Smitty: When you talk about the greatest singers or entertainers of all time, you must include my next guest. She sings in high volume, high intensity and high definition. She has enough awards to fill every venue where she has performed. She is certainly nonpareil and her voice is as fresh and vibrant as 1961. Case in point, her great new project: it’s called Before Me. Please give a thunderous welcome for the lovely and so talented Ms. Gladys Knight. Gladys, how you doin’?
Gladys Knight (GK): Hi, how are you?
Smitty: I’m wonderful.
GK: What a beautiful introduction.
Smitty: Well…I’m so honored to talk with you.
GK: Oh, and I am not worthy, but I thank you for it. (Both laughing.) I hope everything is going well with you.
Smitty: Everything’s going great. How about yourself?
GK: I am so excited about my life, I really am. I have been so blessed over these decades that I have been living and I just find myself in awe most of the time because I don’t feel worthy of all these wonderful things that happened to my life. The ups and the downs, you know?
Smitty: Oh yes.
GK: And this is such an exciting time in my life right now.
Smitty: Yes, and rightly so because when I first heard this project, I had so many reflections of all the wonderful things you’ve done over the years.
GK: (Laughs.) Well, thank you. I’m glad I could take you back.
Smitty: Yes indeed, and you did just that, it is just wonderful. But, you know, just briefly about this project.
Smitty: Besides the beautiful music, what a wonderful gesture to do this music.
GK: Oh, well, I am so honored to be able to do it, when I look at how blessed I’ve been to still be here.
GK: And when I look at my young counterparts that’s out there today, or quite a few of them that I have had an opportunity and a wonderful gift to be able to meet and they ask me certain things because they want to know. And we from the school of yesterday and who are blessed enough to be here today, we need to tell them when they ask those questions about where we came from, what we do, how was it and all of those things. So I felt compelled, in a way, to say, hey, let me introduce you to these wonderful people that stepped before me. These are great, great, great ladies of song, and I have also had the wonderful opportunity and the honor and blessing of meeting all of them except one, and that was Billie Holiday.
Smitty: Yes a wonderful entertainer.
GK: But I felt like I knew her because I was fortunate enough to have her best friend in the industry during that time to be our musical mentor as we first came on the musical scene. People like Maurice King and Charlie Atkins and Margaret Mays and so many, many others that touched their lives in a true sense, not just what you read in the paper. So it’s been a wonderful, wonderful journey and I wanted to let them know about these awesome people.
Smitty: Yes indeed, and what a beautiful way to do it. I mean, you couldn’t have done it better than with this project. It’s just unbelievable. It’s fantastic.
GK: Well, thank you so much.
Smitty: Yes. So, now, just talk about for the new fans that we’re introducing you to today around the world, how did you discover this magnificent voice of yours?
GK: (Laughs.) Well, it was really not my doing. I’ve been singing since I was four and, of course, as you know, at four we don’t have an idea or a vision of nothing. They’d be playing and making some meatballs and some mud pies and that kind of stuff. (Both laughing.) I was introduced to music through my parents and we were members of the church since I can remember. I can remember back when I was two and we’ve always had that spiritual environment in our family, in my life So we were just obedient to that and my mom and dad had gone to our pastor, Reverend Smith, and talked about me doing a recital for the church. He had inquired of them that he wanted to do that for me, and we ended up doing that and that was the beginning of my public life with music. After that I started to travel and then when I was seven years old my mom and my Aunt Ann had written a letter to Ted Mack, who at that time had a talent show on national television similar to (American) Idol and Star Search and all of those shows that are on today. The original was the Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour. And they got me on right away and I performed and I ended up winning that particular contest, and when I came back home I was….it took a long time to do television then.
GK: It did. It did. I mean, they had live commercials and everything, you know, the Old Gold Girls was really Old Gold Girls. (Both laughing.)
Smitty: Oh yes.
GK: I mean, it was quite an experience for me. I’ll have to do a little part about Ted Mack sometime, you know.
GK: But at any rate, I came home and I learned….I’m from Atlanta, I lived in Atlanta, Georgia, and they were always in a wonderful spirit of embracing their own, so they gave parades for me and they gave all of these wonderful welcome home kinds of things for me and they were very pleased with the success that I had accomplished. Also, during that time, on the celebratory thing, that was the first time I met Sarah Vaughan and Nat King Cole.
Smitty: Oh really.
GK: I was eight years old.
GK: Yeah, I’d just come off television, and I had been invited to be at a concert that they were giving at the city auditorium in Atlanta. So my mom, my grandmother and I, we all went down to the concert and I was supposed to meet them after the concert, and I remember Sarah (both laughing), she was quite kinda busy that night, so she just kinda ignored me. My feelings were hurt a little bit, you know, but Mr. Nat King Cole, he was such an awesome human being.
Smitty: Oh yeah.
GK: I mean, he just….he hugged me and he told me he had been watching me and he was so proud of me, and that was the first I had heard of Natalie.
GK: He said, “I’ve got a little girl too, and maybe one day she’ll be singing.”
Smitty: And look at her now.