Last month, the Empress of Soul and Latter-day Saint Gladys Knight was honored at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. The annual awards presentation recognizes those in the performing arts for their lifetime of contributions to American culture, and as a seven-time Grammy Award winner with recording hits throughout the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, many friends and fans think this award for Knight is long overdue. As Nasima Ali commented on YouTube, “Should’ve gotten it years ago!!! Gladys is a LIVING legend! Congrats to the Empress of Soul!”
Knight’s longtime friend, singer and songwriter Patti LaBelle, agreed and was there at the ceremony to present the honor. “I just delivered to a queen,” she gushed after the event concluded. “My baby, Gladys, is the most wonderful person in my life; one of my show business people who never lets me down. … I’m so proud of her.”
As reported by NPR, the stage at the Kennedy Center was lit by a massive sign reading “Gladys” where LaBelle stood and called Knight her “everything.” The two powerhouse performers have been friends for more than six decades and have seen each other through good and hard times. “We do everything together,” LaBelle shared. “I am honored to honor you tonight.”
Actor and hip-hop star LL Cool J also spoke at the event and shared his appreciation for Knight’s ability to connect with people. “I once heard Gladys sing the ABCs and I thought I was in church,” he said.
“I’m humbled beyond words to be included amongst this prestigious group of individuals, both past and present,” Knight said of the honor. “You could never have told me as a young girl starting my career that I would be honored on a stage such as this, with artists and humanitarians such as these—it just wouldn’t have seemed possible. … I have been blessed with so much in my life and this certainly stands with those achievements at the top of that list. To be honored as a Kennedy Center Honoree is among the highlights of my career. I stand here with my fans, my family, my friends, my team, and my faith in accepting such an amazing distinction. It is dedicated to all those who paved the path for me to be able to accomplish the wonderful blessings I’ve been able to receive.”
Knight became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1997 when she was baptized by her son. In 2000, she also performed with The Tabernacle Choir as the guest artist for their first annual Christmas concert.
► You may also like: How Gladys Knight became a Latter-day Saint
As part of the celebration, 2021 Academy Award winner Ariana DeBose performed “I Heard It through the Grapevine” as a tribute to Knight, who first released the song with the Pips in September of 1967.
Country singer and songwriter and 2021 Kennedy Center Honoree Garth Brooks also performed Knight’s beloved classic, “Midnight Train to Georgia.”
The performance was a full-circle moment for both singers as Knight performed Brooks’s hit “We Shall Be Free” at his Honors awards ceremony in 2021.
One blogger on Showbiz411.com wrote, “My only regret … is that honorees themselves don’t perform. To hear Gladys in that special would really make it special!” But in 2017, as part of a Kennedy Center tribute to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Knight performed “Midnight Train to Georgia” with diva-quality soul and panache. You can watch her performance in the player below.
You can read more about the event and the other Honorees celebrated at the Kennedy Center on NPR.