"I truly respect the people who are working. If they want an autograph from Patti LaBelle, they are going to get it. I have never separated myself from them. I never think you are better than the next one. I think we are all equal. I have never been a b**** and I don't know how to be, and I don't know how to be nasty." Patti LaBelle
Grammy-winning R&B, soul singer and songwriter Patti LaBelle was first shot to fame in the 1960s and 1970s when she fronted the girl groups “Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles” and “Labelle,” with whom she released the international smash hit single "Lady Marmalade" (1975). Following the break up of the groups, she embarked on an illustrious solo career and continued to find success on the pop and R&B charts with hits like "If Only You Knew," "New Attitude" and "On My Own."
The soul diva, known for her strong vocals, is often compared to fellow R&B singer Aretha Franklin. She ranked #41 on VH1's Greatest Women of Rock N Roll and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1993.
"I want to be remembered as a woman who was fair and always gave 150 percent, no matter what I did. I guess when people come to see me they know they're going to get 150%. It's been that way ever since I stepped out on stage for the first time." Patti LaBelle
While enjoying one of the longest-lived careers in contemporary music, Patti appeared as a series regular on “A Different World” in the early 1990s and published a variety of best-selling cookbooks, including 1999's “LaBelle Cuisine: Recipes to Sing About.” Her biography, “Don't Block the Blessings” (1997), remained at the top of The New York Times best-seller list for several weeks.
Childhood and Family:
Born Patricia Louise Holte on May 24, 1944, in West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Patti LaBelle was given the name LaBelle (which in French translates to the beautiful) by a record exec whom originally thought she was too dark and unattractive to head the all girl group “The Blue Belles.” The fourth of five children to Henry Holte, a railroad worker, Patti has three sisters, Vivian, Barbara, and Jackie, and one brother. Unfortunately, she lost all three of her sisters to some form of cancer before their 44th birthdays.
Patti herself was diagnosed with diabetes in 1995 and is now a spokeswoman for the American Diabetes Association (ADA). She published two cookbooks targeted at people with diabetes and in 2005, began appearing in advertisements for OneTouch Ultra and later for OneTouch Ultra2, a manufacturer of blood glucose monitoring systems.
Patti, who left high school to tour with the “Ordettes” as a teen, has been granted honorary doctoral degrees from Cambridge University, Drexel University, and the Berkley School of Music for her contribution and achievement in music.
After calling off her engagement to Otis Williams of the long-time R&B singing group “The Temptations,” Patti married long-time manager Armstead Edwards on July 23, 1969, but they divorced after over thirty years of marriage in early 2000. Patti has five children. She adopted her sister Jackie's son and daughter after Jackie died of cancer. She raised her neighbor's two boys, Dodd and Stanley, after her neighbor died of pneumonia, although she and her husband were too old at the time to legally adopt them. She also has one biological son named Zuri.
Patti is the godmother of singer Mariah Carey (born March 27, 1970) and Cyndi Lauper's son, Declyn (born November 19, 1997).
Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles
At the age of 14, Patti LaBelle began singing in the Beulah Baptist Church Choir. Her school teacher apparently realized her talent and advised her to start a singing group. As Patsy Holte, Patti formed a four-member girl group called the “Ordettes” in 1958. In 1959, when two of the original “Ordettes” left, Patti and fellow “Ordettes” Sandra Tucker brought in singers Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash. Sandra later also left the group and was replaced by Cindy Birdsong. Patti subsequently left high school to tour with the “Ordettes,” which was managed by Bernard Montague.
After two years touring in local nightclubs and at truck stops, the group was signed with Blue Note Records. They changed their name to “Blue Belles” and Patti began using her present name. The group's name was later renamed to "Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles" since there was another group with the name "Bluebelles."
With the help of producer Bobby Martin, "Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles" scored their first hit single with "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman" (1962). Afterward, they began to wow audiences at New York's Apollo theater and were given the name "The Apollo Sweethearts."
"Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles" scored more hits with "Down the Aisle" (1963), "You'll Never Walk Alone" (1964), "Danny Boy" (1965) and "All or Nothing" (1966). After being signed with Atlantic Records in 1966, the girls scored what later became Patti's signature song with their version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." In 1967, the foursome became a trio when Birdsong left to join “The Supremes,” replacing Florence Ballard. Patti reportedly was so mad at Birdsong for leaving the group that she didn't talk to her for 18 years.
After returning from England in 1970, the trio signed with Warner Bros Records in 1971 and released their self titled album, which was a commercial failure but received rave reviews for its positive image. They also backed up singer/songwriter Laura Nyro on her album “It's Gonna Take a Miracle” (1971) and went on tour with rock acts like “The Who.”
"LaBelle's" next album, "Moon Shadow" (1972), which featured the ground-breaking tracks "I Believe That I've Finally Made It Home" and "It Ain't Sad Until It's All Over," also failed to gain commercial success, but received rave reviews. They were subsequently dropped from the record label, but quickly signed with RCA Records with the help of Vicki Wickham.
Their first album with the RCA, "Pressure Cookin" (1973), failed to gain commercial success but garnered great reviews thanks to the songs "Let Me See You In The Light," "Can I Speak To You Before You Go To Hollywood," "Going On A Holiday," and "Last Dance." In October of 1974, "LaBelle” made history as the first African-American contemporary act to perform at the Metropolitan Opera.
In December 1974, LaBelle released the album “Nightbirds” on Epic Records. The single "Lady Marmalade" became a No. 1 hit on both the U.S. R&B and pop charts, and an international smash during the winter of 1975. Twenty six years later, the song was covered by Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mýa, and Pink as a single for the Oscar-winning "Moulin Rouge" film soundtrack. Their version was also a number-one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. for five weeks in mid 2001. "Labelle’s” version of "Lady Marmalade" was later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2003. As for the album “Nightbirds,” it reached #7 on the pop album charts and was ranked number 272 on “Rolling Stone” magazine's list of the “500 Greatest Albums of all Time.”
"Instant success doesn't bother me. I am glad that [others] can get it. [But] don't take it and think that you are 'all that.'" Patti LaBelle
Following their breakout hit, LaBelle’s subsequent albums, “Phoenix” (1975) and “Chameleon” (1976), wouldn't have quite the same commercial success. They separated abruptly in 1976 and Patti embarked on a solo career. She released her first self-titled solo LP in 1977 on Epic Records, which spawned the ballad "You Are My Friend" and the funkier "Joy To Have Your Love." She followed it up with the albums “Tasty” (1978), featuring the salsa hit "Teach Me Tonight (Me Gusta Tu Baile)," “It's Alright With Me” (1979), featuring the disco classic "Music Is My Way Of Life," and “Released” (1980).
"We all decided to go our separate ways; it was something that we didn't want to do any longer as a group. We all wanted to sing different music, so we all went in different directions. We are all still friends and we still plan on doing a reunion tour." Patti LaBelle
In 1981, Patti signed with Philadelphia International and released “The Spirit's in It” near the end of the year. In 1982, she co-starred with soul star Al Green in the Broadway revival of the musical based on the Biblical Book of Matthew, “Your Arms Too Short to Box With God.” She also made her TV debut in the TV movie adaptation of Studs Terkel's book celebrating the lives of everyday working-class people, "Working" (1982), in which she also performed the songs "If I Could've Been" and "Cleanin' Women."
“I'm in Love Again,” Patti's 1983 album, became her first gold album since 1974's “Nightbirds.” It yielded the No. 1 R&B smash hit "If Only You Knew," which stayed at the #1 spot on the U.S. R&B charts during January and February 1984 and peaked at number 46 on the U.S. pop charts in early 1984.
Patti appeared in Norman Jewison's World War II drama, “A Soldier's Story” (1984; starring Howard E. Rollins Jr.), which was adapted by Charles Fuller from his Pulitzer Prize-winning off-Broadway play. She also solidified her comeback with the release of the million-selling single "New Attitude," which climbed to a respectable #17 on Billboard, and the "Beverly Hills Cop" (1984) soundtrack "Stir It Up," which peaked at #41 on the U.S. Pop Singles chart and #5 on the U.S. Black Singles chart. In 2005, Patti re-recorded "Stir It Up" alongside Joss Stone, for the soundtrack to the Disney animated feature film "Chicken Little."
During this time, Patti impressed the audience during her performance at Live Aid in her native Philadelphia in July of 1985. She then signed with MCA in 1986 and released her sixth solo album, “Winner in You,” that spring. It became her most successful album thus far and topped at #1 on the American Billboard album charts in 1986 and went platinum in the United States. The album spun off the Billboard Hot 100 #1 single "On My Own," a duet with former “Doobie Brother” Michael McDonald.
“Winner in You” also spawned the Top 40 Billboard Hot 100 hit "Oh, People," the moderate pop chart hit "Kiss Away The Pain," and the Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart hit "Something Special Is Gonna Happen Tonight."
During the late '80s, Patti continued to appear in feature and made-for-television films. She co-starred with Alfre Woodard and John Ritter on TV's “Unnatural Causes” (1986) and with Lorraine Bracco in the Richard J. Baskin-directed teen film “Sing” (1989), in which she performed the song "Total Concentration." Meanwhile, she released the Gold album “Be Yourself” (1989), featuring a couple of tracks written by Prince, while her contribution to the 1989 James Bond “License To Kill” film soundtrack featured the original recording of "If You Asked Me To," which Celine Dion covered three years later.
Entering the 1990s, Patti made her debut as Adele Wayne, the homemaker mother to Kadeem Hardison's Dwayne, on the NBC sitcom “A Different World,” a spin-off series from "The Cosby Show." She played the recurring role until the show's final episode in 1993.
She recalled, "They sent me the script and after reading it I felt that I had to do it. It was something that I was happy to do. I wasn't looking to act at that time."
Meanwhile, Patti released the gold-selling album “Burnin'” (1991), which helped her win her first Grammy Award for Best R&B Female Vocal Performance. It spun off three Billboard top 5 R&B hits, "Feels Like Another One," "Somebody Loves You Baby (You Know Who It Is)," and "When You've Been Blessed (Feels Like Heaven)." In the album, Patti was also reunited with Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx on the track "Release Yourself."
The following year, Patti released her first solo live album, "Live!" (1992), whose single "All Right Now" earned the diva her eighth Grammy nomination. On TV, she also starred as Chelsea Paige, an urban nightclub owner, in the NBC sitcom “Out All Night” (1992), alongside Morris Chestnut, Vivica A. Fox, and Duane Martin.
In 1993, Patti won an American Music Award for Favorite R&B Female Artist and was honored with a star on the Hollywood Boulevard's Walk of Fame. Afterward, she released the albums “Gems” (1994; featuring the hit "The Right Kinda Lover"), “Flame” (1997; featuring the hit "When You Talk About Love"), and the Grammy-winning “Live One Night Only” (1998). She also released an autobiography titled “Don't Block the Blessings: Revelations of a Lifetime” (1995) and received Soul Train's Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997. She wrapped up the decade by releasing a cookbook, “LaBelle Cuisine: Recipes to Sing About,” in 1999.
After releasing “When A Woman Loves,” Patti ended her 30-year marriage with manager Armstead Edwards. In 2002, she released a collection of “Greatest Love Songs” by Hip-O and appeared in a performance of the song at that year's Grammy Awards. The following year, she performed her NASA theme song, "Way Up There," at a memorial service for the astronauts of the Columbia shuttle disaster, and was nominated for a Grammy for this tune, but lost to her friend Aretha Franklin. She also released a second cookbook, “Patti LaBelle's Lite Cuisine: Over 100 Dishes With To-Die-For Taste Made With To-Live-For Recipes,” which was co-authored by Laura Randolph Lancaster.
In 2004, Patti released her highest charting album in eighteen years, "Timeless Journey," which debuted at #16 and featured the tracks "2 Steps Away" and "When You Smile." She also had her own reality show on TV1, "Living It Up with Patti Labelle" (2004), and released a cover album, "Classic Moments" (2005), which featured such songs as "I Can't Make You Love Me," the lead single "Ain't No Way" (featuring Mary J Blige), "I'll Stand By You," "Land of the Living" (with singer-songwriter Kristine W.), and "Your Song" (featuring Elton John), before eventually being dropped from her label.
Patti announced that she was reuniting with "Labelle" while appearing as a guest on the show "Martha" on December 23, 2005. She is also playing Motormouth Maybelle in "Hairspray" on Broadway.
"Each year I grow, and that’s a blessing from God. I do what I can do. I do what I feel God has given me the energy to do, so I just go out there and I do it. It’s not about making money because I don’t need money, but I need to sing. With a voice or without, I’ve got to get on that stage." Patti LaBelle
"The Gospel According To Patti LaBelle" was released on November 21, 2006, through the independent label Umbrella/B ngalow Records. It debuted on the U.S. Billboard 200 at #86, peaked at #17 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, and #1 on Billboard's Top Gospel Albums chart for 17 weeks. It spawned the radio hit "Where Love Begins," a duet with Yolanda Adams, and "Anything" featuring Kanye West, Mary Mary and Consequence.
Patti is said to be recording a new album with Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx, together as the reformed “LaBelle,” with help from Lenny Kravitz. She is currently re-signed with Def Jam and released a Christmas album produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and James "Big Jim" Wright, "Miss Patti's Christmas," on October 9, 2007.
Also a business woman, Patti, who has two fragrances and a line of lipsticks and nail polishes, launched her own wig line, The Patti LaBelle Collection by Especially Yours, in early 2008. She is also an owner of the Chez LaBelle dinner theater in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
GLAAD Media: Excellence in Media Award, 2007
Grammy: Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance, “Live One Night Only,” 1998
Soul Train: Lifetime Achievement, 1997
American Music Award: Favorite R&B Female Artist, 1993
Image: Special Award - Entertainer of the Year, 1993
Grammy: Best R&B Female Vocal Performance, "Burnin'," 1992
Image: Special Award - Entertainer of the Year, 1987
CableACE: Performance in a Music Special, "Sisters in the Name of Love," 1987