Marie Knight came into the world way back in 1925 and though she enjoyed a recording career that stretched over 61 years, she savoured little actual commercial record success. Born in Sanford, Florida in June 1925, she moved with her family while still young to Newark, New Jersey. She soon got into singing in church and was impressing members of the congregation with her singing from the age of 5.
After starting out in the choir, she soon progressed to the role of soloist and went on to establish herself as a leading lady in the gospel world. By the time that she was 20, she was taking part in major tours across the US and she started recording in 1946. She cut gospel tracks for Signature, Haven (with the Sunset Four), Decca (1947 to 1955; some with Sister Rosetta Tharpe), Candy, Brunswick and Mercury (1956). She got her first R&B chart hit in 1948 with her Decca 45 cut “Precious Memories” and this was soon followed into the R&B top 20 by a duet she made with Rosetta Tharpe.
Her last gospel hit to make the R&B charts came in 1949 when she enjoyed her biggest solo success ever with “Gospel Train” (Decca). In 1950, together with Rosetta Tharpe, she sang before an audience of thousands of gospel fans at a big show in Washington. She then teamed up with boxer Jersey Joe Walcott in 1951 to cut some tracks for Decca and the pair also did some live shows together. In the early to mid 50’s she started babbling in secular music and soon was cutting both gospel and non-gospel tracks. September 1951 saw her supporting the likes of Herbie Fields & his Band, Pigmeat Markham & Tommy Edwards on gigs at Washington’s Howard Theater.
In August 1953 she was touring as part of a big gospel package that played the Lumberton Armory in North Carolina. In 1955, she had a secular 45 out on Mercury’s Wing label and this did well enough for her to be signed to top New York based booking agency, Universal Attractions. In 1955, she was also performing to rave reviews with Rosetta Tharpe in New York jazz clubs and a UK tour followed in 1958.
She soon left the gospel scene behind altogether and cut R&B tracks for Baton and Carlton Records before the end of the 1950’s. Carlton Records teamed her up with Rex Garvin and their outing (“I Can't Sit Down”) was well promoted and managed to secure quite a bit of radio exposure. Of course, Rex went onto to find much UK mod adulation due to his fine US Like / YK Atlantic 45 “Sock It To Em, JB”.
Next, she landed a deal with Addit Records and had “To Be Loved By You” out in 1960. Okeh came calling next and her first 45 release for them was “Come Tomorrow” in 1961. This track had found favour in British music circles by the mid 1960’s when Manfred Mann cut a cover version that triggered Marie’s version to be re-released by Okeh (as Okeh 4-7218). In 1962 she had a 2nd Okeh 45 release and although it’s “Come On Baby” that has been the popular side of this disc in more recent times, it was her version of “What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I Am)” that was more popular in the US back then.
She toured on the strength of her Okeh recordings, featuring on a top package tour of chitlin-circuit theaters in 1962. Along with Clyde McPhatter, Ben E King, Gene Chandler, the Tabs + Shep & the Limelites she played shows at the Royal in Baltimore in April 62. In early May 62, she was at the Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh (a concert venue) along with Brook Benton, Gene Chandler, the Impressions, Don Juan and Bruce Channel. Three singles followed on Diamond in 1963/64 before she was signed to Musicor Records later in 64. Her take on the standard “Cry Me A River” opened her account for the label and this became her only secular song to chart when in April 1965 it made the Soul 45 top 40. However it was to be the follow-up (“That's No Way To Treat A Girl”: Musicor 1106) that would make her name with UK based NS fans. Both “Cry Me A River” (Stateside; around May 1965) and “Come Tomorrow” (Fontana; January 1962) also escaped on 45’s in the UK. She wasn’t doing at all bad for a woman approaching her 40th birthday, however her age did soon begin to tell against her. After her deal with Musicor ended, she was unable to land another secular recording contract.
Marie returned to the gospel world in the early 1970’s, though she did make occasional live appearances in non-gospel settings after that time (one such show being with John Lee Hooker at New York’s Hunter College on February 7th, 1976). She became a minister and held that position at the Gates of Prayer Church (New York) for some years. She continued to record (on & off) right through till 2007 and even performed on a radio show after that (in 2008). She passed away due to complications from pneumonia in Harlem at the end of August 2009 at the grand old age of 84.
Before her death, Ace UK had topped off her long career by finally breaking some tracks she had cut (in 1960) out of the master tape vaults (“Better Wait And See” a duet with Junior Lewis + her original demo version of “Come Tomorrow”. Both released in 2002 on the CD "The Arock & Sylvia Story" CDKEND 212). She may be gone, but she certainly isn’t forgotten.