’s 1985 AIDS benefit record, “That’s What Friends Are For.” Credited to “Dionne and Friends” and produced by Burt Bacharach, it was #1 for fours weeks. In 1988, “Love Overboard” became a #1 R&B hit for Gladys Knight and the Pips. In 1996, Knight joined Chaka Khan, Brandy and Tamia for another round-robin singalong, “Missing You,” a hit single from the movie Set It Off.
Of the longevity of Gladys Knight and the Pips, who are approaching half a century in the music business, Knight had this to say: “One reason we’ve been able to stick together is because we pray before each show – pray for the strength to stay humble, courage to keep pushing, and the ability to reach people with our message.”