Beverley Knight is an immensely talented R&B singer from the UK who is completely unknown in North America. This is a great shame because she’s incredibly gifted, accomplished and, frankly, as good as or better than Beyoncé and Mary J. Blige. Beverley Knight should be more widely known and definitely belongs in the same class of divas.
Even though you’ll have to buy them as imports if you’re in Canada or the US, there are several Beverley Knight records I’d wholeheartedly recommend. The best starting point is probably Voice: The Best of Beverley Knight. According to Amazon.com, this contains 11 UK top 40 singles, and I don’t doubt that for a minute given the quality of the music on this disc. It’s a must-have career-to-date overview, spanning earlier material that’s heavily R&B/dancefloor oriented and later tunes that are more ‘retro’ in orientation (and remind me a little of golden-age Tina Turner).
Through it all, there’s Beverley’s magnificent voice: her singing is less runs-oriented than other contemporary female singers, and her vocal embellishments are more strongly typed and intelligently targeted at causing specific expressive effects. Speculating for a minute, this could be because Ms. Knight learned to sing in church. Wikipedia says,
Knight was born of Jamaican parents, and she grew up in a strict Pentecostal household where church attendance was commonplace. It is here where she began her singing career: “the first time I heard music would have been in church. My mum was often called upon: ‘Come on sister Dolores. Lead us in song!’ Singing was the most natural thing in the world. I thought, doesn’t everybody’s mum lead the congregation at church in song?” Knight continued singing in her local church throughout her childhood, and her musical education was continued at home where she was often exposed to gospel music.
For those wishing to dive deeper into Beverley Knight’s music, I would recommend Who I Am and Affirmation. Both present a very palatable mix of R&B and chart-oriented pop – so they work for ears looking for big hooks, not just those deeply immersed in the R&B paradigm.
On her latest offering, Music City Soul, Knight ventures even further into classic soul territory. Recorded in Nashville with a band of veteran R&B players, this record sounds more ‘acoustic’ and showcases her gospel voice beautifully. In a BBC interview referenced on Wikipedia, Knight says,
My mother played Sam Cooke and he was the first voice I ever heard on record. His was the first voice that directly had a big impact on me, vocally. He still makes me cry. He’d take the very simple Bible stories that I grew up with and just make them into a two-and-a-half-minute song and yet with an intensity and a passion that the world had never heard before. He really was a major influence on my life.
Beverley Knight’s increasingly classicist R&B is fantastic music that begs to be heard. Too ‘straight’ and perhaps a little too old-fashioned to become successful in a North American market where ‘R&B’ is a category that (puzzlingly) also contains the Pussycat Dolls and Nelly Furtado’s terrible Loose, Knight’s records make a strong case for proper singing.