On a mission: Soul superstar Gladys Knight has New Orleans on her mind

On a mission: Soul superstar Gladys Knight has New Orleans on her mind
September 25, 2010
by Phil Roura
Daily News

Time heals all wounds. But the death and the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina five years ago still claw at Gladys Knight because, even though she was born in Georgia and now lives in Las Vegas, those who perished in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans were our brothers and sisters.

She's doing her bit to help the city recover. In July, she chose the Big Easy to unveil her new line of jewelry at the Essence Magazine Festival because "it is important we keep the spotlight on the city."

"We have to bring them as much business as we possibly can," says the legendary R&B singer as she prepares for her concert in the MGM Grand at Foxwoods on Saturday.

As far as she is concerned, the city, state and federal authorities "are still behind the eight ball" in improving conditions. "They've been slow to react."

A half decade later, "there is still much to do. People who have the wherewithal to bring about really dramatic changes" haven't done as much as they should. "At least, that's my observation.

"That's why I want to give this shout-out. It is so good that Essence stayed in the city. They haven't given up on the people. Neither have I. And neither should any of us."

Despite everything, the folks Knight met during her trip to the recovering city "are hopeful and upbeat. I found their attitude to be great. You know African-Ameri- cans. We are always going to have trouble in our lives, but it is very difficult to kill our spirit."

It's the same joie de vivre she discovered during a concert tour of South Africa earlier this year prior to the World Cup soccer tournament. It's in South Africa where her jewelry line is put together by tribeswomen "who make the beads out of old vinyl records. It really blew my mind. It's all recycled. And it's all green.

"We flew everywhere," Knight adds, "but on the last leg I insisted on being driven cross country. We stopped at village after village and I met some of the cutest and sweetest kids anywhere. We stopped and ate burgers and candies that we brought with us. Most of them didn't know who we were, but sometimes I'd sing and then I'd hear, ‘Hey, I know that lady!' "

Her string of hits since the early '60s as the Empress of Soul are known in the streets of Johannesburg and around the world. They include those she recorded with and without the Pips — such as "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" and "Neither One of Us."

But the singer, 66, insists she is not really responsible for the success she has attained. "It's the people who make you," she says. "It's always the people — and artists who don't think so are not seeing things as they are. People buy your records. People go to your concerts. They spend money going to your concerts — and in this economy that
often isn't easy. We all should be eternally grateful for that."

Besides the jewelry business and her string of Chicken & Waffles restaurants, mostly located in Georgia, the multi-Grammy winner is putting together a new CD. But chances are the audience at Foxwoods won't get to hear muchof it, if any.

"People want to hear the hits," says Knight. "They'll be shouting out, hey, what about ‘Midnight Train to Georgia' or ‘If I Were Your Woman' or ‘Help Me Make It Through the Night.'

"I could never get off the stage without singing the standards. I want to give them what they want to hear. And what they want to hear is something that brings a smile to their faces."

The folks in New Orleans can relate to that.

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