Reaching Out: Gladys Knight Talks New Music, Tori Kelly + The Likelihood Of A Reunion With The Pips

The R&B legend just wants to get you movin'!

-By Heather Haynes

Gladys Knight has made quite the return with her upbeat dance single “Just A Little.”  The song is the first we’ve heard from Gladys’ forthcoming 2016 album, and came as a surprising break from the ballads we’ve come to expect from the R&B legend.

Gladys stopped by our offices to talk about her new single and current projects. She also revealed which You Oughta Know alum and pop powerhouse she’d love to duet with today, who she’d want to play her in a biopic, and more. Check out the Q&A below, and watch the video for “Just A Little” here.

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VH1: The music industry has changed so much throughout your career. What do you consider a pro and a con about the industry?

Gladys Knight: A pro from yesterday is I think we didn’t do it for the money so much as we did for the love of what we wanted to do —to entertain. Money has been so infused into the industry today. Artists kind of just go to whatever is going to make them money. Don’t get me wrong, who doesn’t want to make money? But, I just think the quality in the whole thing is so much different than what it used to be.

What’s the secret to your longevity?

That’s a good one! See, everyone thinks it’s something magical. I got to give the honor to God. If you are trying to live your life in a way that’s suiting him, he will bless you in that way and I try to keep that in my music. It’s about him keeping me going and having wonderful people in my life, like all my friends, my team right here that works for me. They’re handpicked people. It’s about being blessed and it isn’t me. He keeps me going.

Your new single “Just A Little” is a fun, upbeat, catchy dance song, different from your usual ballads. What was the inspiration behind that song?

Yea, how about that?

I love it!

Girl, I’m trying to dance. You know what I’m saying now? I hope you find yourself humming it. That’s what the kids are doing right now. I have 17 grandkids and eight great-grandkids, and all my kids. I got all these generations and they’re walking around singing "It don’t matter who you are..." That’s great! I always choose my songs first by their lyrical content. But, when I heard this, it just stuck with me. It’s a message I want to say to people, not just here in this country but around the world. Maybe there will be a wave or a movement. People in China talking about, "It don’t matter where you are or who you are, love can carry you away." That’s what I love about this song. Plus, it’s catchy. You can do your thing to it.

This single is produced by S1, correct?

Yes! S1 doesn’t say much, but he has worked for the biggest people in the business. Beyonce, Kanye, and everybody like that, but you would never hear him say it! That’s God working in him, because it’s the gift he’s been given! He’s an amazing producer. I think I have enjoyed recording, probably more than ever in working with S, because there is a spirit about what we do. I think it’s going to be in the music. Everybody is loving this song. I’ve made music before. 64 years I’ve been making music, but the buzz that’s going around this record and I can’t get it out of my head. I can’t. All the music I’ve made has never stayed in my head like this one does and so, I think that’s what it’s all about.

It bridges the age gap too! I think that’s amazing.

That’s what I’m talking about! I love it. I love it, I do. Not just because its mine, but because of what it is and what it says and how we got it made.

Describe the G70 series that you’re promoting.

Well girl, it’s about everything. I look at people all the time and they look at numbers like "Woo, I’m getting old." I’ve never looked at numbers, it’s what’s in your spirit. It’s how you feel. G, in that G, you know it stands for me, but more than that it stands for God. I am 71 years old and not ashamed of that. I am very blessed that I have another day at 71 years of it, every time I wake up. Like, Beyoncé has Sasha Fierce. I have G70, that kind of thing. That’s it! And 7 is the number of completion, If your ever read the bible. So, hey! We’re doing it, and we’re coming to the point where we need to make this statement, to complete it, to have a full circle and to come around spreading love as we started out.

What music are you currently listening to besides your own?

I’m consumed with my music right now. I haven’t really been into the things I used to be. I use have an iPod with Luther and coming on up to today, but I saw this girl on TV, and her name is Tori Kelly. You know of her?

Yes! Of course!

I was watching this award show and I look for this kind of spirit, this kind of gift. And she knocked my socks off. I was glued to the television. She played a guitar, just this instrument, and she did the song. It was just something, I said, "Now this is something unearthly." She has a great voice. You know, there are many great voices out here today. But, with her, I feel a spirit. Hopefully we get a chance to do something together. I haven’t been paired up with a whole lot of people in my lifetime, but she’s very special and I feel like she’s going to take a message around the world with her sound.

We’re going to set that up!

Go ahead, get on it!

How is being a judge on Apollo Live different from when you were on American Idol?

Apollo is a fun show. Let me tell you, even though I was a judge on the first season of Idol, it was different over there. It was like everybody was trying to be the star, [even] the judges. They carried their notoriety with them. We’re here to lead and to guide, and even though I may say something that’s not to their liking, I’m not trying to kill you. Because, we got enough spirits and egos and stuff busted today, to the point the kids don’t want to do nothing. They want to get it easy. You didn’t make it this time but keep going. Some doors going to open for you and you need to go home and practice or you need to get it together, or your mom needs to tell you, "Baby, that’s not for you." That’s what they need to do. They need to tell you what’s real and what’s not real. I prefer that any day. I tell all my people, when I lose it, don’t let me be out there doing nothing, trying to keep it going. If the voice goes and you ain’t got nothing left, love me enough to let me know that, because I can just go home and just take care of business and just keep worshiping the Lord like I do now. We should just tell them people that. We should tell them, when they come over there and they all messed up. I said, "Oh baby, sugar pie, that’s not right." I love that show. I love that show!

Apollo has a great history.

We used to hurry it up at the Apollo and get off stage. That little box that’s over to the right, that’s where the entertainers working for the show used to sit for the gospel show and for the amateur hour, and we used to go over there and mess with people in the box. They’d come out and they boo them now. That’s something that I said, "You know, I don’t know about that." I never could do that, but it was just another kind of time. They taught us so much when we worked at the Apollo. After every show, do you know the owners would come down and tell you, "You know, you were on too long," "What’s the matter with your voice?", "We’re going to move your spot from this spot to that spot because we think you would do better." That mentorship is no longer available to these people.

What do you look for in new talent? When you see someone at the Apollo stage, what are you really looking for?

I look for, first of all, presentation, because they came to perform. If you ain’t coming right, that’s the first thing they’re going to do. My mom said, "They’re going to see you before they hear you," So, she always made sure we were dressed properly. Okay, don’t come up here with your thigh boots on. You know what I mean, and your pants all hanging off and your dress is all up to here where everybody can see.

Who would you choose to play the younger you in your biopic?

Kelly Rowland.

That’s great! Why Kelly Rowland?

I don’t know why, it’s always been her.

I could see it!

I got to tell you that I did speak to my girl Regina King, and she wanted to do it. She is so amazing as an actress and I’m not saying she would not be able to capture the part, but there’s something about Kelly’s spirit. She’s been in the industry. She’s been a part of a group. She’s has that soft, quiet thing that I feel like I’ve always had since I was so young in the business when I first got started. You know, they just kept me in my room, so I learned how to play solitaire and I read comic books and I did all of those things. I see her doing that. You know, she’s a quiet spirit, but she’s a firecracker on stage.

I love it, I love Kelly.

Yeah, she’s a sweetheart. That’s what she is.

"That’s what Friends are For" is one of the biggest collabs of all time, one of my favorite songs, as well. Who are a few of you best friends in the industry?

Well, I have to say Dionne [Warwick]. We’ve been that way since we first met. When I first met Dionne, she was dressing under the steps. I wasn’t with the Pips then, but the Pips had a hit single out called "Daring," and they were performing at the Brooklyn Fox. So, I went by. I surprised them. I came in town and I went to see them, to see what they were doing on stage. And they said, "Hey! You want to meet Dionne Warwick?" I said, "Yea, where is she?" They took me to her dressing room, which was up under the steps. They went in the room first. They said "First we got to do something." Because they had a tiny, little dressing room. They said, "Ms. D, come on, you’re not dressing in here no more. We’re going to swap room with you. We’ll dress down here. You can dress in our dressing room."

I thought that was the kind of Pips that I knew, they would do something like that. So, we went to the other dressing room. We just started talking, and we’ve been best friends ever since. I mean, friends to the point where you don’t just meet in the industry. I was there when she got married. I was there when she had her kids. She knows my kids, they would spend the night together. That kind of thing. That’s a real friend in the industry.

Now, there are others that I know, and the same thing with Patti [LaBelle]. The first time I met Patti was at the Apollo and she was doing "Somewhere over the Rainbow," even then. We had this little nest upstairs, a little door you would go through and you can out on the stage. I was up there in the nest and I heard her sing "Somewhere over the Rainbow." I said, "Wow!" She was with the Blue Bells then. Oh, we were so naughty back then. If somebody came on stage, we used to be talking about them people that shouldn’t be on stage, but they got a break and got in here. We were always eating chicken so we'd save the bones and if they weren’t doing good, we would just drop them over on the stage, and they went right down there.

That was so funny! Speaking of Patti, have you seen her new cooking show?

No, I haven’t!

She has a new cooking show on The Cooking Channel. Maybe you can be a guest on the show? Do you think you’re a better cook?

Not better, but different. Patti’s more…do I want to say Creole? Hot Sauce? Everything Spicy, like that and I’m more, down south, southern home cooking, kind of thing. I’m a cook you sweet potato soufflé. I’m going to cook some greens and cook them right. I have a special way I do my cabbage. I have a squash casserole that everybody, even my kids, love. I won’t tell my kids how to make it.

So my last question is a question for my parents. They want to know can we ever expect a Gladys Knight and Pips reunion tour?

Well, that would be kind of difficult. You have some groups that have been out there and what they do is alternate whenever someone goes crazy and they want to keep a certain number of people. They just go and get somebody else to fill that spot. We changed one time and that was it. We decided then that whatever it is, that’s what it’s going to be. Edward [Patten] has passed away and William [Guest] has had three operations with bypasses. Bubba [Knight] is the only one left and he’s been on the road with me forever, to the point where he thinks we’re a duet— and we’re not. So, that’s the reason we wouldn’t have a united Gladys Knight and the Pips, because we have one Pip left.

That would have been fun, but it just can’t happen and that’s the way it has turned out to be. So, I just keep letting him come out thinking we’re a duet, but it’s no sweat off my back. I love giving. I love sharing. I love all of those things. I’m not the kind of artist to say. "Well, no. I don’t want to do this with so and so, because you want to keep all of the limelight." I like collaborations and I like working with people. I do. I just gather up everybody, just to sing, and Bubba sings with me. He’s on a lot of our music, along with Avehre and my background singers. I have a choir in my church, and we travel all over the world. It’s called the SUV, Saints Unified Voices, and we’re doing an inner faith day in December, with all denominations. I’m Mormon, basically, but we have Baptist and Methodist and all of those. They’ve been having conferences, so we can get together and worship one God. It’s the same God, y’all, and I’m really excited about that because we’ll get the chance to blend these faiths. So yeah, I’m still working with people and reaching out.