BY ELYSA GARDNER | GANNETT NEWS SERVICE
Gladys Knight was 4 when she sang in her first church recital. She recalls “running up and down the aisles, playing there. My mom and dad always let us be kids.”
That’s not to say that the beloved R&B veteran, who turned 70 in May, ever took what she was singing, or hearing, for granted. At home, her parents would “sit us down and read Bible stories.” Many decades later, she would earn two Grammy Awards in gospel categories, for the 2005 album “One Voice” and a duet version of “Heaven Help Us All” performed with Ray Charles, and featured on Charles’ posthumous “Genius Loves Company.”
On her new album, “Where My Heart Belongs,” Knight lends her inimitably husky, throbbing, still-robust voice to both original inspirational songs and favorites ranging from Kirk Franklin’s Always and Bebe Winans’ “In the Midst of the Rain” to the 1899 spiritual “Were You There.”
“When I start working on an album, I usually have people submit songs,” Knight says. “But this time — it was the weirdest thing — they just started coming.” Knight and husband William McDowell revised some lyrics to “familiar melodies I wanted to do. We’re trying to reach everyone.”
GLADYS KNIGHT Will Downing When: 7 p.m Oct. 12 Where: The Venue, Horseshoe Casino, 777 Casino Center Dr., Hammond Tickets: $50-$100 Info: ticketmaster.com
Raised a Baptist, she has “frequented many churches.” But Knight joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1997, inspired by her daughter and son, who had also become followers.
“Seeing how my children Jimmy and Kenya were growing in the Gospel, I found it to be a spiritual elevation for me as well,” she says.
The singer is quick to point out, laughing, “I am not perfect — I mess up sometimes.” But she is “always guided by the spirit. That’s always been the best and most important part of my life. I take it with me every time I step on stage.”
For Rolling Stone contributing editor Anthony DeCurtis, it makes perfect sense that Knight would embrace gospel, “the way somebody like Eric Clapton would go and make a blues record.”
“These are emotional and creative wellsprings for people,” he says. “You don’t have to be a believer to respond to the music.”
Knight’s fans can also look forward to seeing her play the mother of “a clean-cut guy” in the Lifetime movie “Seasons of Love,” set to air in late November.
“It’s a clean, spiritually motivated love story — we don’t get enough of those.” She still looks back fondly on her spin in the 14th season of “Dancing With The Stars,” in 2012: “An amazing event, because it gave me an opportunity to get outside my comfort zone.”
Another TV stint that year, on Centric’s “Apollo Live,” provided the chance “to give something back. It’s important to tell young people, the way my mentors told me, that you need to watch how you come on stage, and what you do once you’re there. Because somebody is watching.”