Edward Patten

Singer with Gladys Knight and the Pips

With over 25 hit singles on both sides of the Atlantic, Gladys Knight and the Pips were arguably the most successful family-based soul vocal group of the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties.

Edward Patten, singer: born Atlanta, Georgia 2 August 1939; married Renee Ivory (four sons, three daughters); died Livonia, Michigan 25 February 2005.

With over 25 hit singles on both sides of the Atlantic, Gladys Knight and the Pips were arguably the most successful family-based soul vocal group of the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties.

Best known for their version of Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine", recorded in 1967, a year before Marvin Gaye's, as well as "Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)", the Grammy-winning torch song written by Jim Weatherly, and "Midnight Train to Georgia", which topped the US charts in 1973, the quartet recorded for several companies including Tamla Motown, and only split up in 1989.

They had formed in 1952 when Gladys Knight was just eight years old. By the time they released their début single, "Every Beat of My Heart", in 1961, the group were a quintet comprising Gladys on lead vocals, her brother Merald "Bubba" Knight and their cousins Edward Patten and William Guest, and a friend, Langston George, who left in 1962. Thereafter the group remained a quartet.

Patten had an incredible range and could sing high tenor as well as bass. His voice became the perfect foil for Knight's emotive performances on "Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me" (1974) and standards such as "The Way We Were - Try to Remember" (1975). In her 1997 autobiography, Between Each Line of Pain and Glory, Knight recalls Patten as

the most responsible member of the group, so much so that we took to calling him Daddy Patten. He was the one who was always watching the clock, trying to keep us on time and in line. He was a snappy dresser, and probably the biggest trash talker on the chit'lin' circuit.

Born in Atlanta in 1939, Edward Patten was the son of a bandleader and joined the Pips when Gladys and "Bubba" Knight's sister Brenda and William Guest's sister Eleanor left the vocal group to get married in 1959. Two years later, their first single, "Every Beat of My Heart", became a smash hit on Vee-Jay and also on Fury Records, who signed the Pips and issued a re-recorded version and another three singles, including "Letter Full of Tears" which also made the US Top Twenty.

While their lead vocalist got married and had two children in 1962-63, the Pips struggled along as a trio but Gladys Knight was soon back in the fold. The quartet got a make-over from the tapdancer turned freelance choreographer Cholly Atkins, who helped them hone a stage act which became worthy of their new motto, "Perfection in Performance". Patten especially delighted in learning the pirouettes, slides, freeze-frames and synchronised routines that became the Pips' trademark and were often copied by Motown acts.

Ironically, after releasing five singles on the Maxx label, the group were signed by Berry Gordy Jnr to Motown's Soul subsidiary but never quite became A-listers there despite a memorable run of singles including "Take Me in Your Arms and Love Me" - their first British hit in 1967.

In 1972, Gladys Knight and the Pips moved to Buddah Records and became superstars. They released the album Imagination (1973) and earned Grammies for "Neither One of Us" and "Midnight Train to Georgia" in 1974. They worked with Curtis Mayfield on the ebullient "Make Yours a Happy Home" and were regulars on Top of the Pops, their train-like choreography helping "Georgia" into the British Top Ten in 1976. Contractual problems forced the group to record two albums without Gladys, At Last . . . the Pips (1977) and Callin' (1978), but, by 1980, the quartet was back in the charts with the disco-flavoured "Taste of Bitter Love" and "Bourgie Bourgie".

After 30 years together and another Grammy for the single "Love Overboard", Gladys Knight decided to go solo in 1989. Edward Patten and William Guest went into the ice-cream business before launching Crew Records together.

Pierre Perrone

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