Neo-soul diva Beverley Knight channeled the sound and spirit of classic R&B to emerge as one of Britain's biggest new pop stars of the '90s. Born Beverley Anne Smith to Jamaican parents in Wolverhampton, England, on March 22, 1973, she grew up in a strict Pentecostal environment and sang in her church choir throughout adolescence. Raised on a steady diet of gospel music and forbidden to listen to its secular counterpart, she nevertheless discovered crossover legends Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin and began writing her own original songs at age 13. By 17, Knight was headlining local nightclubs and singing advertising jingles for a local radio station; the exposure earned her a recording contract offer, but she declined, instead studying religious theory and philosophy at the University of Wolverhampton.
In late 1994, Knight signed to the independent label Dome, teaming with London production trio 2BE3 to cut her debut LP, The B-Funk. A critical smash that earned plaudits for its adherence to old-school soul production and sensibilities, the album won a number of media and industry awards but failed to translate its acclaim into commercial success. The single "Flavour of the Old School" nevertheless cracked the U.K. Top 40 following a 1996 re-release, but soon after, Knight split with Dome in the wake of creative tensions and signed with EMI's Parlophone subsidiary to release Prodigal Sista in the summer of 1998. The album generated five Top 40 smashes, chief among them "Greatest Day" and "Make It Back '99," a collaboration with U.S. rapper Redman, and was well on its way to winning Best Album honors at the annual MOBO (Music of Black Origin) Awards.
The chart smashes "Get Up!" and "Shoulda Woulda Coulda" anticipated the spring 2002 release of Knight's third LP, Who I Am, a Top Ten hit and Mercury Music Prize nominee celebrated as the singer's most deeply personal effort up to that point. She next teamed with pop producers Guy Chambers and Peter-John Vettese for 2004's Affirmation, which boasted a polished, mainstream sound that alienated a significant segment of her urban audience. The record still became Knight's biggest-selling release yet, buoyed by the hits "Not Too Late for Love" and "Keep This Fire Burning." Affirmation was profoundly inspired by her relationship with platonic soulmate Tyrone Jamison, host of the BBC program The Gay Show, who lost his battle with HIV in 2003. Knight would become an ambassador for charities including the Stop AIDS Campaign, Christian Aid, and the Terrence Higgins Trust, and in 2006 was created a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) by Queen Elizabeth II for her creative and charitable contributions.
That same year, Knight co-starred in the BBC1 music showcase Just the Two of Us and issued the retrospective Voice: The Best of Beverley Knight, enjoying a Top 20 hit with her cover of Erma Franklin's soul classic "Piece of My Heart." ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi