For several years people have wondered how Grammy Award winning solo artist, Gladys Knight, came to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her fame as lead singer of Gladys Knight and the Pips has brought her millions of fans, many who are curious how the gospel singing diva was introduced to the religion, and how she was converted.
The story begins with Knight's oldest son- Jimmy Newman, and includes her daughter, husband, and almost inexplicably, R&B sensation R. Kelly.
Jimmy Newman was searching for the truth. Jimmy and his wife Michelene had both been raised Catholic and had been married in a Catholic church. But with 2 small children they searched for a new religion for their growing family. Since graduating from the University of San Diego in 1984 with a degree in business at the age of 22, Jimmy had managed his mother’s group - Gladys Knight and the Pips. After attending different church services, Jimmy and his wife decided to continue searching for the true church. They prayed that God would lead them to a religion where they would find true doctrine and where they could raise their growing family in an increasingly wicked world. As the business manager for his famous mother, Gladys Knight, Jimmy often spent weekends traveling with his mother to concerts around the world. His sister, Kenya Newman Jackson, also joined Gladys and Jimmy on these regular road trips as a business assistant to their entertainer/singer mother.
One day Jimmy and Michelene noticed a new family had moved into the vacant home located across the street from where they lived in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Newmans went over to welcome their new neighbors, David and Maria Sigler, who were about their same age and had a 6 year old and 3 year old, similar to the Newmans two young children. They quickly became close friends, and eventually the Siglers explained that they belonged to the Mormon Church.
One Friday morning, on the way to drop Jimmy off at the Las Vegas airport for a weekend Gladys concert, David gave Jimmy a copy of the Book of Mormon to read. Jimmy and Michelene shortly thereafter took the missionary lessons and loved what they heard. They welcomed the concept of family home evenings. Everything they heard about this new church felt right and the spirit confirmed to their hearts that this restored church was the answer to their many questions and prayers. Jimmy and his wife Michelene were both baptized into the Mormon church on February 25, 1989.
Next, Jimmy began to subtly share the new gospel message with his beloved sister Kenya. Kenya is a vivacious and talented business woman in her own right. On a business trip shortly after his baptism, Jimmy opened his scriptures on the airplane as he sat next to Kenya. When he told her he was reading his scriptures, she was puzzled because she could tell that what he was reading from was not the Bible. The Bible is a part of the Mormon religion, certainly, but on this particular day, Jimmy was reading the Book of Mormon. He began to share his new faith with his sister Kenya, who, with her husband Jim, joined the Church one year after Jimmy in March of 1990.
Lovingly and patiently the two siblings started to share the gospel with their famous mother, a devout Christian. Both of Gladys' parents were singers in the Wings Over Jordan gospel choir. Raised in a family which valued education and the sounds of gospel music, Gladys began singing gospel music at the Mount Moriah Baptist Church and had her first recital there in 1948 when she was four years old. Jimmy and Kenya soon began inviting their mother to attend various LDS church meetings, and sometimes Gladys was invited to speak to youth groups when attending with her children and grandchildren.
For example, shortly after the 1996 Summer Olympics held in Atlanta, Georgia, Gladys spoke to the youth in the Las Vegas Cimarron Ward (Jimmy’s ward). She explained her feelings about her recent experience of coming onto the Olympic stage during the Opening Ceremonies in Atlanta to sing before a world-wide television audience of several billion viewers.
During this period of time, Jimmy was also looking for other new singers to manage. On a business trip to Chicago he was impressed by a young singer he watched perform in a trio. After the performance was over, Jimmy explained to the lead singer, Robert Sylvester Kelly, that he would be better as a solo act, without the two dancers next to him. The young singer agreed, and thus Jimmy became the manager for a new and relatively unknown singer/songwriter, who later became known as R. Kelly.
As they worked together, it soon became apparent to Jimmy (one of the rising stars in the music business) that his new LDS beliefs and religion ran counter to the sexually charged lyrics that R. Kelly was writing into his new songs. Jimmy tried repeatedly to persuade the talented young singer/songwriter to change various words and suggestive phrases and lyrics in his music, but to no avail. Every time Jimmy tried to explain to Robert how inappropriate the lyrics were for young music fans, R. Kelly would counter that it helped to sell his music. He was right, it did sell well, but Jimmy would not back down.
Finally, after repeated attempts to tone down the sexually drenched lyrics of his talented new composer, Jimmy realized that he could not continue to market music that was so diametrically opposed to what he believed and contrary to what he tried to teach his children and the teenagers in his church assignments. Their business relationship soon soured and Jimmy eventually terminated his contractual relationship with R. Kelly, regardless of his monetary losses (a typical manager’s percentage of sales is 15% to 20%). Jimmy was more worried about his spiritual damages. R. Kelly’s management responsibilities were then turned to Jimmy’s father-in-law, Barry Hankerson (having divorced James Newman II in 1973, Gladys married Barry Hankerson in 1974).
R. Kelly’s music sales, due in part to their sexually graphic lyrics, soon skyrocketed to incredible record-breading levels. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has recognized R. Kelly as one of the best-selling music artists in the United States with over 38.5 million albums now sold. R. Kelly is often referred to as the King of R&B, and he is considered to be the most successful R&B artist of the last 25 years.
Jimmy was shortly thereafter called to be the priest advisor in his ward and shared with the youth that in spite of the huge profits (tens of millions) he walked away from as R. Kelly’s former business manager, he still felt he had done the right thing for his testimony and his family, not to mention his conscience. Jimmy had been voted Mr. Football at Gorman High School in Las Vegas, and his music talents, athletic abilities, and magnetic personality made him a popular leader of the young men in his ward.