Knight recorded two Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 singles (“Midnight Train to Georgia” and her “That’s What Friends Are For” with Dionne Warwick, Sir Elton John and Stevie Wonder), eleven R&B singles and six single R&B albums. She has won seven Grammy Awards (four as a solo artist and three with Pips) and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Vocal Group Hall of Fame with Pips.
Two of her songs (“I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “Midnight Train to Georgia”) were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for their “historical, artistic and significant” merit. She also recorded the theme song for the 1989 James Bond film License to Kill. Rolling Stone magazine named Knight one of the 100 greatest singers of all time.
Knight was born in Atlanta, the daughter of postal workers Maillard Woodrow Knight and Sarah Elizabeth (née Woods). She has an older sister, Brenda, a living brother, Maillard “Bubba” Jr., and a deceased brother, David. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, she sang in the church choir. She first gained notoriety in 1952 when she won Ted Mack’s The Original Amateur Hour TV show competition at the age of 8.
That same year, Gladys, her brother Bubba, sister Brenda, and their cousins Eleanor and William Guest began performing together at Bubba’s tenth birthday party after a record player malfunctioned. Shortly thereafter, the five agreed to form a group at the urging of Gladys’ mother, Elizabeth Knight. They chose the name The Pips, inspired by the nickname of their cousin James “Pip” Woods.
In 1955, the group began performing on the draft tour in their hometown of Atlanta, winning every draft show they attended. This success led them to a record deal with Brunswick Records in 1957. In Brunswick, the band released two records that did not chart. Still, the group is now opening up to top labels like Jackie Wilson and Sam Cook. By 1959, Brunswick had abandoned the group, and both Brenda Knight and Eleanor Guest had left to start families. They were replaced by another cousin, Edward Patten, and friend Langston George.
In 1961 they recorded Every Beat of My Heart by Johnny Otis. Since the group didn’t have a label, a local Atlanta label, Huntom Records, advanced the single and struck a distribution deal with Vee-Jay Records to release the single. During this time, the band moved to New York, where they auditioned for Bobby Robinson’s Fury Records.