Intimate Portrait

Season 10 Episode 3

Gladys Knight

Aired Monday 7:00 PM Jun 23, 2003 on Lifetime
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Gladys Knight
Gladys Knight: Soul Survivor Gladys Maria Knight was born on May 28, 1944, in Atlanta. While her father juggled three jobs to support the family, her mother was busy nurturing the young girl's natural singing talent. When she was seven years old, Knight won the popular Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour contest. In 1952, she and her two siblings and two cousins began performing at local supper clubs and churches. In 1960, they officially became known as Gladys Knight and the Pips. After a few personnel changes, the quintet recorded the top R & B hit "Every Beat of My Heart." At age 16, the aspiring singer discovered she was pregnant and married saxophone player Jimmy Newman. Unfortunately, Knight miscarried. Anxious to be a mom, Knight became pregnant again and gave birth to Jimmy Jr. in 1962 and to daughter Kenya two years later. Because of financial pressures, the young mother returned to performing with the Pips, and the group began putting out bigger hits, including "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," under the direction of the legendary Berry Gordy's Motown label. Feeling underrated with Gordy, the group boldly switched to Buddha Records in 1972. The move paid off with the release of the album "Imagination," which featured the classic song "Midnight Train to Georgia." The triple-platinum recording scored the group two Grammy Awards. Knight made a romantic change as well; she divorced Newman and married TV producer Barry Henkerson in 1976. The couple had a son, Shenga Ali, together. But Knight's superstardom overshadowed the relationship and the couple divorced in 1979. Knight hit rocky times with a bitter custody battle and a gambling addiction that left her bankrupt. With the support of her family, she began to get her life back on track with some small TV roles and the 1987 Grammy-winning song "Love Overboard." In the early '90s, Knight opted for a solo career for the first time since she was seven; during this period she had a short-lived marriage to motivational speaker Les Brown, which ended in 1995. Feeling lost again, Knight found direction by joining the Mormon Church. Her newfound spirituality would be tested in 1998, when she lost her mother to diabetes and her 36-year-old son, Jimmy, to respiratory failure. Knight eventually found comfort as well as love with longtime friend William McDowley; she married him in 2001. The crooner also threw herself into performing nightly in Las Vegas and producing "At Last," the first solo album that garnered her a Grammy. Today, the rejuvenated 59-year-old is feeling unstoppable and in search of new challenges. In the summer of 2003, she is making a huge acting splash in the Harrison Ford blockbuster comedy "Hollywood Homicide." Gladys has also recently been on the American Idol spinoff American Juniors serving as one of the judges.moreless

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