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Gladys Knight's new album, "Where My Heart Belongs," was originally intended to be a Christmas CD.

But the seven-time Grammy Award-winner couldn't shake a certain impression.

"Why should we have to wait until Christmas when Christ is here all the time?" Knight said. "Even with the song, 'Happy Birthday Jesus,' why is that the only time we would wish him the best? Let’s make this an inspirational album that covers a lot of areas."

Knight shared those and other interesting insights in an interview with the Deseret News while in Salt Lake City recently to promote the new album, which went on sale this month.

In addition to talking about her CD, the "Empress of Soul" with a prominent gold CTR ring on her finger talked about such topics as her family history, highlights from her career and her favorite LDS Church hymn.

Interesting notes

For those unfamiliar with Knight and her career, here is a short summary.

From the 1950s to the 1980s, she was featured in the group Gladys Knight & the Pips. Their most recognized song was the No. 1 hit “Midnight Train to Georgia,” which won a Grammy in 1973.

She parted ways with the Pips in 1989 and became a solo artist, recording with other famous artists, winning more Grammys and getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She now directs her own gospel choir, Saints Unified Voices.

Knight was among many artists invited to perform at LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley's 90th birthday celebration in 2000.

It's also interesting to note that at age 67 in 2012, she performed on "Dancing With the Stars."

Musical family

When asked about her family heritage and from whom she inherited her musical talents, Knight smiled and talked about her parents, along with her uncle.

"My mom and dad sang in the church choir. They also had a local group. They loved music, especially my dad," Knight said. "I've done part of my family history ... but I haven't delved too much into what their professions were. I do know that on my mom’s side, my uncle sang and had a gospel group. He also had a radio show he would do on Sundays with his quartet. He would take me down on Sunday with him sometimes and let me sit in the studio. Sometimes he would ask me if I wanted to sing."

Knight said she appreciated that her parents and family members didn't force her into music.

"I loved that about my family. It wasn’t like, 'You are going to do this or that,' it was always 'Would you like to?'" Knight said. "They always gave me the options."

Career highlights

Knight has performed in the White House for the president of the United States several times. Her first trip to the White House came when she was about 15 years old.

At that time, she performed with the top social jazz band in Atlanta. Her future husband was a member of the band. One day, they were pleasantly surprised to receive an invitation to perform at a White House event.

"I will never forget that. It was amazing," Knight said. "That stands out as an early highlight."

She spoke of firsts — winning her first Grammy, her first interview with People magazine, her first appearance on the TV show "Soul Train," and being invited to the first American Music Awards with Dick Clark in 1973.

"We’ve had a lot of firsts, and I’m grateful for that because one opportunity leads to another opportunity," Knight said.

Going back to the first American Music Awards, Knight said Clark flew to where her group was performing in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, to ask if they would be part of the event.

“ ‘We’ve been friends a long time. I need some names on the show. Will you do it?’ ” Knight recalled Clark saying.

“He said, ‘You guys are nominated for four American Music Awards, and I cannot have an artist with four nominations not be there.’ ”

“ ‘Sure, when is it?’ ” Knight said she replied. “It was during the time that we were performing at the casino. He said he would make sure to get us there and get back. We went and did it. It worked out fine.”

Knight also recalled her first exposure to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. She loved her high school music class and greatly respected her teacher, Mr. Barker. While most high school students didn't take music seriously, Knight said she "drank it like it was a milkshake."

One day the class was learning about harmony, and the teacher played something that Knight has never forgotten.

"He said, 'Now this is harmony, this is pitch, this is the epitome of what a choir should sound like,' and he played the Mormon Tabernacle Choir," Knight said. "I just fell in love with them. To this day, I am a lover of harmony. That started it for me."

When Knight became a musical guest of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in 2000, she flashed back to that high school memory.

"When I stood in front of them to sing, that blew my mind. It took me back all the way to high school," she said. "I just love their music."

Favorite hymn

Knight joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1997. She loves the church hymns and included an arrangement of "There is a Green Hill Far Away" on the album because it's her favorite.

The story goes that one day her assistant director called to say she had been thinking about a hymn.

"What is it?" Knight asked.

“ ‘Green Hill,’ ” the woman said.

“You didn’t say ‘Green Hill,’ because I was thinking I would do that song,” Knight said. "We collaborated on it. That’s my favorite hymn."

The message

Knight incorporated some of her own personal journey into the music, and she hopes her new album inspires fans and listeners to remember the Lord and his blessings in their lives.

"It's a reminder of how amazing he (the Lord) is. We get busy. ... we kind of take him for granted some times," she said. "He loves all of us, and he’s got us."

A conversation with Gladys Knight

Empress Gladys & The Pips "Midnight Train To Georgia" in 1973.

Email: ttoone@deseretnews.com Twitter: tbtoone