Gladys Knight 'On Top of the World' With New Album & TV Movie

Gladys Knight
Derek Blanks

The singer talks gospel album, Lifetime movie, 'DWTS' and dream collaborators Missy Elliott & Kanye West.

"I'm just on top of the world," says Gladys Knight. And the legendary singer has every right to be.

Where My Heart Belongs -- her new gospel album on Shadow Mountain Records -- debuts at No. 20 on this week's Billboard's R&B Albums chart and jumps 35-8 on Gospel Albums. Featuring songs written by Kirk Franklin, BeBe Winans and Knight, the set also bows at No. 34 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. That marks her 30th top 40 album on the chart counting both her solo releases and sets with the Pips. But that's not all.

Gladys Knight & Patti LaBelle Head to 'After Midnight' on Broadway

She recently wrapped filming in New York City for the Lifetime television movie Seasons of Love. Due this holiday season, the dramedy stars actress Taraji P. Henson (one of the film's executive producers) and singer LeToya Luckett. Knight is also shepherding the R&B career of her background singer Avehre (pronounced Ah-Veer). And if she has her way, she'd love to collaborate with Kanye West, John Legend and Missy Elliott.

What inspired your new album?

We [Gladys Knight & the Pips] always had that [gospel] element in our lives, part of the village that raises you. And we always put at least one inspirational or gospel song on our albums. This album hit me last year. Because of my work schedule, thank God, I had to grab a week here and there to record. Collecting the music takes the most time. Songwriter Jim Weatherly gave me permission two years ago for the album's last song, "Happy Birthday Jesus."

Brandon Avery Smith wrote two songs and is featured on both, "Immersed" and "Champions." He's a young man with such a sense of spirit and the Lord without an in-your-face kind of thing. He writes in a vernacular that young people get. As Avehre, he has a new single, "Can You Hear It," and is working on his own R&B album.

What other projects are on your slate?

I just finished a movie, a love story called Seasons of Love. It's about young people figuring out how to get the special kind of love that my character and her husband have. Taraji plays my sister. It was a stretch for me because of the onscreen kiss -- I felt like I was cheating on my real husband. [Laughs]

Speaking of my husband [William McDowell], we just bought a school that we're renovating into a community center, opening next year. It will include a library, recording studio, theater with computer and history classes and various sports. He and I are very passionate about making a difference in young people's lives. You can't keep talking. You have to do something.

Any tips for the new cast of Dancing With the Stars?

Have fun and know what a unique experience you're going to have. Just enjoy the ride. Tristan [MacManus] and I still keep up with each other. But I'd like to see dancers like myself given our own category and give the younger ones their category. Then we're competing with people equal in the category and not the joke of the show.

You've worked with many artists already. Are there more on your wish list?

When I was on Arsenio Hall's show, he asked me about working with Kanye West or John Legend. I said I'd love to. The question was later tweeted on my social network and people came out with a vengeance about what they wanted me to do. Missy Elliott, who beautifully produced my niece Aaliyah, tweeted me back. I can handle it, so who knows? Maybe I'll do something with Missy or Kanye.