By Anna Newman
Gladys Knight is spreading music (her first love) and the gospel (her new life) through ?Saints Unified Voices,? her new choir.
Since Knight organized the choir in 2002, Saints Unified Voices has grown to 100 members and released its debut album. ?One Voice? was released Jan. 4 through Many Roads Records. The album is a combination of LDS hymns, teachings of Christ and the gospel sound that made Knight famous.
The choir, centered in Las Vegas, also has members living in Utah and California, although they come from diverse backgrounds. The diversity of the music is a reflection of the choir, which in turn is a reflection of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, choir spokeswoman Cheryl Osborn said.
?We have a two-fold purpose of the choir,? Osborn said. ?One is to share the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Two is to help members of this worldwide church appreciate the cultural diversity of the wonderful people welcomed into the Lord?s kingdom.?
Kelly Eisenhower, former backup singer for Knight?s show at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas and vocal jazz teacher at BYU, is an assistant director of the choir as well as a featured soloist. Eisenhower, along with Knight and pianist John Fluker, arrange traditional hymns and write new songs for the choir to sing.
?This CD is more non-denominational because we?re trying to get it to a broader market, but when people come to see us it is obviously an LDS event,? Eisenhower said. ?It?s a great missionary tool because it?s a type of music that a lot of people like. It?s easy to invite someone to a Gladys Knight event. It makes us able to reach people that otherwise would have a harder time attending.?
While the message of the choir is based in the LDS faith, not all involved are members. Fluker, who is now also an assistant director, and musicians Scott Cannady and Matthew Pittman volunteered to help the choir after being a part of Knight?s Las Vegas show.
Bass and percussionist Cannady said he enjoyed being a part of their message as well.
?I also do it for the friends I?ve made in the choir,? he said. ?I like the people of the LDS church and the love that they have for everybody.?
Pittman, the organist, said he enjoys both the choir?s love of others and of their God.
?I enjoy playing music to praise the Lord, and this is one way for me to give back to him the musical gifts he has given me,? Pittman said. ?Working with this choir is a pleasure.?
The choir gave their first performance for the Green Valley Nevada Stake in 2002 and continues to perform at firesides for stakes nationwide. While many have professions outside of the choir, the group of volunteers makes time to spread their missionary message.
Knight, along with her husband and daughter, are also formally set apart as missionaries through their stake. It is by traveling with the choir and performing that she and her family spread their message.
?[We] provide an opportunity for people who wouldn?t come otherwise to come to an LDS meeting, where they will hear a strong Christ-centered message of the restored gospel and feel the Spirit,? she said.
Saints Unified Voices has a unique gift that sets them apart from both other LDS choirs and other gospel music choirs, Osborn said. That gift is easy to see, she said:
?It?s the only one directed by Gladys Knight.?