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The Reason Gladys Knight & Barry Hankerson's Troubled Son Shanga Was Jailed in 2016

Gracious Egedegbe
Sep 21, 2021
04:00 A.M.

Gladys Knight has been married four times in her lifetime and is a mother of three children, including her lastborn son, Shanga Hankerson, who was jailed in 2016. Find out more about him.


Gladys Knight has enjoyed a stellar and award-winning musical career and is known as the "Empress of Soul" thanks to her lovely voice. She has been married four times in her lifetime and is a mother of three biological children, one of which gave her quite some trouble.

Knight was 16 when she became pregnant and married Atlanta musician James "Jimmy" Newman in 1960. She suffered a miscarriage but went on to have two children with the singer.

Gladys Knight and her son Shanga. | Photo: Getty Images

Gladys Knight and her son Shanga. | Photo: Getty Images

With James, Knight had a son named James "Jimmy" Gaston Newman III and a daughter, Kenya Maria Newman. She divorced James in 1973, seven years after they separated.

A year after divorcing James, Knight married Barry Hankerson, the creator of Blackground Records. With him, she welcomed a son named Shanga Ali Hankerson on August 1, 1976. Knight and Barry experienced difficulties in their marriage, with the latter filing for divorce in 1978.


However, he dropped divorce four weeks later, saying he loved Knight and his children more than anything on earth and could not destroy his marriage with his own hands.

Gladys Knight at the Carousel of Hope Ball on October 6, 2018. | Photo: Getty Images

Gladys Knight at the Carousel of Hope Ball on October 6, 2018. | Photo: Getty Images

Barry said he was unsure if dropping the divorce would reunite his family or not but said he could not continue with the process nor bring any legal action against Knight or their marriage.

However, Barry's actions did not save the marriage in the end, which eventually ended in 1979. During their divorce proceedings, they engaged in a prolonged custody battle over their son Shanga.

After the officials raided Shanga's restaurants, his mom sued him and his companies to remove her name and likeness from the chain.


In that period, Knight took Shanga to live with her in Las Vegas but later agreed to take him to Detroit so Barry could visit him, after initially refusing to do so. The former couple agreed on a divorce settlement soon after this.


Due to the issues in his parents' marriage, Shanga had a troubled childhood. By the time he was 11, he had weighed 320 pounds, which he managed to lose after his family came together to help him.

That enormous weight gain was just a part of Shanga's childhood difficulties and a sign of how he paid the price for the troubles in his parents' personal lives.


Knight detailed some of her son's struggles in her 1997 autobiography, "Between Each Line of Pain and Glory." By the time Shanga was in elementary school, his mother had developed a gambling addiction.

It was so bad that she would miss taking him to school, so her mom would have to take him there instead. When it was time to get Shanga back from school, Knight was still gambling and would call her mom to help her.

The Empress of Soul's divorce from Barry and their ugly custody dispute also robbed Shanga of his sense of security, which he began seeking elsewhere. Unfortunately, he found that security in food and started eating profusely.


Knight spent so much money to cure her son's weight problems and got so frustrated one time that she called him a "fat slob." She could not believe she said those words to him and wished she never did.

With help from his school and weight loss celebrity Richard Simmons and Weight Watchers Camp, Shanga started slowly improving.

However, Shanga did not lose weight until after Knight purchased a home in Los Angeles so he could see his dad more often. Then, when he was in high school, he started living with his dad full time.


At 21 years old, Shanga opened Gladys Knight's Chicken and Waffles with financial assistance from his dad and help from other partners.

In June 2016, agents of the Georgia Department of Revenue raided three Gladys Knight's Chicken and Waffles restaurants and their corporate headquarters.

Shanga was accused of withholding state taxes and stealing over $650,000 worth of sales, with the total getting to more than a million dollars after interests and penalties.


He spent several hours in Clayton County Jail in Jonesboro, Georgia, on two counts of theft by taking. He was released ten hours after his arrest on a $22,400 bond.

Going by his latest post on the social media platform, he is now a financial consultant.

Shanga's arrest came after officials unsuccessfully tried to serve arrest warrants at his home. He was on vacation but turned himself in. His lawyer said he was not guilty of the theft charges leveled against him.


After the officials raided Shanga's restaurants, his mom sued him and his companies to remove her name and likeness from the chain. On December 7, 2016, a final judgment and permanent injunction were entered in the case, stating Knight and Shanga had reached a settlement.

Shanga agreed to enter into a permanent injunction prohibiting him from using his mom's name on his restaurants or engaging in conduct that will likely cause confusion or deception to the public about her involvement in his restaurants.


Shanga is active on Instagram these days. There, he has 464 followers and is following 792 people. Going by his latest post on the social media platform, he is now a financial consultant.

On December 12, 2020, he shared a flier promoting his services and revealed he could get people's credit fixed up. He also said he helps fix bankruptcy, child support, evictions, tax liens, identity theft, etc.


Following her divorce from Shanga's dad, Knight married for the third time to motivational speaker Les Brown in 1995. However, they separated and divorced in 1997.

In 2001, she married for the fourth time to William McDowell. The couple has remained married and resides in Asheville, North Carolina, where they own a community center and help in many community development projects.

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