Review by Sunni Clyburn
Photos by Linda Dunjey
It’s not often that one can witness a legend of the days of old. For this reason the 4th of February 2020 was a unique musical experience for Perth dwellers who lived through the times of Motown and those who feel they were born in the wrong decade. Gladys Knight was welcomed with a standing ovation from the audience in the Crown Theatre and an incredible warmth beamed from her from the moment she set foot on stage in a glamorous yet classy glimmering red pantsuit. From the onset the atmosphere in the theatre was that of a long overdue family reunion. The Empress of Soul displayed a brilliant sense of humour in her banter with audience members who shouted out their expressions of love and gratitude for her.
“ You gonna make me hurt myself,” she’d say with a full-bellied laughter. “I love you too! I love it when you talk to me.”
Knight treated the audience to all the much loved classics, including “Midnight Train to Georgia”, “The Nitty Gritty” and “The Way We Were”. Her entire performance was filled with the kind of joy and appreciation of life that comes with having experienced incredible pain and then risen above it.
“If anyone should ever ask, my life story is dedicated to everyone in the audience,” she said. “God made me a people person and without you there is no me.”
Her offering was that of wisdom and healing through music. One could imagine that instead of a theatre in an entertainment complex, everyone present had been transported to a scene of storytelling around a campfire. An evening where the elders shared knowledge and wisdom; the mortality, death and pain they faced and yet still found a way to enjoy being alive. They reminded their community of what was important.
“We overlook the important stuff. Making each other feel wanted and needed and loved.” – this was Knight’s reminder.
Knight is a raw storyteller at heart and her performance was uplifting and moving; it’s highly doubtful that there was a dry eye in the crowd. You could actually hear constant sniffling. The powerhouse of soul showed there is magic in human connection and sharing the pain and heavy load of life. One couldn’t help but reflect on the sad reality of a lack of intergenerational storytelling, dialogue and support in our world today.
Knight’s show was all about inclusion, appreciation and empowerment of musicians past and present.
“I am so blessed to have such talented young people working with me” she beamed as she gave tribute to 21 century artists. Her rendition of Sam Smith’s “Stay with me” was a welcome surprise. “I like that song, I really do. I like all kinds of music and that’s one of my favourites.”
Her version of “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran was equally unexpected and one couldn’t help but smile. Her repertoire also included tributes to Aretha Franklin, James Ingram and “big brother” Marvin Gaye.
“1967 was a good year for us. We had so much fun back then. Marvin stole our song,” she chuckled in reference to “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” – she sang both versions, to everyone’s delight.
“It was big brother and big sister time. We were just happy for each other because back in the day it wasn’t easy.”
With nearly 50 years of bringing music to the world this virtuoso of the stage showed that her passion and calling is one that she will never retire from. She will sing as if her life depended on it until the day she leaves this world. Gladys Knight left her Perth family with the simplest advice that most find the hardest to follow: “Love someone along the way. It’s important that we do.”