One of the great soul singers, Gladys Knight was a performer from her childhood years, forming the Pips with her brother Merald and a couple cousins. They made the Top Ten in 1961 with the heavily doo wop-influenced “Every Beat of My Heart,” and recorded some fine, nowadays overlooked pop-soul sides for the Fury and Maxx labels in the early and mid-’60s, sometimes under the direction of songwriter Van McCoy. A couple singles from this period, “Letter Full of Tears” and “Giving Up,” made the Top 40, but Knight didn’t hit her commercial stride until she moved to Motown in 1966.
Steeped in the gospel tradition, like so many soul singers, Knight & the Pips developed into one of Motown’s most dependable acts, although they never quite scaled the commercial or artistic heights of fellow stars on the label like the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, and the Temptations. With Norman Whitfield providing the production and much of the songwriting, the Pips fit into the mainstream of Motown’s machine well, scoring big hits with some rabble-rousers (like “Friendship Train” and the original version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”), mainstream midtempo soul (“It Should Have Been Me” and “The End of Our Road”), and smooth ballads like “If I Were Your Woman.”
In 1973, Knight had her biggest Motown hit with “Neither One of Us,” which made number two; shortly afterward, she and the Pips left Motown for Buddah. The group members were briefly superstars in 1973-1974, reeling off the smashes “Midnight Train to Georgia” (their only number one), “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination,” and “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.” This ranked as some of their best material, but Knight soon moved toward an easy listening, adult contemporary direction, one that she’s maintained to this day. Now performing separately from the Pips (who have retired), her days as a high-charting star ended after the mid-’70s, although she remains fairly popular, and maintained an active recording career into the new millennium, releasing At Last, an album of urban R&B, on MCA in 2000; One Voice, a gospel set, on Many Roads Records in 2005; and Before Me, an album of jazz standards, on Verve in 2006.