For more than five decades, Patti LaBelle has been wowing audiences with her extraordinary voice (her signature range is guaranteed to produce goose bumps), and most recently pleasing our palates with her delicious Patti’s Good Life pies and other confections. Becoming a legend isn’t easy, but Miss Patti has done so with grace, integrity, and pizzazz. Producer Kenny Gamble once said, “She makes lyrics come alive and after all these years of singing, she’s hitting notes that some opera stars can’t hit.” He is absolutely right.
Born Patricia Louise Holte in Philadelphia, PA, Patti began singing at the age of 10 after joining the choir at Beulah Baptist Church and performed her first solo a few years later. While in high school, she came in first place at talent show and then formed her first singing group, the Ordettes in 1960. With Patti as the lead, the group was rounded out by Cindy Birdsong, Sarah Dash, and Nona Hendryx. The quartet auditioned for local record label owner Harold Robinson and was renamed the BlueBelles. Around this time, Patti took on her own stage name, LaBelle, in conjunction with her group’s name change. The single I Sold My Heart to the Junkman became the BlueBelles first hit in 1962.
The BlueBelles toured many cities across the country, including New York City where they gained some fame at the Apollo Theater (earning them the nickname the Apollo Sweethearts). The group found success with their remakes of You’ll Never Walk Alone, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and Down the Aisle (The Wedding Song), which became a Top 40 hit.
In 1967, Cindy Birdsong left the group to join Diana Ross and the Supremes. A few years later the BlueBelles linked up with promoter Vicki Wickham, who became their manager. Under Wickham’s direction, the trio changed their name to Labelle and decided to go in an edgier direction with their fashion and music. They signed with the Warner Music imprint, Track Records, and released their self-titled debut album in 1971. Labelle released several albums, but their 1974 album Nightbirds changed everything for the group. The first single Lady Marmalade, with its funky bass line and sexy content, shot to No. 1 and was the group’s first hit in over a decade.
Labelle became the first black group to play at the Metropolitan Opera House as well as the first black singing group to grace the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. But even with all of the success the group was having, creative differences led them to split in 1977. Tenacious and ambitious, Patti was determined to make it on her own as a solo artist. She signed with Epic Records and released her self-titled debut album also in 1997 to critical acclaim. Her albums Tasty in 1978 and Released in 1980 followed with moderate success.
In 1983, she released the successful album I’m In Love Again, which included the hit ballads Love, Need and Want You, and If Only You Knew. Her ballad The Best Is Yet to Come reached No. 14 on the R&B chart and earned Patti her first solo Grammy award nomination, while her duet On My Own with Michael McDonald, landed at No. 1 in 1986.
After signing with MCA, Patti ruled the pop and R&B airwaves throughout the ‘80s as she cranked out hit after hit, including New Attitude, Stir It Up (both from the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack) and If You Ask Me To. In 1991, she released the album Burnin’, which reached Gold and earned the crooner her first Grammy. During the mid to late ‘90s Patti released popular albums such as Gems (1994), which featured the hit The Right Kinda Lover; Flame (1997), which included the dance hit When You Talk About Love; and Live! One Night Only (1998), which earned her a second Grammy.
Patti added author to her resume after she released her best-selling memoir, Don’t Block the Blessings in 1996, as well as LaBelle Cuisine: Recipes to Sing About along with three more best-selling books.
In 2000, Patti was back in the studio and recorded her final MCA album entitled When A Woman Loves. She then signed with Def Soul Classics and released the 2004 album Timeless Journey and a covers album called Classic Moments in 2005.
The following year, Patti released her first gospel album The Gospel According to Patti LaBelle, which reached No. 1 on the Billboard gospel charts. In 2007, she released her second holiday album, Miss Patti’s Christmas, and in 2008 she reunited with Labelle members Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash after 30 years and released Back to Now.
Today, the Godmother of Soul continues to keep busy. In addition to writing her best-selling books and starring on cooking shows, she appeared on the popular series American Horror Story in 2014 and then became a contestant on Dancing With the Stars the following year. Also in 2015, the nation went crazy for her sweet potato pies, which were sold out in Wal-Marts across the country for weeks.
Patti, who is still touring and electrifying audiences young and old has managed to have longevity and relevancy in the fickle music industry because she is the consummate artist and plans to continue doing what she loves.
“I am truly blessed to see 72 years young and to still be able to do what I love doing!” Patti told us. “And I’m not slowing down at all. I’ve come so far in my life and intend to go a lot further. To me the sky is the limit!”
Happy 72nd birthday, Miss Patti!
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