The Gallo Center has had many impressive acts over its 10 season history, but never an empress – until now.
The downtown performance venue welcomes “Empress of Soul” Gladys Knight for a sold-out show Thursday, Aug. 4. The seven-time Grammy winner has a long and storied career that spans the worlds of R&B, Motown, pop and gospel music.
“I booked her because she’s a legend and a Motown icon. To my knowledge, she hasn’t played our area before, so that always adds a special aspect to the show,” said Gallo Center CEO Lynn Dickerson. “Reaction from patrons has been terrific. The show has been sold out for weeks and there are dozens of people on the waiting list. It will be another special night at the center, and I’m sure Ms. Knight will leave our town with a positive impression.”
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, 72, rose to fame in the 1950s with her group Gladys Knight & the Pips. Formed when she was 8, the band was composed largely of Knight’s siblings and relatives. In 1961 they had their first No. 1 smash with “Every Beat of My Heart,” and the hits kept on coming. They went on to top the charts with songs like “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “If I Were Your Woman,” “Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye)” and more.
In 1966, Gladys Knight & the Pips signed to Detroit’s influential Motown. But then in 1973 they switched to Buddah Records for fear of being overshadowed by the label’s other roster of marquee names such as Diana Ross & the Supremes, The Temptations and Marvin Gaye. With their new record company they scored their biggest hit to date, “Midnight Train to Georgia.” They kept it going with singles like “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination,” “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me” and “I Feel a Song (In My Heart).”
While still with the Pips, Knight struck out on her own and worked on other projects including being part of Dionne Warwick’s 1985 mega-hit “That’s What Friends Are For” along with Elton John and Stevie Wonder. The single raised more than $3 million for AIDS research. Then in 1989 she launched her solo career in earnest. She sang the James Bond theme song for “License To Kill.” Her other solo hits include “Men,” “Superwoman” and “Missing You.”
Knight continues to produce new music and perform regularly. In 2014 she released her newest studio album, the gospel release “Where My Heart Belongs.” Then last year she put out the dance single “Just a Little.” The upbeat number was written by Knight protégé and R&B singer Avehre. The song will be the lead single to her upcoming 12th solo studio album, which is due out later this year.
Knight told Billboard magazine that she wanted to mix things up with the new song.
“We just wanted to have fun,” Knight told the magazine. “Most of the singles I’ve released prior to this were ballads. I wanted something we could dance to.”
The singer’s appearance at the Gallo Center is among the first of the new season. After another record-setting season for ticket sales, Dickerson said sales are already strong for this year’s slate of shows. Performances already by ranchera superstar Pepe Aguilar and comedian Rodney Carrington have sold out. The season kicks into high gear with Knight’s appearance.
The coming weeks will see shows by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Little Joe y La Familia and Rodrigo y Gabriela. The official season opening gala will be comedian and ventriloquist Terry Fator on Sept. 17.
“The new season is off to a roaring start. Our first three shows in the Rogers Theater have been completely sold out. Many of our shows are selling great, and several are either at or near sold-out status,” Dickerson said. “So we are pleased and very grateful.”
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 4
Where: Rogers Theater, Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto
Tickets: Sold out