It was around 1974. It had to be since it took about four years for my mom to perfect her tennis game. She played every day at the Cherry Hill Tennis Courts. She started out at the free outdoor courts in Kressen Woods, but it didn’t take long for my mom to realize that indoor courts were her best bet. It was winter so playing indoor tennis made sense. On that chilly Wednesday I answered the phone, hopeful that a friend was calling. But it was for my Mom. The rich, low voice on the other end said he was Gladys Knight’s manager and wanted to see if Arlene, my mom, would play mixed doubles with them. I could not believe my ears. I wrote down the message, making sure I got the number right. This was way better than any random weekday call from a friend. When I told my mom she had a message, she first thought it was a prank. But her curiosity got the better of her and she ended up calling back. Turns out Gladys was headlining at the Latin Casino, the Vegas Style night club that graced the West side of Cherry Hill’s Route 70. Ms. Knight liked to play tennis but they needed a forth. My mom’s name was offered.
The next day, Thursday, after her regular league, my mom stayed and played mixed doubles with Gladys Knight and two of the Pips on court 14. It was on the end, and was reserved for games without viewers. I couldn’t wait until she came home. She said they were very nice and they were on for another game the next day, a Friday. Not only that, but they asked her to be their personal guest at their show Friday night. I wanted to ask so much more, but dinner had to get on the table and my chores took priority, at least while I lived in her house. I had fantasies of going with my mom, even though it was a nightclub and I was 14. My mom was strict, and as far as she was concerned fourteen was closer to childhood than adulthood. I had a differing opinion, like any good adolescent.
My mom was no expert in making decisions, so she had to think about the offer. I was amazed she had to think at all, how could she Not see a Motown star’s act? But the words, “I have to think about it,” usually meant a delayed NO. And that time was no exception. She said they were lovely, but there would be too much smoke at the club. My Mom was a dedicated Camel smoker until I was six, probably when she was pregnant with my brother. Since then she would cough loudly in any public place, asking anyone within her vicinity to put out his cigarette. Usually my mom was bashful, but she boldly made her requests much to the chagrin of the smokers.
Fast forward to this summer, and my husband, Larry, has been working at Pier 17, the outdoor venue at The South Street Seaport. Gladys Knight was headlining last week, and I knew I just had to see her. Larry made it happen. Everyone at the venue treated me as if I had just played tennis with Gladys. Knight. But they were just great at hospitality. It was a spectacular night. Before the show, the audience members started coming in. They looked extraordinary. Everyone was dressed up to the nines. It was it’s own show. Then the band opened the act. In came the star. Gladys Knight is musical royalty, yet she performs with enthusiasm and a generous heart. Her voice sounded beautiful, complimented by her excellent band and back-up singers. My mom might have thought the 1974 show wasn’t for her, but for me, Gladys Knight is a Knight to remember.