Flashback: Patti Labelle

Patti Labelle is known as one of the great American Music singers of the latter half of the 20th Century due to her passionate stage performances, her varied vocal range and huge catalog of songs in the Black Music Standards of Soul, Pop, Dance, Disco and Funk.

She was born as Patricia Louise Holte on May 24, 1944 in West Philadelphia, PA as the forth of five chidren. She began singing in church at the age of 14 and was encouraged by one of her teachers for start up a singing group.

Her first group was a four-member girl group called the Ordettes that was founded in 1958. About a year later, two of the original Ordettes left the group and were replaced by singers Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash. Soon after, the last original Ordette was replaced by future Supreme (of Diana Ross and the Supremes after the outing of Florence Ballard) Cindy Birdsong.

The group with Patti's mother's permission, left to tour the local area and was managed by Bernard Montague. In 1961, the group was signed by the current president of the jazz label Blue Note Records, who almost turned the group down after finding out the lead singer was Patti, or "Patsy" as she was known by friends and family then, because she didn't fit the model of a traditionally "beautiful" singer. After hearing her sing, all of that was not even an issue.

The Ordettes changed their name to the BlueBelles and young Patricia Louise Holte was given the stage name Pattie LaBelle, which has stayed to this day.

Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles were going well in the early 1960s. They scored their first Top 40 Pop Music hit in 1962 with the Doo-Wop single, "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman" and also has other hits like "Danny Boy" and "Down the Aisle." Also, the group was doing great touring the chitlin' circuit and wowing audiences at New York's famed Apollo Theater, later given them the name "The Apollo Sweethearts."

In 1965, Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles signed to Atlantic Records and achieved a hit with their Gospel Music inspired version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," a song that would become a performance standard for Patti LaBelle in the future.

A year later, the group received a shock when Cindy Birdsong left to join the Motown Records label to join the Soul Music Group The Supremes. For years, there was a lot of conflict between Birdsong and the rest of the group due to her decision and it took some time before everyone was able to even talk to each other again (took right up until the 1980s).

The group still toured the U.S. and eventually moved to England for a moment to regroup. One they returned to America around 1971, the group changed their name from Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles to LaBelle and came back with a musical style that mixed Gospel, Funk, Disco, Soul and Glam Rock.

LaBelle was also different at the time for casual clothing mixed with African adornments while singing of issues like racism, sexism and politics. Their self-titled album, LaBelle, released in 1971 on Warner Bros. Records, while being seen as a commerical failure was given rave reviews for its positive imagery and music. Likewise, the LaBelle albums following afterwards (Moon Shadow in 1972 and Pressure Cookin in 1973 on RCA Records after being dropped by Warner Brothers), gained them a cult following with the songs (at least half of which were written by Nona Hendryx) "Something In The Air", "Let Me See You In The Light", "Can I Speak To You Before You Go To Hollywood", "Going On A Holiday" and "Last Dance" but still didn't get them past that commerical sales ceiling.

LaBelle achieved both critical and commerical success in in 1975 with the certified gold Nightbirds album, which featured the extremely popular hit "Lady Marmalade", which went has high as charting #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts that year. LaBelle's subsequent albums, Phoenix (with the songs "Black Holes In The Sky", "Messin' With My Mind", and "Action Time") and Chameleon, while being groundbreaking and given a lot of credit for their experimentation by critics with both song structure and Nona Hendryx's lyrics, did not do as well commercially. The group toured and performed at sold-out concerts all over the world.

Due to Nona Hendryx having an unexpected nervous breadown during a peformance in Baltimore, MD In 1976, during a performance in Baltimore, the group LaBelle was forced to abruptly separate.

Patti LaBelle released her self-titled debut in 1977 on Epic Records. This debut album made a strong impact on the U.S. and International R&B charts and was notable for the songs, "You Are My Friend" and "Joy To Have Your Love." The following albums released on Epic Records included Tasty, It's Alright With Me and Released which had the hits "Teach Me Tonight (Me Gusta Tu Baile)" and "Music Is My Way Of Life". One of her great live performance moments was in July 21, 1979, when she appeared at the Amandla Festival along with Reggae Music great Bob Marley, comedian/activist Dick Gregory and Latin Jazz Eddie Palmieri and others.

In the 1980s, Patti LaBelle truly came into her own as a solo artist with both dance tracks and ballads on her albums, with songs like "New Attitude" and "Stir It Up" from the Beverly Hill Cop Move Soundtrack (1984), "If Only You Knew" and "Love, Need and Want You" (from the I'm In Love Again album, released in 1983), "I Want To Know What Love Is", the duet "On My Own" with Michael McDonald (her first #1 charted hit as a solo artist), "Oh, People", "Kiss Away The Pain" and "Something Special Is Gonna Happen Tonight" (from the Winner in You album in 1986), amongst other songs and appearances.

Ms. LaBelle was also known during rise to pop stardom in the mid-1980s for her wild hairdos and live performances, which could include everything from kicking off her shoes, rolling over the floor while singing, putting the microphone stand down and then yielding it up in the air and/or her famous "spread my wings" move that she incorporated during her earlier performances of "Over the Rainbow." She also was a part of the Live Aid movement and song tribute, where you can hear on the end of "We Are the World" more or less taking over with her vocals.

Patti LaBelle has had a string of hits since then with the ballad "If You Asked Me To" (1989), "Somebody Loves You Baby (You Know Who It Is)", "When You've Been Blessed (Feels Like Heaven)" and "Feels Like Another One" (all from the gold-selling Burnin' album in 1991), "Right Kind of Lover" (1994) just to name a few. She won her first Grammy Award in 1991 Best R&B Female Vocal Performance and her second in 1998.

Ms. LaBelle still constantly records and puts out successful music albums of original and cover material, regularly performs and works with lots of music artists. She has had her own reality TV show on the cable channel TV One, Living It Up with Patti Labelle, since 2004.

Some random interesting facts about Patti LaBelle:

* On July 22, 2003, she sang the "Ave Maria" at New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral during the funeral of famed Cuban Salsa singer Celia Cruz.

* Patti LaBelle was honoured with an Excellence in Media Award by GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) on March 26, 2007 for her life-long work for gay and lesbian rights and participation in the fight against AIDS.

* Ms. LaBelle is on the soundtrack to the cartoon movie Happy Feet, doing a version of Stevie Wonder's "I Wish" with Fantasia.

* In January 2008, The Patti LaBelle Collection of wigs by Especially Yours was officially launched.

* She is a spokeswoman for the American Diabetes Association, having been diagnosed with the illness in 1995.

* Patti LaBelle is currently only living member of her extended family while being the mother of six kids - one of her own, three of one of her sisters' children and two adopted.

* She played Dwayne Wayne's mom on The Cosby Show TV spinoff, A Different World

* The group LaBelle is said to be currently recording a new album with the original lineup Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx with help from Lenny Kravitz.

* Patti LaBelle's song "Love, Need & Want You" was sampled by Hip-Hop artist Nelly and R&B singer Kelly Rowland's hit song, "Dilemma" as well as by SouthernHip-Hop duo Outkast on their song "Ghetto Musick".

Patti LaBelle Official Website
Patti LaBelle Official MySpace Page

Good Album Starting Points To Get An Idea of Patti LaBelle's Career:

The Essential Patti LaBelle

Patti LaBelle Live In Washington, D.C.

Bonus mp3 Download #1: Patti LaBelle - Over The Rainbow (Live Version)
Bonus mp3 Download #2: LaBelle - Isn't It A Shame

Bonus Video #1: Patti LaBelle on Seasame Street Singing The ABCs On Some Gospel Music Vibe

Bonus Video #2: Patti LaBelle & Luther Vandross Live Singing "If Only For One Night"

Bonus Video #3: Patti LaBelle & Cecila Cruz Sing "Quimbara" Live

Bonus Video #4: Patti LaBelle & The BlueBelles Peform "Over The Rainbow" (1966)

Bonus Video #5: Patti LaBelle - New Attitude Music Video (1986)


Unknown said...

Just one quick note. She played Dwayne Wayne's mom on A Different World. I'm sure Dwyane Wade was watching tho...

DJ Fusion/FuseBox Radio Broadcast said...

What's good jboogie,

Glad you checked out the site and good looks...that was my fault with the typo (must of had Basketball on the brain subconciously) - all corrected now. :)

Anonymous said...

1st: you said "On My Own" with Michael McDonald (her first #1 charted solo hit)"

How can a DUET be a solo hit?

2nd: When,where and on what channel was the "Patti Labelle Show" from where you got the Luther clip?

DJ Fusion/FuseBox Radio Broadcast said...

My fault on the typo with the duet listing Anonymous, shall change that up - thanks for being so observant.

I just found the Luther clip on Youtube, have no idea when or where that footage was recorded.