Monday, April 22, 2024

Gladys Knight Reunites with Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick for Apollo Theater Rendition of “That’s What Friends Are For”


EXCLUSIVE For the second night in a row, Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network filmed Legends at the Apollo. This time, however, the main attraction– Gladys Knight– pulled off a coup. She reunited with Stevie Wonder and Dionne Warwick for a sensational rendition of “That’s What Friends Are For” that brought the Apollo crowd– which included Cissy Houston and Vy Higgensen– to their feet.

For 90 minutes preceding, Knight, 71 going on 40, wowed the crowd with full length versions of her hits like “Midnight Train to Georgia,” “Neither One of Us,” “Heard it Through the Grapevine,” and “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.” She added in an old hit, “I Don’t Wanna Do Wrong,” which coincidentally has been in regular rotation for the last couple of weeks on SiriusXM’s Soul Town.

On “(I’ve Really Got to Use My) Imagination,” Gladys brought out her older brother former Pip Bubba Knight who danced and sang up a storm. No one in the invited audience but for a few people knew that Stevie or Dionne was in the house.

Gladys, wearing a diaphanous white pants suit, is a vocal presence to behold. Her voice has only grown richer over the years, with incredible texture. On her hits as well as jazz offerings of “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “Stormy Weather,” she creates modulations that are out of this world. It’s as if no time, or only a really good time, has passed since her zenith circa 1973 after she and the Pips left Motown for Buddah Records and a string of hits. She is most certainly over due for a Kennedy Center honor among other things.

gladys and bubba knightThe night had special meaning: Bubba told me after the show that he and Gladys performed their first hit, “Every Beat of My Heart,” at the Apollo with the Pips way back in 1962. They were children!

Backstage, Stevie hung out with Gladys — his Motown label mate in the 60s–and Dionne reminiscing about those early days. Stevie also told me about the heat– the actual temperatures– in Washington, Philadelphia, and Central Park as he performed three surprise shows on Monday to wild acclaim. He starts a new leg of “Songs in the Key of Life” tour next month, and he looks and sounds great.

Meanwhile, yes, Cissy Houston did make what I think is her first public appearance since the untimely death of granddaughter Bobbi Kristina. She came to support her cousin, Dionne. Cissy was dressed in a black silk suit, and remained low key. She’s been through unimaginable sorrow but she’s a survivor. Dionne said she was grateful that she came, but Houston left after the show and didn’t socialize backstage.

On Monday night, Smokey Robinson held the Apollo stage. His special guest was Joss Stone, who came back as an audience member last night. Tonight– Wednesday– OWN presents Earth, Wind & Fire. On Thursday, it’s The Isley Brothers. The concerts will shown on OWN this fall. Amazing stuff. Real legends. Our music royalty.

And prepare yourselves– Gladys’s assistant played me her new single, due in September. It’s so off the charts hip it’s going to surprise everyone. The producer–Symbolyc One (S1) aka Larry Griffin Jr. is a find. He’s worked with Kanye, Jay Z, and Beyonce, as well as Eminem. Hot stuff.


Both photos c2015


Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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