William Guest, vocalist for the R&B/Pop group Gladys Knight & The Pips, who provided backup vocals on such hits as “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” and “Midnight Train to Georgia,” has died. He was 74-years-old.
The New York Daily News reports that William Guest’s sister-in-law, Dhyana Ziegler, confirmed that Guest died in Detroit on the morning of Thursday, December 24, of congestive heart failure.
Guest performed with Gladys Knight & the Pips since their inception in 1953, when they were still called simply “The Pips,” and continued to be a member of the group until they disbanded in 1989.
When The Pips first began performing and touring in mid-1953, the band consisted of Gladys Knight, her brother and sister, Bubba and Brenda, and their cousins, William and Eleanor Guest. Eventually, Brenda Knight and Eleanor Guest would leave the group, and were replaced with Langston George in 1959, and Edward Patten in 1963. After recording their first big hit, “Every Beat of my Heart” in 1961, and again in 1963 — their original recording was sold without their consent to Vee-Jay Records, and they were promptly cut from any of the record’s profits — this time produced by legendary independent record producer Bobby Robinson, they began to receive a little notoriety when the song charted at number one for an R&B hit and number six on the pop charts. Not long after, Langston George left the group. Gladys, Bubba Knight, William Guest, and Edward Patten continued to record, now as a quartet. They also opted to change the band’s name from The Pips to Gladys Knight & The Pips.
In 1966, William Guest and the rest of the band signed to Motown Records, and it was then that the group really started gaining widespread fame and success. In 1967, the group hit it big with their song “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” which charted at number two on the Billboard Top 100, and was number one on the R&B charts for six weeks.
In 1975, the group landed their own hour-long variety television show called The Gladys Knight & The Pips Show, which lasted four episodes on NBC. In one episode, comedian George Carlin made an appearance, playing the doo-wop song “Cherry Pie,” accompanied by William Guest, Edward Patten, and Bubba Knight.
From 1978 to 1980, the group found themselves in some legal trouble with Buddah Records — who they signed with in the mid-1970s, after leaving Motown — and were forced to record separately for two years. During that time, Gladys recorded two solo albums, while Guest, Patten, and Bubba Knight recorded and released two albums of their own as The Pips. In 1977, William, Edward, and Bubba were guests on Richard Pryor’s television special. The three of them sang their regular backup vocals to the group’s hits “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” and “Midnight Train to Georgia” but during the parts where Gladys would normally sing, the camera panned to a lone microphone.
In 1989, the group — now recording and touring again under the name “Gladys Knight & The Pips” — finished one final tour, after which they disbanded. In 1996, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. After the group called it quits, William Guest and his former bandmate Edward Patten, formed a production company called Crew Entertainment for which Guest served as CEO. After Patten’s death in 2005, William Guest continued to manage artists on the company label with members of Patten’s family, reports Billboard.
In 2013, William Guest and his sister-in-law, Ziegler, released Guest’s autobiography entitled Midnight Train FROM Georgia: A Pip’s Journey, an opportunity for which Ziegler was grateful.
“I am so glad we finished the book, so his wonderful life and legacy will be celebrated throughout eternity. I loved my brother so much.”
William Guest is survived by his daughter, Monique Guest, who said in a statement that while she is heartbroken by her father’s death, she is thankful that his legacy will live on through his music.
[Photo by Ian Tyas/Keystone/Getty Images]