Gladys Knight & the Pips

  • R&B and soul vocal group formed in 1952 from Atlanta Georgia. The members during their long run together in the 60s, 70s and 80s were Gladys Knight, Bubba Knight, William Guest and Edward Patten. Gladys and Bubba were brother and sister, while Guest and Patten were cousins to the Knights.
  • Gladys Knight sang as a young girl in her church choir. Her first success at singing in public was at eight years old, when she won first prize on Ted Mack’s The Original Amateur Hour television show in 1952. Later that year, she sang with her brother Bubba, sister Brenda and cousins Eleanor and William Guest at Bubba’s tenth birthday party. Gladys’ mother felt that they had talent, and she arranged for them to be in a family musical group, giving them the name The Pips, based on the nickname of another cousin. By 1955, they were winning talent contests all over Atlanta, and two years later they signed a recording contract.
  • Two albums were released that were not successful, but the group gained exposure by opening for established R&B acts like Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke. In 1959, their label dropped them. Brenda Knight and Eleanor Guest left the group to start families, replaced by another cousin, Edward Patten, as well as a non-family member, Langston George. In 1961, still without a label, they recorded Every Beat of My Heart. A local record label showed interest in releasing it, and a distribution deal was arranged. The single reached #6 on the Hot 100 and it topped the R&B chart. Later that year, the group changed their name to Gladys Knight & the Pips.
  • A New York-based record label heard the song, and the group auditioned for the label. They were signed, and another version of Every Beat of My Heart was recorded and released, again charting on the Hot 100 and R&B chart. A debut album was released in 1962 – Letter Full of Tears. The title track reached #3 on the R&B chart, and several other singles were released. By the end of the year, George left the group, as did Gladys, to start a family. Gladys rejoined in 1964, and the quartet would remain together until 1989.
  • In 1965, the self-titled Gladys Knight and the Pips was released. Singles from the album were only modestly successful – Giving Up managed to be a top 40 hit, and it reached #6 on the R&B chart. Despite the lack of a big hit, they gained popularity as they refined their live act. The Pips developed their signature fast-step dance routine during this time. By 1966, the group signed with Motown Records. For several years, the group complained that Motown considered them a second-string act, focusing more on their stable of stars like The Supremes and The Temptations.
  • Eight albums were released between 1967 and 1973. Twelve singles from these albums were top 10 hits on the R&B chart, with I Heard It Through the Grapevine, If I Were Your Woman and Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye) all topping the chart, as well as reaching the top 10 of the Hot 100.
  • Motown knew they had a superstar group, but negotiations on a new contract fell through, and in 1973, Gladys Knight & the Pips signed with another label. Their first album with the label, Imagination, was released that fall. It included their most successful singles – three #1 songs on the R&B chart – Midnight Train to Georgia, I’ve Got to Use My Imagination and Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me, with Midnight Train also topping the Hot 100 for their only #1 song on that chart.
  • Seven more albums were released between 1974 and 1978. They had six top 10 hits on the R&B chart, including I Feel a Song (In My Heart) topping the chart and On and On peaking at #2 and at #5 on the Hot 100. In 1975, the group hosted a variety TV show, The Gladys Knight & the Pips Show, which aired four episodes.
  • From 1978 to 1980, Gladys Knight released two solo albums, and The Pips released two albums without Gladys – these were released during a contract dispute with their label, where they refused to record as a quartet, but the label forced them to release music as solo acts. In 1980, they were released from their agreement, and they signed a new deal with another label. Six albums were released during the 80s. Of the 19 singles released, they managed to reach the top 5 of the R&B chart with five songs, including #1 hits Save the Overtime (For Me) and Love Overboard (which was their final top 40 hit on the Hot 100, reaching #13).
  • In 1989, the group amiably disbanded, and Gladys Knight embarked on a solo career, releasing eight albums between 1991 and 2014, and winning three Grammy awards. Bubba Knight became Gladys’ tour manager. Patten and Guest formed a production company, which they managed until their deaths in 2005 and 2015 respectively.
  • Gladys Knight & the Pips won three Grammy Awards, for Midnight Train to Georgia, Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye) and Love Overboard. They were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. Their songs Midnight Train to Georgia and I Heard It Through the Grapevine both were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Gladys has been called the Empress of Soul. Midnight Train to Georgia remains one of my faves from the 70s. And…I love the moves by the Pips!

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