By Danielle Stockton
Being a talented and widely appreciated singer, Gladys Knight could have easily remained in the mainstream music market. Instead, after her 1997 conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Knight chose to largely dedicate her incredible singing gifts to spreading the Gospel. One might wonder how and why the R&B icon decided to focus mostly upon Gospel music. The answer is both as simple as God and as complicated as the remarkable religious journey Knight underwent to find God’s true church.
Knight’s conversion story is both tender and fascinating as it in many ways began at the tender age of four. In fact, Knight’s religious conversion is so unique that Ana Gabriel of Church News decided to pay a fitting tribute to it by describing it in great detail in her October 31, 1998 article entitled “Gladys Knight sings new song since her conversion a year ago.” Apparently, in Knight’s early childhood in Georgia, Knight and her mother belonged to a branch of the Protestant faith. In retrospect with her conversion in mind, it seems appropriate to me that Knight began her music career by becoming a soloist in her local church choir in Georgia when she was four years old. However, as Gabriel sagely states, “Despite her stellar career, Sister Knight found herself seeking a different kind of fulfillment. She investigated one church after another for some 20 years in attempts to find ‘the one true church’” (http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/30881/Gladys-Knight-sings-new-song-since-her-conversion-year-ago.html). A crucial catalyst for Knight’s conversion was when her daughter, Kendra, and her son, Jimmy, became members of the LDS faith. As Gabriel points out, although Knight did not convert until eight years later, the LDS religion was no longer foreign to her. Consequently when Kendra suggested that Knight meet some missionaries eight years later when Knight was feeling discouraged in her religious search, Knight was receptive. With the missionaries’ guidance and her personal revelation, Knight was baptized on August 11, 1997, and on August 11, 1998, she “commemorated her baptismal anniversary by receiving her endowments in the Las Vegas Nevada Temple” (http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/30881/Gladys-Knight-sings-new-song-since-her-conversion-year-ago.html).
Moreover, Knight’s religious journey does not culminate with her unique conversion. Rather, Knight has integrated her musical profession with her religious passion and truly given the world fruits of Mormonism. Cheryl Stewart Osborn’s article “Gladys Knight: Sharing the Gospel through Music” portrays the intricate relationship between Knight’s religion and her music. Knight’s new direction of her music career began “in 2002, when her stake asked her to present a gospel-sharing fireside for the Las Vegas community” (http://www.meridianmagazine.com/people/050609knightprint.html). What started out as a large group of singers from Knight’s stake, evolved into the singing sensation known as Saints Unified Voices, the name reflecting the concept of LDS members singing together. As Osborn points out, the rise of Saints Unified Voices occurred with not only Knight’s leadership but also the help professional musicians who were actually non-members, but nonetheless supported Knight’s praise of the Lord in music. Knight’s genius comes through in the unorthodox way she instructs Saints Unified Voices. In her article, Osborn quotes Knight stating, “‘All they get is lyrics because I don’t want anybody reading notes on paper. They have to feel this music’” (http://www.meridianmagazine.com/people/050609knightprint.html). Knight’s efforts to spread the Gospel have yielded fruits of Mormonism in the way that Saints Unified Voices have received widespread acclaim. In particular, an LDS music site proclaims, “One Voice, the debut album from Gladys Knight and the Saints Unified Voices, won the Grammy for Best Gospel Choir Album at the 48th Annual Grammy Awards” (http://www.ldsmusicworld.com/artists/saintsunifiedvoices.html).
Although Knight has certainly galvanized many to the LDS faith through her music, perhaps how Knight has benefited from serving the Lord through her music is just as notable. A website dedicated to Black LDS members shares a part of Knight’s testimony with her quote: “Since I joined the Church, I desire to be more and more obedient to God. As I do so, many people say to me, ‘I see a light in you more than ever before. What is it?’” (http://www.blacklds.org/testimonies#knight). Knight is both representative of and contributor to the rapid growth of Black members of the Church since the 1978 revelation giving the Priesthood to all men. Of far greater import, however, Knight has enhanced both her own spiritual life and those of others through her inspiring religious music.