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Faith is a guiding light in Knight's long career

January 01, 2007|Geoff Boucher

Like so many of the great female R&B singers, Gladys Knight grew up in gospel music. The woman who famously sang "Midnight Train to Georgia" still lifts her voice up for her faith. But to the surprise of some fans, the forum for that faith these days is Mormonism.

"It sometimes has been an issue for some people, fans and friends, even family," Knight said. "There's a thought among people that that church doesn't welcome black people, and that's simply not true. And I want people to know the truth.

"But I did get a lot of questions: 'Girl, are you crazy?' But I'm happy to explain to anybody about what I've found," she said.

Knight will be front and center for a national audience this week: She and Taylor Hicks, the soul-minded singing star minted by "American Idol," will be the featured performers Tuesday at the FedEx Orange Bowl halftime show.

Hicks sang a Knight song on "Idol" during his quest for the show's crown and now gets to perform a duet with her while 500 dancers spin on the field of Dolphin Stadium near Miami.

It's all part of a busy season for Knight. The Atlanta native kicks off a tour in late January in Detroit and quickly darts west to Los Angeles with a Feb. 2 show at Gibson Amphitheatre at Universal CityWalk.

She recently released "Before Me," a tribute to the music of jazz and soul singers who influenced her. Although stores shelves are packed with similar surveys of the hits made famous by Billie, Ella and the rest, Knight's take got strong reviews. ("With that music, you have to let songs live and breathe; too many try to overpower them," she said.)

She also just released "A Christmas Celebration," an album recorded with Saints Unified Voices. Knight directs that Mormon choir of more than 100, which won a Grammy for their 2005 debut release, "One Voice."

The acclaim delights Knight, but she said the attention to her work with the choir has turned up the public volume on her personal faith choices, which is a mixed bag.

"It's amazing to me how little people know about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the things that get misunderstood." Knight had been intrigued by the church in the early 1990s when her daughter embraced it and, in 1997, the singer made the spiritual switch.

"I just felt I needed more, I was looking for more in the religious life and this gave it to me, and it's been wonderful." Knight, who lives in Las Vegas and performs there often, has been a valuable member for the church as well.

There was coverage in the press about Knight playfully ribbing her prophet, the church leader Gordon B. Hinckley, about a certain lack of soul in the music of Mormonism. The result was his invitation to guide the choir.

"It's one of the most important things in my life. I get to sing and help spread the word, and it sounds beautiful."

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-- Geoff Boucher

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