Gladys Knight (b. 28 May 1944, Atlanta, Georgia, USA), her brother Merald "Bubba" (b. 4 September 1942, Atlanta, Georgia, USA), sister Brenda and cousins Elenor Guest and William Guest (b. 2 June 1941, Atlanta, Georgia, USA) formed their first vocal group in their native Atlanta in 1952. Calling themselves the Pips, the youngsters sang supper-club material in the week, and gospel music on Sundays.
They first recorded for Brunswick Records in 1958, with another cousin of the Knights, Edward Patten (b. 2 August 1939), and Langston George making changes to the group line-up the following year when Brenda and Elenor left to get married. Three years elapsed before their next sessions, which produced a version of Johnny Otis' "Every Beat Of My Heart" for the small Huntom label. This song, which highlighted Knight's bluesy, compelling vocal style, was leased to Vee Jay Records when it began attracting national attention, and went on to top the US R&B charts.
By this time, the group, now credited as Gladys Knight And The Pips, had signed a long-term contract with Fury Records, where they issued a re-recording of "Every Beat Of My Heart" which competed for sales with the original release. Subsequent singles such as "Letter Full Of Tears" and "Operator" sealed the group's R&B credentials, but a switch to the Maxx label in 1964 - where they worked with producer Van McCoy - brought their run of successes to a halt. Langston George retired from the group in the early 60s, leaving the line-up that survived into the 80s.
In 1966, Gladys Knight and the Pips were signed to Motown Records' Soul subsidiary, where they were teamed up with producer/songwriter Norman Whitfield. Knight's tough vocals left them slightly out of the Motown mainstream, and throughout their stay with the label the group were regarded as a second-string act. In 1967, they had a major hit single with the original release of "I Heard It Through The Grapevine", an uncompromisingly tough performance of a song that became a Motown standard in the hands of its author Marvin Gaye in 1969. "The Nitty Gritty" (1968) and "Friendship Train" (1969) proved equally successful, while the poignant "If I Were Your Woman" was one of the label's biggest-selling releases of 1970.
In the early 70s, the group slowly moved away from their original blues-influenced sound towards a more middle-of-the-road harmony blend. Their new approach brought them success in 1972 with "Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye)". Later that year, Knight and The Pips elected to leave Motown for Buddah Records, unhappy at the label's shift of operations from Detroit to Hollywood. At Buddah, the group found immediate success with the US chart-topper "Midnight Train To Georgia", an arresting soul ballad, while major hits such as "I've Got To Use My Imagination" and "The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me" mined a similar vein.
In 1974, they performed Curtis Mayfield's soundtrack songs for the film Claudine; the following year, the title track of I Feel A Song gave them another soul number 1. Their smoother approach was epitomized by the medley of "The Way We Were/Try To Remember" which was the centrepiece of Second Anniversary in 1975 - the same year that saw Gladys and the group host their own US television series. Gladys made her acting debut in Pipedream in 1976, for which the group recorded a soundtrack album.