Gladys Knight shimmered and shimmied her way through her songs while performing at the H. Ric Luhrs Performing Arts Center on March 22, in support of the H.O.P.E. Diversity Scholarship Fund Program.
The H.O.P.E. Diversity Scholarship Fund Program awards scholarships to first-year students who come from ethnically-diverse populations and have demonstrated academic achievement. There was also a benefit dinner and then the concert as part of the program.
Knight, 74, proved to still be the “Empress of Soul,” a title she has gained over her many years as a pop, gospel, R&B, adult contemporary and Motown singer. Throughout her career, Knight won seven GRAMMY awards, contributed to 38 albums and authored the book “Between Each Line of Pain and Glory: My Life Story.”
The singer started out the night with her song “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination,” accompanied by three back-up singers.
Knight thanked the audience for its commitment to her and her former bandmates, The Pips, who are no longer living.
“You have been so gracious to us over the years,” Knight said as she introduced her next song “Every Beat of My Heart.” “This song is dedicated to you because I don’t know how to tell you how much I love you in any other way.”
Knight also sang some of The Pips’ other hits, including “The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me,” “Love Overboard” and “I Hope You Dance.” She also covered Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me,” because Knight finds the song to be “smooth.”
Knight reflected on the many people she has worked with in the industry over time, and recalled how Ella Fitzgerald would come visit her at shows and praise her work.
Another artist that Knight and The Pips grew close to was Marvin Gaye, who helped them get a hit single in Motown, known as “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” When Knight and The Pips joined him for shows, he wanted to encourage audience participation, which Knight did with the Luhrs audience.
“I don’t wanna make you do all the work,” Knight said. “but you’re supposed to feel like you just came from the gym.”
She then did a duet with a back-up singer to tribute James Ingram, with the song “One Hundred Ways.” The pair also sang “If I Was Your Woman.”
Her songs “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “The Way We Were/Try to Remember,” received a standing ovation from the audience. Knight then sang “Neither One of Us” and introduced her band. She even took time to thank the people behind the scenes, including her “glam team.”
Knight finished out the evening with her song “It’s Time to Go Now,” leaving the audience with her soulful presence and the gratitude that makes her the successful artist she is today.