You can’t mention R&B music without mentioning the likes of living legend Patti LaBelle. Hailed as the ‘Godmother of Soul,’ the 74-year-old continues gracing stages and giving 100% for 90 minutes singing to her full potential in heels while interacting with adoring fans. She has spent more than 50 years in the game recording R&B songs that have laid down the soundtrack to many of our lives.
She began her career as part of the Ordettes in 1959, who became The Bluebelles in 1961. The BlueBelles earned national fame at The Apollo Theater in Harlem. Thy remade songs such as “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
Their ballad, “Down the Aisle (The Wedding Song)” became a top 40 hit. In the early 70s the group revamped their image and changed their name to the edgy LaBelle and pushed fashion limits with thick soled shoes and glam rock inspired outfits. In 1974, they released the album Nightbirds and the first single off the album “Lady Marmalade” became the group’s first number one hit in over a decade.
LaBelle not only contributed to America’s soundtrack, the group broke barriers by becoming the first group to play at the Metropolitan Opera House, and becoming the first black vocal group to land the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. However, despite the increasing amount of success, tensions in the group led to a split in 1977.
Patti LaBelle Goes Solo
Later that year, Patti LaBelle released her solo debut album Patti LaBelle, followed by Tasty in 1978, and Released in 1980. LaBelle recorded the ballad “The Best is Yet to Come” in 1982 with Grover Washington which reached number 14 on the R&B chart and garnered her first solo GRAMMY Award nomination.
In 1983, LaBelle released her breakthrough album, I’m in Love Again, which included her first top ten R&B singles, “Love, Need and Want You,” and “If Only You Knew.”
She racked up some hit duets with Bobby Womack on the song “Love Has Finally Come at Last,” and a number one hit with “On My Own,” with Michael MacDonald.
Through the 80s, LaBelle would continue churning out hits including, “New Attitude,” “Stir it Up,” and “If You Asked Me To.”
In 1991, LaBelle received her first GRAMMY Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for the album Burnin. The album had three Billboard top 5 R&B hits including “Feels Like Another One,” “Somebody Loves You Baby (You Know Who It Is)” and “When You’ve Been Blessed (Feels Like Heaven).”
In 1993, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The singer also continued releasing popular albums throughout the 90s, including Gems (1994), Flame (1997), and Live! One Night Only (1998)—which won LaBelle her a second Grammy.
Back to the Foundation
In 2008, LaBelle reunited with her former LaBelle members Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash to release the album Back to Now, their first as a group in over 30 years.
For her 19th solo album, the songstress opted to try a different genre, jazz. In 2017, she released Bel Hommage. The thirteen-track album pays tribute to some of the legends of Jazz. “It’s a beautiful tribute to artists like Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, Shirley Horn and many others. I’m paying homage to them,” LaBelle revealed in an interview with Essence.
The musical icon was honored by the National Museum of African American Music during its fourth annual My Music Matters: A Celebration of Legends Luncheon in Nashville, Tennessee in 2017. She was honored alongside Kirk Franklin, Teddy Riley, and David Porter for their contributions to the music industry.
In addition to her more than 50-year successful career as a singer, LaBelle has written several books and starred in numerous stage and screen productions.
In 2019, LaBelle is still a commanding stage presence as her voice soars and she takes audiences through her vast discography during her shows. Seeing her on stage at the Blumenthal Performing Arts in Charlotte, North Carolina, proves that Ms. LaBelle still has it as she belts out the same songs she’s been doing for years, yet somehow, they sound even better as time goes on. “My voice is stronger now than when I was 30,” Labelle told the Fort Meyers News Press. She added, “I don’t smoke. I don’t drink crazy, I don’t do drugs. I’m pretty boring, really to be honest. I’m not going to mess up my instrument, you know, by doing anything cuckoo.” It’s evident as the entire theater gives the Godmother of Soul a standing ovation after she belts out every single song.
She has sold more than 50 million records over the span of her career and Labelle shows no signs of slowing down as she continues contributing to America’s soundtrack and inspiring singers from every generation.