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James Robert "Sugarman" Knight danced into glory on June 25, 2021 surrounded by family.
James was born to Jim and Gertha Mae Knight on July 4, 1947 in Valdosta, Georgia. As a child He loved to sing "Charlie Brown" and watch the older men play checkers. His electrifying personality, good looks, sweet nature and uncanny maturity earned him the name "Sugarman." Sugarman was raised in Valdosta Georgia until about the age of eleven when his family moved to the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia. Upon his arrival in Philadelphia the first person he met was John"Tootles"Whitehead. This would prove to be a fortuitous meeting as the pair became best friends and went on to enjoy great success together.
Sugarman was exceptional at so many things that it was impossible not to notice him! Whether swimming, dancing, singing, cutting hair, fixing things or telling jokes, Sugarman made it entertaining - he was always an entertainer! A natural born entrepreneur, very early on Sugarman would look for things he could do to make money. He learned the art of shoe shining, cement work, and cutting hair. This taught him early, the power of being his own boss.
Sugarman's fun loving smooth personality, often found him at the summer swimming program in his neighborhood gliding across the pool. It was soon discovered that he was an extremely gifted swimmer. So gifted in fact, that he was offered an opportunity to train to swim in the olympics!
He had such an electrifying personality, it should be no surprise that he was also a gifted electrician. As a young teen Sugarman had such a gift for understanding electricity and fixing anything that was broken that he sought out to work with Stokes' Electric. Because he was such a fast learner, and so incredibly handy, Stokes Electric began training him in electrical contracting among other things. Being in business so early in life taught him the importance of pricing and collecting his money; no-one could owe Sug Knight! All of these accomplishments occurred before he was old enough to graduate high school!
Being so gifted at so many things might cause others confusion, but not Sug Knight. He enjoyed utilizing each of his gifts, but was never unclear about his everlasting love for entertaining. It is this love that found him on the street corners of Philadelphia with his friend Tootles singing and drawing crowds from everywhere with his smooth, electrifying, incredible dance moves and singing. Their warm response from crowds gave Sugarman the idea to form a singing group with his friend, Tootles, later adding a singer he met that he thought sounded like Otis Redding, Gene McFadden. An electrifying dancer, James took on the role of the group choreographer. A skilled negotiator and fearless aggressor, he also took on the role of handling the group's business, including finding opportunities. His fearlessness proved helpful when he and the group waited backstage at the Uptown theatre to perform for Otis Redding. Sugarman had the courage to present his group to Otis, and they earned the opportunity to tour as the Otis Redding Review on the spot. They were featured on "Sweet Soul Music" by Arthur Conley and signed to Staxx records. In between dates Sugarman was often found cutting Otis' hair. The group was set to be on the fatal plane crash that ended Otis Redding's life and career, however, "Iron head" as Otis used to call him, begged to come home earlier because he missed his family. This decision saved him and his group mates from that fatal crash.
Back in Philadelphia When his brother, Charles opened a barbershop in North Philadelphia, Sugarman was able to let his barbering talents shine as people would come from miles around to get their hair cut or curled and hear his famous stories; he was an incredible story teller, and he used any stage he was given to display that!
After the unfortunate ending of the Otis Redding Review tour, the group became the Epsilons releasing their hit record, "The Echo." The group decided to change their name again to the Talk of the Town, releasing yet another hit,"Bumping Boogie." The group underwent yet another metamorphosis, finally becoming McFadden and Whitehead. Sugarman never skipped a beat after any of the groups' down time. He was so successful as a barber, that he had a home to invite his friends McFadden and Whitehead to, so that they could write their very first hit, "Backstabbers" on his little old raggedy upright piano. Due to his personal success, It was not uncommon to see Sugarman being driven around town by his personal valet, none other than, the late great Teddy Pendergrass. Sugarman was also instrumental in his career as he was the one who introduced Teddy to Harold Melvin as his skilled drummer, which began his journey to super stardom. Sugarman was always that magic piece that put the puzzle together!
While holding auditions for background singers for McFadden and Whitehead's International hit, "Ain't No Stopping Us Now." James met Darlene Collick who he hired to sing back up for the group along with her sister, Valerie. James and Darlene became friends and were best buddies on the road as they traveled the globe sharing stages with the likes of Marvin Gaye, Pattie Labelle, Natalie Cole, Stephanie Mills, The Commodores and the Gap band just to name a very few. As the friendship grew they became a couple, got engaged, and on June 18, 1983 they were married. This union was blessed with two children, Jamie Monet Knight and James Willard Knight. Together they started businesses in home remodeling and music. The pair were successful in all of their entrepreneurial endeavors, but music remained their love. They went on to manage and work with artists such as Sharon Paige ,The Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose featuring Jerome Rhyant under their record label, SugarLene Records. Their most fulfilling musical endeavor together, however, was that of their musical children Jamie and James.
Sugarman was a dedicated and loving father. He took his children wherever he went. He loved fishing and often enjoyed taking his children and their friends on fishing trips. He loved to shoot pool, ride bikes and even create choreography for his children's shows right in the living room where it all began on Broad street. His home became known as the "headquarters" where some of everyone from David Ruffin to Terrance Howard would pass through. Sugarman loved the time he spent with his family, and of his many jobs, he always seemed to enjoy the job of father most of all. His compassionate nature toward children gave him the title of "Godfather" of many.
Sugarman is joined in glory by, his mother and father, Jim and Gertha Mae Knight; his brothers, Woodrow "Skinner" Knight, Lonnie "Florida Joe" Knight; his sisters, Jimmy Lee Davis, Gertha "Moochie" Major-Byrd, and Mother Charlie Mae Robinson. He is survived by His children, Jamie Monet Knight, James Willard Knight and Clinton Greenleaf; His wife of 30 years Darlene Knight and special friend Marcella Williams; his siblings, Halen Evans, Charles Knight, Lillian Chandler, Carrie Mae Jones, Emma Jewel Freeman, Patricia Ann Mcleod, Rosemary Thunderburk, Tony Knight and Earl Knight, and a host of nieces, nephews, Godchildren and adopted family members.
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