Born Patricia Louise Holte on October 4, 1944, in Philadelphia, PA; daughter of Henry Holte; married Armstead Edwards, 1969 (separated 2000); children: Stanley, Dodd, Zuri. Addresses: Management--Pattonium, Inc., P.O. Box 506, Wynnewood, PA 19096, phone: (610) 645-9034. Record company--Def Jam Classics, 825 8th Ave. 29th Fl., New York, NY 10019. Publicist--W&W Public Relations, 147 Union Ave. Ste. 1A, Midd lesex, NJ 08846, phone: (732) 469-5955, fax: (732) 469-1455. Website--Patti LaBelle Official Website: http://www.pattilabelle.com.
In her long career, Patti LaBelle went from singing gospel to leading the wild funk group, LaBelle, whose biggest hit, "Lady Marmalade," is told from the point of view of a prostitute. Along the way LaBelle was a balladeer and a straight -soul queen like Aretha Franklin or Tina Turner. She even pursued a successful acting career, but throughout it all, her remarkable voice and her exuberant stage personality remained constant. With these assets, she definitively established herself as one of the great American pop divas.
Born Patricia Louise Holte, LaBelle grew up singing in the Beulah Baptist Church Choir of southwest Philadelphia, a city that remained her home throughout the years of her incredible commercial success. As a child she was shy, but she liked to sing and worked on her singing not only in the church choir but also at home in front of the mirror. While still a teenager she began singing with a friend, Cindy Birdsong. They called themselves the Ordettes, but a year later two more friends joined, Nona Hen dryx and Sarah Dash, the quartet renamed themselves the BlueBelles. Patti took on her own stage name, LaBelle, in conjunction with her group's new name.
The four singers were together only about a year when they got the chance to record their first song. "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman" was a gold record and a number-one hit. Such immediate good fortune in the record industry must have m ade success seem easy, but no more number-one hits followed. In 1967, Birdsong left the group to join forces with Diana Ross and the Supremes. Meanwhile, the remaining members of the BlueBelles tried to revitalize their music and career.
The search for a new style was typical of a restlessness that characterized LaBelle. In 1969, she married Armstead Edwards, who took an active hand in her career. They had three children, and by working so closely together, they were able to balance personal and professional responsibilities and tensions. Still, after 30 years, the marriage ended in 2000.
In the early 1970s, the BlueBelles hooked up with British promoter Vicki Wickham, who at that time was best known for having produced the BBC rock show, Ready, Steady, Go! It was an unlikely partnership. Wickham knew littl e about soul or rhythm 'n blues, but she saw possibilities in the group that they did not see themselves. In She-Bop, author Lucy O'Brien related Wickham's memory of the period: "When Patti first asked me t o manage them I was reluctant. The name Patti LaBelle and the BlueBelles sounded so old. I said, 'If we're going to do this, it's a new day. You've been together sixteen years, you can't get arrested. You can't wear those ni ce little frilly frocks and wigs, we've got to rethink it. You've got to make a statement, you're women, there's a lot to be said.'"
Wickham threw out the group's old name and recrafted "the girl group" into LaBelle, a provocative trio, wearing space age, daring clothes and tackling adult subjects such as prostitution, which had been off-limits to pop music befor e that. "Lady Marmalade" turned out to be their first number-one hit in 12 years. It was on an album called Nightbirds, which was also a big seller. The newly found success of the band was attributed partly to the gr eater freedom songwriter Nona Hendryx was given. Her energy and passion bolstered the group's live performances. They even became the first pop group ever to play the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.
Paradoxically, in 1977, less than three years after Nightbirds, the singers split up. Hendryx went deeper into the "glam" funk music of the time, and Sarah Dash started singing on the jazz nightclub circuit. Pa tti did not release another album until 1980, when she put out Released, later considered one of her best.
The next year LaBelle began an acting career, first appearing on television in guest spots and then in the movies, playing roles in A Soldier's Story and Beverly Hills Cop. She also appeared on Broadway in the gospel musical extravaganza, Your Arm's Too Short to Box with God. She continued roles on the television series, A Different World and Out All Night.
Still music was her passion and her claim to fame. After the breakup of the group LaBelle, she pursued a varied course, recording whatever interested her at the time, including even a couple of country songs and duets. In 1982, she had a number-one hit, "On My Own," sung with Michael MacDonald. While other singers of her generation became oldies acts, Patti LaBelle continued to push herself and innovate, although not without some trepidation about new trends in music. She told Geoffrey H imes of the Washington Post in a 1994 interview, "Music is not music anymore. There's a lot of talking and sampling, but not many creative juices flowing.... The talent's there, but the talent's lazy."
In spite of those feelings, LaBelle continued creating new music. While many of the performers placed in the same categories as LaBelle performed as "oldies" acts, she endured throughout the 1990s with several albums and singles that had a good showing in urban contemporary music. She won a Grammy for her 1992 album Burnin', and went on to earn a star on the Hollywood walk of fame in 1993. She followed that with the successful Gems album in 1994 that included a top selling single, "The Right Kinda Lover."
LaBelle continued in the latter half of the decade with projects that took her to the studio as well as to the writing table. In 1997, she released her album, Flame, just after her first book, an autobiography, Don't Block the Blessings. At 52, LaBelle finally felt she had a story to tell. In the book, she recalled the pain of losing her sisters, each before they reached the age of 45. Her eldest sister, Vivian, died in 1975 at the age of 43 of lung cancer. Barbara died in 1982 at 40 of colon cancer and Jackie, the youngest, died of a brain tumor in 1988 at 43.
She commented to Jet on her grief and her divorce in 2000: "I'm a veteran of adversity," she explained. "You get through things when you have to. You never get over them, but you get through them. Yo u try to make it as easy on everybody around you as possible because usually I think about the people around me before I think about myself."
LaBelle's next release, Live! One Night Only, won another Grammy. She also finished her second book around this same time. This time she focused on her fame as a cook with LaBelle Cuisine: Recipes to S ing About. LaBelle was a well-recognized chef among the likes of Oprah, Luther Vandross, Elton John, and Prince. In an interview with American Visions, she described the intent in her second book. She considered it a "thank-you to my family, my friends, and my fans."
A diabetic, LaBelle warned against including the extravagant recipes in everyday menus and enforced that warning by joining the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health in the fight against diabetes. This move demonstrated that, as always, she thought about others even as she prepared to offer thanks for a career of support. In 2000, LaBelle released When A Woman Loves, taking her in yet another direction. She remains a much-loved and respected entertainer. Shirley Henderson of the Chicago Tribune quoted Patti at a concert appearance during subarctic temperatures. "You know ... to come out in this weather ... I know you all must love me." Nobody disagreed.
LaBelle expanded her career once again and launched a clothing line on the Home Shopping Network (HSN) on November 6, 2003. LaBelle, involved in the creative process of the clothing line, took inspiration from her own wardrobe and stage clothes. Lab elle has not let her new passion obstruct her musical career. She recently signed to Def Jam Classics and has begun working on her next album, which is expected to be released in February of 2004.
by Jim McDermott and Leslie Rochelle
Patti LaBelle's Career
Singer with the BlueBelles, 1961-70; lead singer with LaBelle, 1970-77; solo acting and singing career, 1970-; released solo debut, Patti LaBelle, 1977; began acting career, 1981; published autobiography Don't Block the Blessings, 1997; published LaBelle Cuisine: Recipes to Sing About, 1999; released When A Woman Loves, 2000; launched a clothing line, 2003.
Patti LaBelle's Awards
Grammy Award, Best R&B Vocalist for Burnin', 1991; Award of Merit, Philadelphia Art Alliance, 1987; Entertainer of the Year, NAACP, 1986; Grammy Award, Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance for Live! One Night Only, 1998; Songwriters Hall of Fame, Lifetime Achievement Award, 2003.
- Selected discography
- (With the BlueBelles) Sweethearts of the Apollo Newton Music, 1963.
- (With the BlueBelles) Over the Rainbow Spy, 1967.
- (With LaBelle) Labelle Warner, 1971.
- (With LaBelle) Moon Shadows Warner, 1972.
- (With LaBelle) Pressure Cookin' RCA, 1973.
- (With LaBelle) Nightbirds Epic, 1974.
- (With LaBelle) Phoenix Epic, 1975.
- (With LaBelle) Chameleon Epic, 1976.
- Patti LaBelle Sony, 1977.
- I'm In Love Again Capitol, 1984.
- Miss Soul MCA, 1986.
- Winner in You MCA, 1986.
- Burnin' MCA, 1991.
- Live! MCA, 1992.
- Gems MCA, 1994.
- Flame MCA, 1997.
- Live! One Night Only MCA, 1998.
- When A Woman Loves MCA, 2000.
- Selected writings
- Don't Stop the Blessings Riverhead, 1996.
- LaBelle Cuisine: Recipes to Sing About Broadway, 1999.
May 4, 2004: LaBelle's album, Timeless Journey, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_6/index.jsp, May 7, 2004.
- O'Brien, Lucy, She-Bop, Penguin, 1995.
- Billboard, June 8, 2002; July 2, 2002; February 22, 2003; November 1, 2003.
- Chicago Tribune, February 4, 1996, p. C1.
- Jet, August 18, 1997; October 9, 2000; June 30, 2003.
- Library Journal, April 1, 2002.
- Newsweek, April 26, 1999.
- People, November 11, 1996; May 19, 2003.
- PR Newswire, June 17, 1999.
- Washington Post, June 24, 1994, p. WW17; November 18, 1994, pp. F1, F3.
- "Patti LaBelle," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (December 20, 2003).
- Patti LaBelle Official Website, http://www.pattilabelle.com (December 20, 2003).