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Patti LaBelle (born Patricia Louise Holt on May 24, 1944 in West-Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) is an American R&B and soul singer and songwriter who fronted two groups, Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles and Labelle. She is known for her strong vocals and her signature high octave vocal belting. She has been largely compared to Aretha Franklin during the 1960s, but her distinguishing vocal belting remains unique and recognizable, which made her one of the greatest vocalists of all times. Her biography, Don't Block the Blessings, remained at the top of the New York Times best-seller list for several weeks. In addition, she is a bestselling cookbook author.
Born the fourth of five children including three sisters and a brother, Patti began singing at the age of 14 in church. A shy girl, Patti had a voice of a torch diva. A school teacher advised her to start a singing group.
As Patsy Holt, LaBelle formed a four-member girl group called the Ordettes in 1958. In 1959, when two of the original Ordettes left, Holt and fellow Ordette Sandra Tucker brought in singers Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash. When Tucker's family made Sandra leave the group, she was replaced by Cindy Birdsong.
Two years passed until the girls auditioned for Blue Note Records. The president at the time nearly passed on the group upon hearing the lead singer was Patti, or "Patsy" as friends and family called her, whom he had said didn't fit the traits of a traditionally beautiful lead singer. But he changed his mind when Patsy began singing. The president signed them to the label under two conditions: The Ordettes were now the Bluebelles and Patricia "Patsy" Holt would be given a new name: Patti LaBelle. For a woman that didn't have classic beauty traits, the last name meant "beautiful" in French. The name was changed again to Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles after the manager of the group who had the same name sought to sue.
In 1962, Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles scored their first Top 40 pop hit with the release of the doo-wop single, "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman." That same year, they began wowing audiences at New York's legendary Apollo theater later given them the name "The Apollo Sweethearts." Throughout the '60s, Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles were one of the hottest touring acts on the chitlin' circuit while the hits continued: in 1964, they scored again with songs like "Danny Boy" and "Down the Aisle."
In 1966, the group signed to Atlantic Records and scored what later became Patti's signature song with their version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Around this time, LaBelle was engaged to be married to Temptations member Otis Williams, but the couple called off the engagement because of their conflicting touring schedules. The next year, LaBelle, Dash & Hendryx received a shock when Cindy Birdsong left to join The Supremes, replacing Florence Ballard. It would be years before Birdsong and the group began to speak again.
In 1970, Patti and the Bluebelles moved to England where they met promoter Vicki Wickham, formerly Janis Joplin's promoter. The next year when the girls returned to America, they came out with a different name - simply Labelle - and a new attitude, vocal style, and a new wardrobe. The former "Apollo Sweethearts" were now women. Wearing casual clothing and African adornments, Labelle often sung of racism, sexism and politics. Their sound was not taken to heart by consumers.
In 1974, however, learning of a cult following, the women changed their looks again now adorning space-like, rockish and uniforms, they began to sing about sex, space, politics, and things that many funk and rock bands were singing about at the time -- but with an exception; no female groups had dared up until now to broach this type of controversial material. Their following had grown so much that in October of that year, they were the first African-American contemporary act to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House. That December, they released their greatest record, Nightbirds, featuring their breakout hit, "Lady Marmalade," which hit #1 on the Hot 100 in 1975, helping Nightbirds to go gold. It was as far as they got as success couldn't ring twice, although their subsequent albums, Phoenix and Chameleon were hailed by music critics as experimental and groundbreaking.
In 1976 during a performance in Baltimore, Nona suffered a nervous breakdown, forcing the band to separate abruptly (see note #1]. LaBelle released her self-titled debut in 1977 on Epic Records, where she recorded 3 more albums in the years to come. The debut album became an important hit for Patti at least on the R&B charts and was notable for the stand-out ballad, "You Are My Friend" and for the funkier "Joy To Have Your Love," which demonstrates Patti's large range with a typical Philadelphia Soul orchestrated arrangement with heavy bass. In the next year she released one of her most acclaimed albums, Tasty, featuring the salsa hit "Teach Me Tonight (Me Gusta Tu Baile)." The next step was the album It's Alright With Me featuring the disco classic "Music Is My Way Of Life" and the last album she recorded for Epic was Released, which did better than the previous one chartwise but didn't generate any important hits nor received the same critical acclaim. On July 21, 1979, she appeared at the Amandla Festival along with Bob Marley, Dick Gregory and Eddie Palmieri, amongst others.The 80's
Success was mostly eluding Patti until early 1981, when she released the classic ballad, "I Don't Go Shopping." In 1983, she released her first charted hit album, I'm In Love Again. The album featured LaBelle's first #1 R&B hit with "If Only You Knew" and a radio hit with "Love, Need & Want You." In 1984, after an eighteen-year estrangement, she reconciled with Cindy Birdsong while she was on stage in Los Angeles. By 1985, LaBelle was on her way to pop stardom after her songs, "New Attitude" and "Stir It Up" (recently re-recorded by Patti and Joss Stone) from the soundtrack for Beverly Hills Cop (1984), which peaked at #17 and #41 on the pop charts respectively.
By the time of her rise to pop stardom in the mid-1980s, LaBelle was now infamous for her wild hairdos, kicking off her shoes in a "Holy Ghost"-like rage, rolling over the floor while singing, putting the microphone stand down and then yielding it up in the air and choreographing the now-legendary "spread my wings" move that she incorporated during her show-stopping performances of "Over the Rainbow." Patti's appearance at the Motown Returns to the Apollo and Live Aid concert in 1985 introduced her to a whole new audience. After Diana Ross gave her the microphone at Motown Returns to the Apollo, Patti soared with her vocals and lit up the finale. During the finale at Live Aid, Patti again took the microphone and belted out "We Are the World," and during some points of the performance, Patti's voice is the only one audible over the other artists. Patti was accused of grandstanding, but the sheer power of her vocals, her amazing range and her attitude to give 100 percent in every performance gives her an edge most other artists don't have In 1986, she released her best-selling album to date with Winner in You. The album yielded her first solo #1, "On My Own" with pop balladeer Michael McDonald, 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."The 90's
By the end of the 1980s, she scored a moderate R&B and pop chart hit with the Diane Warren ballad, "If You Asked Me To," in 1989. The song peaked at #10 on the Adult Contemporary chart. It was later covered by Céline Dion in 1992 when hit peaked at #1 on both the Pop & A/C charts. Patti entered the 1990s on a high but not without tragedy. In July of 1989 she lost her third sister, Jackie to cancer. Patti's two elder sisters had similar fates, with her oldest sister Vivian dying in 1977 (at the height of LaBelle's success) and the second-eldest sister Barbara, dying in 1982 from colon cancer. Her brother, father and mother all followed suit dying around the same time making Patti the only living member of her extended family while being the mother of six kids - one born by Patti, three of one of her sisters' children and two adopted and wife of Armstead Edwards (married since 1969), who had become her manager.
LaBelle herself was diagnosed with diabetes in 1995. She is a spokeswoman for the American Diabetes Association, and has published two cookbooks targeted at people with diabetes, containing low-sugar and low-fat recipes. In 2005, LaBelle began appearing in advertisements for OneTouch Ultra and later for OneTouch Ultra2, a manufacturer of blood glucose monitoring systems for people with diabetes.
In 1991, Patti released the critically-acclaimed, Gold selling Burnin' album, which helped Patti win her first Grammy Award for Best R&B Female Vocal Performance. "Burnin'" featured the hits, "Somebody Loves You Baby (You Know Who It Is)", "When You've Been Blessed (Feels Like Heaven)" and "Feels Like Another One." That album is also notable because it includes the first Labelle reunion recording (with Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx on the track "Release Yourself") That success continued onto subsequent albums like 1994's Gems (featuring the hit, "The Right Kinda Lover"), 1997's Flame (featuring the hit, "When You Talk About Love"), and 1998's Live One Night Only (which won her a second Grammy).2000 and beyond
In 2000, in a stunning move, she divorced her husband, Armstead. The same year, she released When A Woman Loves, an album mostly of heartbroken toned Adult Contemporary songs by Diane Warren. Surprisingly, the album did not score an Adult Contemporary chart hit with the title track. LaBelle's musical legacy would be heard on several tracks by younger R&B and Hip-hop artists'; such as "Lady Marmalade" (resung by Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Pink and Mya on the soundtrack of Moulin Rouge!, which became a #1 hit all over again 26 years after LaBelle's original version topped the charts). She also appeared, though briefly, in a performance of the song at the 2002 Grammy Awards. "Love, Need & Want You" was sampled by rapper Nelly and Destiny's Child member Kelly Rowland in their #1 hit, "Dilemma" and later by Outkast, who featured LaBelle re-singing parts of the song on their hit, "Ghetto Musick"). "If Only You Knew" has also been covered and sampled in recent years.
On February 6, 2003, she performed "Way Up There" at a memorial service in honour of the astronauts lost in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, which was held at the Washington National Cathedral and attended by Vice President Dick Cheney among others. Patti was nominated for a Grammy for this tune, but lost to Aretha Franklin. She also released a vibrant single of the cut.
On Tuesday, July 22, 2003, Patti LaBelle sang the "Ave Maria" at the funeral of the legendary Cuban born 'Salsa Queen' Celia Cruz, held in New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral.
The year 2004 saw the release of Timeless Journey, which debuted at #16, making it LaBelle's highest charting album in eighteen years. Songs on the album include "2 Steps Away" and "When You Smile", a tribute song for Celia Cruz featuring Spanish language artists Carlos Santana, Andy Vargas, and La India. She scored modest hits with "New Day", "More Than Material" and, "Gotta Go Solo", a duet with Ronald Isley which peaked at #31 on the R&B chart. Patti also headlined the divas concert live. Patti LaBelle New Day Club Mixes was released to Dj's for club play and reached #1 on the top Played songs in the clubs and reached #11 on the top US Dance charts.
Patti has had her own reality show on TV1, Living It Up with Patti Labelle, since April 30, 2004.
In mid-2005, she released Classic Moments, a cover album featuring tracks made popular by other artists. LaBelle has often performed some of her favorite songs by other singers in her concerts. The album 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). Shortly after the release of the album, Labelle was unceremoniously dropped from her label. Reports of conflicts with label head Antonio "L.A." Reid were blamed for the dissolution as well as an event where several high profile stars abruptly backed out of appearances at a televised 60th birthday celebration for LaBelle.
Patti also appeared on extreme makeover where she sang "Stand by You" at a candlelight vigil.
While appearing as a guest on the show Martha on December 23, 2005, Patti LaBelle announced that she is reuniting with Labelle. Patti Labelle was honored by Oprah Winfrey at her Legends Ball. She is also playing Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray on Broadway.
In June 2006 a previously unreleased BlueBelles track was unearthed and released on an Atlantic compilation CD, "Atlantic Unearthed: Soul Sisters". The name of the track is "(1-2-3-4-5-6-7) Count the Days". LaBelle also appeared in the movie preaching to the choir as Sister Jasmine the Choir Director. LaBelle sang four songs for the album which included: Going To My Fathers House (which she belted two very high notes that chart at about C6), How I Got Over and Preaching To The Choir with Labelle. Patti also appears on the soundtrack to chicken little where she duets one of her old songs stir it up with Joss Stone .
Patti made an appearance on celebrity duets where she performed 3 songs: "Lady Marmalade," "Over the Rainbow" with Jai Rodriguez, and "On My Own" with show host Wayne Brady.
November 2006 Patti paid tribute to Dusty Springfield, singing a tribute to her at the UK Music Hall of Fame at Alexandra Palace, London, England.
On November 21, 2006, "The Gospel According To Patti LaBelle" was released. As a promotion, all copies sold at Wal-Mart have a bonus track, "The Lord's Prayer." The Gospel According To Patti LaBelle debuted at #86 on the Billboard 200, #17 on the R&B chart and #1 on the Gospel Albums chart. The unit sales of the first week have tallied up to a respectable 18,000 units sold. Earlier in 2006, LaBelle performed at the 2006 Super Bowl Gospel Celebration.
Labelle was prominently featured alongside Fantasia and Yolanda Adams on the remake of Stevie Wonder's "I Wish", on the soundtrack to "Happy Feet". LaBelle will also be featured on "What About Love", the lead track from the soundtrack to The Color Purple: The Musical.
Patti has been noted for her unending kindness. In 2006 Patti pulled up a young boy on stage to sing with her. Praising the child, named Joey, she recalled the various times she had met him and given him a rose. On April 14, 2007 LaBelle called the boy up along with a man who prayed for her. She gave the boy a lily and had him sing three songs with her. He truly loves her and has commented "Lord Knows I Love My Patti!"
On March 26, 2007, Patti was honored with a Excellence in Media Award by GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) for her life-long work for gay and lesbian rights and participation in the fight against AIDS. The award was presented by "Dreamgirls" star, Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson. "I didn't know you were this nice," Patti said to Jennifer during the 18th annual awards cermony. "I thought you were a bitch," she joked, noting that she had never met Hudson before their joint appearance. Patti spent most of her acceptance speech praising Jennifer Hudson, a former American Idol contestant who won an Oscar in February 2007 for her debut portrayal of a pop singer in the musical "Dreamgirls." In a passing-of-the-torch moment that brought a cheering audience to its feet, Patti and Jennifer launched into an a cappella rendition of "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen." Jennifer appeared astonished by Patti's tribute, saying, "You are who I idolize."
On April 29th, 2007, Patti appeared and sang at the 2007 Fort Lauderdale AIDS Walk in South Florida.
On May 5, 2007, Patti appeared and sang at the University of Southern Mississippi, Hattieburg MS in a ceremony honoring Mrs. Tena Clark.
LaBelle is also said to be recording a new album with Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx, the group is coming back as "LaBelle". They will be in the recording process this year and will possibly be on the road next year. Also Lenny Kravitz will be helping with the new album.
On June 26, 2007, Patti LaBelle gave a teary heartfelt introduction come eulogy on the late Gerald Levert. Patti LaBelle along side with Gladys Knight, Yolanda Adams and Eddie Levert paid tribute to the late great Gerald Levert at the 2007 BET Awards singing "Wind Beneath My Wings" which was a favorite song of Gerald in which he sang it often in his concert.
According to a message Ms. Labelle posted on her official website she has currently re-signed with Def Jam after being dropped by L.A. Reid in 2005. He decided he made a mistake and offered her another deal in which she took a few months to decide upon and eventually accepted. She will be in the studio recording for the Labelle reunion and will also release a Christmas CD this fall produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and James "Big Jim" Wright. The album will be released October 9th 2007 and will feature Mariah Carey and a few other artists and is titled "Ms. Patti's Christmas".