By Jeff Mays
Back in the early days of her career with the Pips, Knight said she would often perform four to six shows a day at the Apollo, wearing out her vocal cords because, at the time, she didn't know how to save a little something for later shows.
"By the second show, I ain't have no voice because I don't know how to do a little bit," Knight, 66, said Wednesday morning at the Apollo, where she came to see, for the first time, the star in the theater's walk of fame dedicated to Gladys Knight & the Pips.
Apollo owners Bobby and Frank Schiffman sent Knight to see several doctors at their own expense who discovered she had two bad teeth that were affecting her vocal cords. A musical director at the Apollo also discovered she was extending beyond her natural vocal range.
"I am grateful to the Apollo for allowing us to have a venue to come to. There was so many times when we couldn't play anywhere else. It's not like we had an open door to the Copacabana or to Cocunut Grove or all those other highfalutin places we were aspiring to go to. But the Apollo was there for us," Knight said.
Now, she's going to be there for the Apollo by appearing on the theater's first float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday. Knight, a seven-time Grammy winner also known as the "Empress of Soul," stopped by the Apollo Wednesday to see the plaque.
"Who would've thought," Knight said as she kneeled down to rub the plaque while fans yelled her name.
"Harlem loves you," said one passerby.
Jonelle Procope, president and CEO of the Apollo Theater said Knight, who was an Amateur Night winner in the early 1960s, will also represent a tribute to the great singers who came before her.
"She's so much a part of the Apollo legacy and it is a beautiful thing to be able to celebrate people while they are still alive. There's so many people who came before her who are no longer with us," said Procope. "It's imperative that we try to reach out to the people who are living because they are the keepers of the history."
The float is also part of a continuing effort to burnish the Apollo's legacy.
"A lot of people have to be reminded of the significance of this institution, so the more we can get our story out there, the more we can engage people," Procope said of the theater, which is celebrating its 75th season.
Knight presented the Apollo on Wednesday with the original 45 record "Every Beat of My Heart" from Fury Records that brought her and the Pips to the Apollo as professionals for the first time.
"This was our first step into the big time," Knight said.
Riding on the float with Knight will also be three Amateur Night performers. Among them may be the next Gladys Knight, said Procope.
"This is blowing my mind. The Ella Fitzgeralds of the world and the Count Basies of the world, all the people that came before me they are asking me to represent," said Knight. "I don't take that honor lightly. it is something I cherish and will do my best to uphold."