Gladys Knight and the O'Jays Bring Hits and Smiles to the Fox Theatre

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The O'Jays: Walter Williams, Eric Grant and Eddie Levert, at the Fox Theatre, 11/13./15. Photo by Jeff Ritter

When you hear the word “Motown” any number of names should immediately spring to mind: Barry Gordy Jr., Diana Ross and The Supremes, The Four Tops, The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, The Marvelettes, Smokey Robinson, and of course, Gladys Knight & The Pips. When I found out that the Empress of Soul was coming to the Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis on November 13, 2015, I was excited. When I found out she was sharing the bill with the O’Jays, the Ohio soul standouts who struck gold time and time again on Philadelphia International Records, I was over the moon. I had to be there to witness these legends for myself.  

Kids today seem largely disinterested in anything that hasn’t happened in the last ten years. Try getting anyone under 25 to sit through an old black and white movie these days. It’s like herding cats. They don’t seem to understand that Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys, and Christina Aguilera would not be what they are today without the likes of Gladys Knight and her contemporaries laying the foundation for rock & soul. Ms. Knight is 71 years old, but going on 29. She looked fabulous as she walked out stage in a lacy hot pink number, greeted the crowd enthusiastically, and launched into a medley of Motown favorites, including “I Heard It Through the Grape Vine,” which was a breakout hit for Gladys Knight & the Pips in 1967. Gladys and her band of young musicians, some of them probably half my age, played for over an hour, covering all of her big hits, including “Every Beat of My Heart,” “You Are The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me,” a gorgeous rendition of “If I Were Your Woman” and of course her signature song, “Midnight Train to Georgia.” Gladys was charming and witty, bantering with her band and the audience throughout her set. The big highlight, however, was when her brother Merald “Bubba” Knight, the last original Pip, strolled on stage. He asked to do a duet, and Gladys said no. He said, “Fine, I guess I’ll just do this on my own for all my fans that came out here tonight to see me. Hit it!” Bubba and the band broke into a rousing cover of Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ smash hit, “Uptown Funk.” You had to be there, but trust me, it was fantastic! Gladys beamed the whole time, hiding her face and laughing hard as her brother dropped it like it’s hot, and joined in with the group on the chorus.

After a short intermission, The O’Jays hit the stage. Many a lady in the crowded Fox Theatre was calling out for Eddie Levert, Walter Williams, and relative newcomer Eric Grant as they went old school, dancing and swinging to the beat in matching red suits with scarves and pendants. I knew I would know some of their hits, but I was really there to witness “For the Love of Money,” which for my money features the single greatest funky bass riff in all of music history. Having missed out on ever seeing Jimi Hendrix play “All Along the Watchtower,” I was ecstatic to be able to see the O’Jays perform one of my personal Top 10 songs of all time. Of course, I was not disappointed by their performance of other favorites, including “Give the People What They Want,” “I Love Music,” “Put Your Hands Together,” and their #1 hit, “Love Train.”

It was a toe-tapping, soulful, funky good time at the Fox, and everywhere I looked there were smiles on everyone’s faces. The ages of the audience ranged wide, which goes to show you that no matter how you are, Gladys Knight and the O’Jays music is timeless. These musicians are all Hall of Famers for a reason, and I learned why first hand tonight. If the opportunity to see either Gladys Knight or the O’Jays presents itself to you, where ever you might be, you owe it to yourself to see music royalty perform. If you can see them both on the same bill, consider yourself truly blessed. 

Grade: 
5.0 / 5.0