Gladys Knight Credit: Courtesy the Artist

The true mark of a musical icon might be the power to move intergenerational audiences with a signature song, even decades after its original release. Take soul legend Gladys Knight: she often ends her concerts with the 1973 hit “Midnight Train to Georgia,” a tribute to those who follow their dreams and fail. Born in Atlanta, Knight had her first brush with fame in 1952, when at age seven she sang on the TV show Original Amateur Hour (a precursor to the likes of America’s Got Talent). That same year, she and several family members started a singing group that they eventually dubbed the Pips. Aside from a short break in the early 60s to start her own family, Knight led the soulful group with her velvety, understated vocals till 1989, when the Pips disbanded and she launched a solo career. Though Knight has earned plenty of accolades and awards (including seven Grammy wins between her solo work and Gladys Knight & the Pips), she and her collaborators haven’t always received the respect that they deserved in the music industry. The Pips had already achieved some success before signing to Motown in 1966—they’d even cracked the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100 with a 1961 cover of Johnny Otis’s “Every Beat of My Heart”—but the group felt overlooked among the label’s cavalcade of stars. In her 1997 autobiography, Between Each Line of Pain and Glory, Knight recalls Berry Gordy removing her group from the opening spot on a national Supremes tour because the Pips were getting bigger audience reactions than Diana Ross. Still, the group stayed with Motown till 1973, eventually recording several of their biggest hits with the label, including “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “If I Were Your Woman.” At that point they signed with Buddha, where their second single, “Midnight Train,” quickly hit number one. Though Knight is no stranger to television (she and the Pips had a short-lived variety series in the 70s, and in 2013, Knight starred in her own reality show, Knight Life With Gladys), it was surprising to find her competing earlier this year on the American version of The Masked Singer—a singing competition where celebrities “mask” themselves in elaborate animal costumes and try to get ahead based solely on their voices and performances. Knight finished third runner-up, and long before she unmasked for her finale, the judges and her fellow competitors began to suspect her true identity. When it was revealed, judge Kenan Thompson summed up what she means to her fans: “That voice has graced my life, my parents’ life, and every single family member I’ve ever had.” On this tour, she’s been sticking mostly to favorites from throughout her nearly seven-decade career, including her 1987 Grammy-winning dance single “Love Overboard.” While that song may not have the same cultural weight as “Midnight Train,” Knight’s delivery of its playful opening lines (“They tell me, Gladys / You know you love too hard / But I tell them / Not nearly hard enough”) shows why she’s still so irresistible.   v