Gladys Knight and her brother Merald 'Bubba' were born into a family rooted in singing: their parents, Merald and Elizabeth, had both been members of Wings Over Jordan, one of Atlanta's foremost gospel choirs. Gladys made her public singing debut at the Mount Mariah Baptist Church when she was only 4, and had toured Florida and Alabama with The Morris Brown Choir before her fifth birthday.
It was at Merald's tenth birthday party that Gladys (now 8), Merald, their sister Brenda, and two cousins - William and Elenor Guest - first sang together as a quintet. Another cousin present, James 'Pip' Woods, suggested they sing together professionally. Taking his advice, they hired him as their manager and called themselves The Pips in his honor (later on, it was said to stand for "Perfection In Performance"). The Pips won a local talent contest soon afterwards, they were offered nightclub engagements, club appearances, and gospel performances on Sundays.
By 1957, The Pips had made their recording debut for the Brunswick label, with the single "Whistle My Love". After touring with Sam Cooke , B. B. King and Jackie Wilson , both Brenda Knight and Elenor Guest left the group in 1959 to get married; their replacements were Edward Patten (yet another cousin) and Langston George. The following year, "Every Beat Of My Heart" - originally written for Jackie Wilson - became their first minor hit on Atlanta label Huntom, before the master tape was sold to the Vee Jay label in Chicago. As Vee Jay re-issued the single, The Pips, now signed to the Fury label, had released a re-recording of the same song, and by mid-1961 both recordings were in the US R&B chart.
Demand for live performances rose sharply, as 1962's "Letter Full Of Tears" was the first single credited to Gladys Knight & The Pips. It reached the US Top 20, while British rocker Billy Fury had a minor UK hit with a cover of it. Langston George quit, leaving the group with its permanent line-up, but Gladys left the line-up for two years in order to get married and start a family. The rest of the group spent this time in session work, re-emerging on the Maxx label in 1964, with "Giving It Up", before the label folded. Live work continued though, notably a spot on the Motown touring revue in 1966. The audience response led to their being signed to Soul, one of Motown's subsidiary labels.
Massive amounts of airplay on pirate radio helped provide the group with their first UK chart hit, "Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me" (1967); after that, their original recording of "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" was a million seller and a crossover smash in the pop charts.
In 1973 Gladys Knight & the Pips' contract with Motown was drawing to an end. Feeling that her choice of material at Motown didn't allow her to sing enough gospel, country, and blues, Gladys Knight decided not to renew the contract. Feeling left out at Motown, the Pips also didn't want to continue there, and they moved on after having spent seven years at Motown. But they left on a positive note: Before they left, Gladys and her family had one more big hit - "Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye)". Not only did this song reach #2 in the US and sell over a million copies, but it also won the group the 1973 Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group, or Chorus.
When their contract expired in 1973, they signed to Buddah, where Mississippi songwriter Jim Weatherly would provide the hits that would consolidate their careers. As a solo artist, Weatherly had written and recorded a song called "Midnight Plane To Houston". Retitled "Midnight Train To Georgia", it became Gladys Knight And The Pips' greatest hit in 1973 -A pop and R&B #1 and a British hit two years later, it also won them one of two Grammy awards in 1974. It was featured on their debut LP for Buddah, "Imagination", as was another Weatherly classic, "Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me".
1975 produced hits like "The Way We Were" and the LP "I Feel A Song", but after a final Buddah single, "Baby Don't Change Your Mind" (1977), Gladys Knight & The Pips became embroiled in a complex legal battle involving several different labels. Consequently, they were unable to record as a unit, although Gladys recorded the solo "Miss Gladys Knight" (1979), for Buddah, while The Pips signed to Casablanca, releasing At Last . . . The Pips and Callin'.
After an out-of-court settlement in July 1980, the group, now signed to CBS, enlisted the songwriting and production services of Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson. The resulting LP," About Love", spawned two British hits - "Taste Of Bitter Love" and "Bourgie Bourgie" - but was quickly forgotten, as was the album "Touch" in 1980. More warmly received was "Visions" (1983), which went gold in America, and gave them an unexpected R&B chart-topper with "Save The Overtime (For Me)".
In 1985, Gladys had a leading role in a short-lived American TV sitcom, Charlie & Co. Later that year, she joined Stevie Wonder and Elton John on Dionne Warwick & Friends' AIDS charity single, "That's What Friends Are For", which was a US #1 and a Grammy winner.
In 1988, at the second annual Soul Train Music Awards, Gladys Knight & the Pips celebrated 30 years of recording by receiving the Heritage Award. Later that same year, the group scored one final Grammy with an R&B smash called "Love Overboard"
By 1989, the Pips had had enough of touring and decided to dissolve. Edward Patten and William Guest went into the ice-cream business while brother Merald continued to work with Gladys, who had worldwide chart success in 1989 with the theme to the James Bond film License To Kill. They briefly reunited again the next year to perform on the CBS special "Motown 30: What's Goin' On!" and in again in 1996 when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Over the years,Gladys Knight has moved away from her earlier soul and gospel sound and toward an easy listening, adult contemporary style, and continues to thrill audiences where ever she performs.