Marie Knight's vocal talents were recognized early on. When she was five years old, Marie—who was born in Sanford, Florida, but raised in Newark, New Jersey—sang the gospel number "Doing All the Good We Can" at her parents' church, where the congregants marveled at her poise. A member of the youth choir, she was soon elevated to soloist and taught herself to play piano. "I used to go to the church in the daytime and just hit one note at a time, to hear that sound," she recalled. "It was a joy to me, to put those notes together on the piano, just one key at a time."