Illustrating why they continue to pack concert halls with fans who refuse to take their seats, veteran entertainers the O’Jays and Gladys Knight recently took their audience at Wolf Trap on a delightful journey down memory lane with an array of hits that never seemed to end.
Perhaps the trio of Eddie Levert, Walter Williams and Eric Nolan Grant, collectively known as the O’Jays, along with the former lead vocalist for Gladys Knight and the Pips, (Gladys, of course), have somehow discovered a magical elixir that enables them to defy the impact of time.
Actually, such a notion may just be with the realm of possibility, given the quality of their memorable performances which garnered numerous standing ovations and shouts of “We Love You” from fans who sang along with exuberance to each and every hit tune, boogied down with dance steps learned long ago and who refused to leave until the very last chord rang out in the evening sky.
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame just one year apart, 1995 for the O’Jays and in 1996 for Gladys, before deciding to leave the Pips family in order to embark upon a solo career, the superstars of soul serenaded the audience with songs that have defined the lives of musical lovers, both in the U.S. and abroad and which still remain to be sung, even by fans too young to have seen the entertainers decades ago while in the prime of their lives.
Show opener Gladys Knight, armed with tunes like “Love Overboard,” “The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me” and her incredible, vocally-supreme interpretation of Barbra Streisand’s “The Way We Were, even invited her brother and former Pip Bubba Knight to the stage — then later took a few moments to call for prayers for her longtime “sister” Aretha Franklin, who would die one day later.
As for the O’Jays, whose first number, “Ship Ahoy,” took full advantage of multi-media that illustrated the long road walked by African Americans from the days of slavery to the election of the country’s first Black president, could not have been more forcefully performed that some fans may never forget.
But they didn’t stop there, cranking things into high gear by belting out intricate, vocal harmonies in songs that included “Back Stabbers, “Stairway to Heaven” and “Living for the Weekend” and caused some fans to leave their seats and take to the aisles where they could more easily “get their dance” on.
I’ve seen both the O’Jays and Gladys Knight more times than I can remember. Yet somehow, they just get better and better whenever I have the chance to see them onstage.