Originally signed to the Brunswick label, they moved to Motown in 1966. Gladys has said of Motown, “they opened doors for black performers that had never been opened before because they leveled the power, you know, to raise us all up. I mean, they opened the door to the Copa Cabana and they opened the door to The Ed Sullivan Show and so many other television shows. And they used that power well to get us where we needed to be.”
The Ed Sullivan Show first hosted Gladys Knight on February 25 1968. In a performance chock-full of glitzy visual effects, the group performed a medley of songs including “The End of Our Road” and “I Heard it Through the Grapevine”. The latter song spent 6 weeks at number one on the R&B charts. It was the group’s first hit with Motown Records. Soon after their performance on The Ed Sullivan Show, “The End of Our Road” reached #15 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Gladys and the Pips appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show again on October 5 1969 to perform another medley. The sequence prominently featured “The Nitty Gritty”, which subsequently hit #19 on the Billboard Hot 100, and a cover of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.”
Gladys Knight and the Pips’ special performance on The Ed Sullivan Show happened on March 29, 1970. The group performed in front of wounded soldiers being treated at Fitzsimons General Army Hospital in Denver, a unique and inspiring setting that Gladys took full advantage of. Starting with the popular chorus of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude”, she soon had the entire hospital wing singing right along with her. Transitioning to the group’s biggest hit, Knight dove right into a powerful rendition of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” The performance is one of the all-time classics on The Ed Sullivan Show.
The group appeared one last time on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 7 1971. Although no one knew it at the time, this would be the Sullivan show’s last live episode. Donning matching green outfits, they performed their hit “If I Were Your Woman” along with a soulful cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s classic “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.
Ed Sullivan called Gladys Knight and the Pips one of the best acts in the business, and they continued to produce hits long after The Ed Sullivan Show went off the air. Although Gladys has recorded with and without The Pips, the group had a number one R & B hit and won a Grammy award in 1988. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
Gladys explains their longevity: “One reason we’ve been able to stick together is because we pray before each show – pray for the strength to stay humble, courage to keep pushing, and the ability to reach people with our message.”