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Gladys Knight and friends put on a dazzling show
Tuesday, 05 December 2017 00:01

Chugging along on that ‘Midnight Train to Georgia,' star-studded show raises funds to revamp school 

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Gladys Knight’s Oct. 29 benefit concert at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium in the U.S. Cellular Center in downtown Asheville drew a sellout audience who were treated to a show that ran for nearly four and a half hours, ending at 12:25 a.m. — just a tad bit late to catch that “Midnight Train to Georgia.”

Serving as master of ceremonies was her husband, Canton-native Billy McDowell, who attended what was the former all-black Reynolds School in the Gibsontown community of Canton. He came up with the idea to raise funds to convert the historic school building and grounds into a community center and was able to enlist his wife’s support.

The Oct. 29 concert was the kickoff event for the fund-raising campaign. Completion of the estimated $5 million project is scheduled for summer 2019. Plans call for a music center, child care, gym, kitchen, computer center, library, performing arts room and athletic field.

In addressing the crowd, McDowell noted that “my father once said that, if you do something, leave big footprints. That’s what I’m trying to do” with the fundraising effort to convert the old school into a state-of-the-art community center. He reiterated that all of the proceeds from the concert would go to the school conversion.

“I’m going to see this thing all the way through,” McDowell added.

Based on the applause throughout the show, the audience was entertained by a lineup that included Little Big Town, Asheville’s own Lyric, comedian George Wallace and one of the original Pips (of the famed Motown band Gladys Knight & the Pips) — Bubba Knight, Gladys’ brother.

Knight has been a powerful force in the worldwide music scene through five decades. Her career includes the Grammy-winning tunes “Love Overboard,” “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)” and “Midnight Train to Georgia.”

Dubbed “The Empress of Soul,” Knight was named on VH1’s list of “100 Greatest Women of Rock and Roll,” cemented her Grammy-winning streak with the albums “At Last” and “One Voice” and the hits “That’s What Friends Are For” and “Heaven Help Us All.” She also appeared on the TV shows “Benson,” “The Jeffersons” and “A Different World” and earned a Golden Globe nomination for her role in the drama “Pipe Dreams.”

Besides Knight’s stellar vocals and stage presence, the show’s other highlight was the performance of Little Big Town, a Grammy-winning country band from Nashville. Especially notable was the band’s stellar performance of one of its biggest hits, “Girl Crush.”

Wallace, the comedian, triggered many laughs with his jokes. In one, he noted that “last year I went to a Halloween party dressed up as a butler — they worked the hell out of me.”

Knight, clad in a hot red dress, was greeted with a standing ovation upon taking the stage, just after 11 p.m. She and her band launched into “On and On,”  Among her other hits that Knight performed were “Every Beat of My Heart,” You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me,” “If I Were Your Woman” and“I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”

Not surprisingly,  the highlight of Knight’s set was the stirring performance of her mega-hit “A Midnight Train to Georgia.” As Knight wound up her performance, the appreciative crowd again gave her yet another standing ovation.



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