Gladys Knight: Classy never gets old

LOS ANGELES, CA-It was Gladys being Gladys. The oversized but well-groomed afro immediately caught your attention. The sparkling blue dress collaborating with the stunning pumps she wore personified the class and sass attitude. The vocal chops came across with breathless ease and as pure as a newborn baby.

The performance put on by legendary soul singer Gladys Knight at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles on New Year’s Eve reminded those in attendance this singer hasn’t lost anything when it comes to the vocal pipes that has made her famous. The first of two shows on the evening by Knight showcased her as the musical genius that she is.

You’re just not going to a show when you see Knight. You get an experience.  That experience translates into an hour and a half of wonderful entertainment you won’t soon forget.

It was soulful. It was tasteful. It was classic. What else would you expect from the always classy Knight? I wanted to hear the same booming voice that I’ve listened to for decades. Well, when you go looking for something, there’s a good chance you might find it. Knight didn’t just sound good; she sounded incredible.

All these years of listening to Knight’s hypnotic alto voice bellowing out hits like “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” Midnight Train to Georgia,” Neither One of Us,” and “If I Were Your Woman,” was nothing like seeing her live in person for the first time.

Sitting in the audience with my wife, I couldn’t help feel like I was going back to school when Knight initially walked on the stage for the first time. For me, it was a “wow” moment seeing this iconic singer live. And make no mistake about it, there is only one Gladys Knight.

Some musical artists whom I have seen in person, sound really good over the radio, but when it comes to owning the stage, they freeze up and fail to bring the kind of intensity that we hear over the airwaves to a live show.

That is not the case with Knight.

The lovely and always classy Gladys Knight brought the house down at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles on New Year’s Eve. Courtesy photo

Watching Knight on stage was like watching magic. It was a moment of history that we won’t ever get back, and you kind of just wanted to just put the night in a bottle to keep forever. And since this was the first time that I caught Knight on stage, I didn’t know what to expect.

Then again, when you have an unmistakable voice like Knight, the only thing you want to see or hear is for her to open up her mouth and let the gift that God gave her do all of the work. Just sing, Gladys, sing.

Knight had no problems with obliging the audience with that unofficial request. Standing with the authority of a majestic queen standing in front of her subjects, Knight, in unabashed terms, tore up the concert hall. It is simple as that. Backed by a tight band and a pretty strong group of backup singers, Knight successfully blended her old school hits with the new wave of music as flawlessly as flicking off a fly on a horse’s mane with the crack of a whip.

The thing about seeing Knight live is just not enjoying her serenade the crowd with one memorable song after another. It was soaking in the genuine effort she gives in making her musical presentation. I mean, you literally believe Knight when she sings a redo version of “If I Were Your Woman.”

We’ve all been there and done that- watching someone you deeply admire being mistreated by someone who doesn’t fully appreciate them. Who doesn’t have that story? I know I do. So hearing Knight singing her way through the lyrics of that song simply gave me goosebumps. Then again, anything that Knight sings is alright with me.

That includes going through old standards from the likes of Billie Holliday, Lena Horne and turning Barbara Streisand’s classic recording of “The Way We Were” into a signature piece of her performance. Sliding effortlessly across the stage, Knight gave a little something of everything for everyone to enjoy.

Taking a break and giving older brother Merald “Bubba” Knight the stage as he ripped Bruno Mar’s “Uptown Funk” with the kind of energy that would make Justin Bieber blush, was part of the enjoyment. For a guy in his 70s, “Bubba” Knight, one of the original members of Gladys Knight & the Pips, moves around the stage better than some musicians that haven’t even cracked thirty yet.

Bubba nearly stole little sister’s thunder with his rousing routine following the set of numbers that the backup singers worked out, including grooving to Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You.” If nothing else, “Bubba” provided a nice change of pace for the audience. But this was Gladys Knight’s evening. This was whom I came to see. She didn’t disappoint in the slightest way.

Growing up with a mother and father who loved soulful R & B, I received my degree in  old school crooning listening to the sounds of Otis Redding, Tyrone Davis, Brook Benton, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross & the Supremes and Gladys Knight & the Pips. These cats were the epitome of what soul singing is all about.

I was reminded of this through each of the songs Gladys Knight performed. Her style of silky soul going strong with a dash of pop and flavorful R & B is what has made her who she is. I loved every minute of it. Knight closed the concert signing a couple of spiritual covers that provides a bit of insight from where she draws her strength from, ending the show with the late Andrae’ Crouch featuring Marvin Winans number, “Let the Church Say, Amen!”

What a way to bring in the New Year!

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