Conscious Party: An Evening with Gladys Knight and Friends

A FRIEND INDEED: Gladys Knight brings Little Big Town, Lyric and other surprise guests to Thomas Wolfe Auditorium on Oct. 28 as part of a fundraiser for Canton's Reynolds Community Center. Renovating the building is the flagship project of the RHS Community Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by Knight and her husband William McDowell that seeks to revitalize McDowell's childhood school. Photo courtesy of the artist

On Saturday, Oct. 29, legendary singer Gladys Knight will grace the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium stage with Little Big Town, Lyric and other surprise guests in a fundraiser for Canton’s Reynolds Community Center. Renovating the building is the flagship project of the RHS Community Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by Knight and her husband William McDowell that seeks to revitalize McDowell’s childhood school. Taking a break from prepping for the show, Knight and McDowell spoke with Xpress via email about the RHS Community Foundation and what to expect at the big event.

Mountain Xpress: William, what memories most vividly stand out from your time in your former school building?

William McDowell: My most vivid memories were that going to school wasn’t much different than staying home. My family and friends all lived less than 200 yards away. My mother cooked in the RHS cafeteria. The band would march through the community and we would pick apples to give to the players. On Sundays, the kids above the hill would challenge the kids who lived below to a game. It was always fun.

MX: What kind of impact do you feel the building’s programs, leaders and participants have had on the area — and yourself in particular?

WM: The leaders, teachers and professors faced a lot of discrimination and adversity, but they never passed any negative feelings onto the kids. We were always encouraged to do our best and felt we could accomplish anything. These pillars of the community were true role models in both the churches and in the school, and I’m so sorry that foundation is gone. This is what I want to bring back more than anything: positive role models and honest Christians who gave all they had. They left me believing all was possible.

MX: What type of feedback have you received from community members since launching the RHS Community Foundation and announcing plans to build the Community Center?

WM: The majority of the feedback has been extremely positive. Change is a hard thing and requires understanding and patience. This building is more than brick and mortar, and most in the surrounding areas never even knew it existed. As word gets out and the building’s history is told, more and more will find it a worthy cause.

MX: Gladys, how did you pick your musical guests for this concert?

Gladys Knight: We met Little Big Town on The Voice. My husband has known about Lyric for years — Kenny Cheeks introduced us. Others who may come are lifelong friends in the music industry.

MX: Without giving too much away, what’s the general plan for the concert? How big of a band will you have? And will Little Big Town and Lyric each play individual sets or will it be more of a variety show where guests join you on stage for a few songs?

GK: Yes — full band, no short cuts! The show is like Asheville: if it feels good, we’re going to do it.

MX: What are the latest updates on RHS Community Center’s progress? And do you have an estimated opening date?

WM: The progress for the center is being focused on a play area outside before renovation of the building begins. That initial phase will be complete by spring 2018. Then we will begin work on the building, room by room. Community programs will open in stages — it all depends on the ability to continue fund raising and the support of the surrounding and national community. But it will get done.

An Evening with Gladys Knight and Friends will begin at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 28, at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. Tickets are $55-$125 for general admission and $500  for VIP, which includes priority seating, a pre-show reception with Gladys Knight and Little Big Town, beverages and hor d’oeuvres, plus access to exclusive auction items. They may be purchased at the U.S. Cellular Center box office and online at

About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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