Patricia Louise Holte (born May 24, 1944), best known by her stage name of Patti LaBelle, is an American R&B and soul singer-songwriter and actress. LaBelle is known for her outrageous style and larger-than-life, gravity-defying haircuts.
She fronted two groups, Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles, which received minor success on the pop charts in the 1960s, and Labelle, which received acclaim and a mainstream breakthrough in 1974 with their song "Lady Marmalade". She went on to have a solo recording career, earning another U.S. #1 single in 1986 with "On My Own," a duet with Michael McDonald.
She is renowned for her passionate stage performances, wide vocal range and distinctive high-octave belting. Her biography, Don't Block the Blessings, remained at the top of the The New York Times best-seller list for several weeks.
Early life and career
LaBelle was born Patricia Louise Holte in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Henry Holte, a railroad worker, and Bertha Robinson Holte, a housewife. The fourth of five children, Holte began singing at church at an earlier age. During an audition for a school play, a teacher advised Holte to form a singing group.
As Patsy Holte, she formed a four-member girl group called the Ordettes in 1959. In 1960, when two of the original Ordettes left, Holte and fellow Ordette Sandra Tucker brought in singers Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash, from a recently defunct rival group. When Tucker's family made Sandra leave the group, she was replaced by 18-year-old hometown friend Cindy Birdsong. With her mother's blessings, Patti left high school to tour with the Ordettes. The group was managed by Bernard Montague and toured from local nightclubs to honky tonks and truck stops.
During an audition with Newtown Records, the Ordettes almost didn't get a recording contract because Holte, who was the lead singer was considered "too plain, too dark and unattractive" until she sang for him. Afterwards, he suggested a name change for Holte. Add to the irony after his initial disappointment of Holte, the surname LaBelle was French for "the beautiful". Signing them in 1962, the boss also changed the name of the group to The Bluebelles, named initially after a Newtown subsidiary (Bluebelle Records), which later led to threats of a lawsuit over another girl group's manager. The name was altered to Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles.
Group career: 1962 - 1977
Main article: Labelle
As Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles, the group's first single, "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman", was actually recorded by The Starlets and was released as a Bluebelles single due to contract obligations the Starlets had with their own label, Pam Records. The group later recorded their own version of the song, which peaked at number fifteen on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1962. Going out on the road, the group became a successful draw on the chitlin' circuit, mainly earning national fame at The Apollo Theater where they became "Apollo Sweethearts". The group enjoyed a modestly successful recording career, which included top 40 recordings such as their gospel-styled doo-wop renditions of traditional songs such as 1963's "Down the Aisle" and "You'll Never Walk Alone" and "Danny Boy", from 1964, the latter two songs recorded for Philadelphia-based Cameo-Parkway Records. In 1966, the group left Cameo-Parkway for a brief stint at Atlantic Records recording Judy Garland's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", a song LaBelle re-recorded as a soloist over a decade later on the 1981 album, The Spirit's In It (as "Over the Rainbow") and which later became a concert staple in LaBelle's shows since. The group also recorded the modest hit, "All or Nothing", which became a modest soul standard. In 1967, Cindy Birdsong shocked the group when she left to replace Florence Ballard of The Supremes. LaBelle said she and the rest of the members kept a grudge over Birdsong, Motown and the Supremes for years following Birdsong's exit though she eventually forgave all parties for the decision.
In 1970, Dusty Springfield's manager Vicki Wickham advised the Bluebelles to visit London and revised their image. The group had had a local following in England, even at one time having Elton John and his band Bluesology performing background for them. Wickham wanted the group to alter their image from their classic girl group look to a modernized casual look asking them to ditch their bouffant wigs and dresses for jeans and Afros. Though LaBelle admitted having difficulty with the change, she eventually agreed after her two band mates, including Nona Hendryx, convinced her the move would bring popularity to the group. Returning to America the following year, they changed their name to Labelle and released their self-titled debut on Warner Bros. Records. The same year, they gained a cult following after opening for The Who and appeared as backup for Laura Nyro's accomplished album, Gonna Take a Miracle. After releasing two transitional albums, the group found some cult fame with the release of 1973's Pressure Cookin', which had the group record more political affair including a famed remake of Gil Scott Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised". The group's choice to record political and sexual material set the band apart from other groups at the time. In 1973, the group was asked to change their look again, after discovering the success of glam rockers David Bowie and T-Rex, to glammed-up wardrobe. In time, the group's trademark wear included pieces of silver (LaBelle herself began wearing silver-haired wigs and knee-high silver boots).
In September of 1974, after two weeks in New Orleans, Labelle released their landmark album, Nightbirds, which successfully mixed glam rock and soul with funk elements. Their biggest hit, "Lady Marmalade", became their very first number-one hit, and the group went on a successful national tour that started with a rave performance at the Metropolitan Opera House, where they became the first African American contemporary pop group to open there. The group advised fans to "wear something silver" during the famed event. The group founded some commercial and critical success with the releases of rockier efforts such as Phoenix and Chameleon, famed for the feminist funk classic, "Get You Somebody New" and Patti's magnum opus, a cover of Randy Edelman's rock ballad, "Isn't It a Shame" before breaking up to start solo careers at the beginning of 1977.
Early solo career: 1977 - 1982
LaBelle released her self-titled debut in 1977 on Epic Records, which featured the top twenty R&B dance single, "It's a Joy to Have Your Love" and the modestly-charted gospel-emulated ballad, "You Are My Friend", which she co-wrote and dedicated to her son and her faith in God (hence the vamp lyric, "I've been looking around and you were here all the time"). LaBelle's performance of the song - which included her kicking off her shoes and rolling around the stage - helped to make it a stand-out performance and remains a concert staple including the modified gospel hymn, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus". The album received critical acclaim but didn't give LaBelle any solo success. Other albums such as 1979's It's Alright with Me, 1980's Released and 1981's The Spirit's in It, which included her now classic solo cover of her old Bluebelles single, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", also failed to chart. On , 1979, she appeared at the Amandla Festival along with Bob Marley, Dick Gregory and Eddie Palmieri, among others. That same year, she cut a performance for Richard Pryor's Wanted concert film, however her scenes were cut. In spite of this, Pryor mentioned LaBelle during the opening of his concert. Three years later, in 1982, LaBelle and singer Al Green participated in the revival of the successful Broadway play, "Your Arm's Too Short to Box with God".
Successful period: 1983 - 2000
LaBelle didn't start to experience commercial solo success until 1983 when she released her first charted hit album, I'm in Love Again, which featured LaBelle's first #1 R&B and top fifty pop hit with "If Only You Knew" and a radio hit with "Love, Need and Want You." The album became her first solo release to be certified gold. In 1985, LaBelle recorded two songs for the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack. Those two songs - "New Attitude" and "Stir It Up" became pop hits. During this period, LaBelle began dressing as flamboyantly as she did during the Labelle days in an effort to carve out an original persona. LaBelle's appearances on Motown Returns to the Apollo and the Live Aid concerts of 1985 introduced her to a new audience. During the Live Aid finale, she took the microphone for "We Are the World" and sung as if to appear she was the only one audible. Her performance on Motown Returns to the Apollo ignited some controversy when she was seen as out-singing Diana Ross after Ross gave her the microphone to sing "I Want To Know What Love Is", known as the "infamous mic toss". As a result, LaBelle was often accused of grandstanding. The singer defended herself saying that she had a big voice and warned people that she was going to use it. Despite this, that same year, LaBelle was granted her first television special, which became highly rated, featuring Cyndi Lauper, Bill Cosby and Luther Vandross. LaBelle's popularity increased further in 1986 with the release of her best-selling album to date, 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."
LaBelle 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 and R&B charts. It was later covered by C?Šline Dion in 1992, with striking similarity in arrangement, key and vocal styling. Dion's version peaked at #1 on both the Pop & A/C charts. In an interview with the online magazine Monaco Revue Patti claimed racism in the music industry was responsible for the difference in record sales, and revealed that accepting this was the most difficult obstacle she had to face in her career. In January 1995, La Belle performed at the Super Bowl XXIX halftime show, with Tony Bennett, Arturo Sandoval and the Miami Sound Machine, in a program entitled "Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye", to promote the upcoming Disney theme park attraction.
In 1991, LaBelle released the gold-selling Burnin' album, which helped her win her first Grammy Award -- tying with vocalist Lisa Fischer 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." This album is also notable because it includes the first Labelle reunion recording with Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx, singing on "Release Yourself". Success continued with 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 winning LaBelle her a second Grammy (this time, without tying).
Later career and current work: 2000 - present
In 2000, LaBelle released her final album for the MCA label. When a Woman Loves features a collection of ballads written entirely by songwriter Diane Warren. LaBelle also announced her divorce from her only husband, Armstead, who had been her manager for 30 years. Four years would pass before LaBelle released a new album under Island Def Jam with the album, Timeless Journey, which saw LaBelle adding a modern hip-hop flavor to her brand of classic R&B. The album featured the modest hit "A New Day", which became a dance hit and also became her highest-charted album in nearly twenty years reaching number-sixteen on the Billboard 200. LaBelle's 2005 follow-up, a covers album, Classic Moments, was released. Despite the modest success, LaBelle battled against Def Jam president Antonio "L.A." Reid over the album's promotion and abruptly left the label.
In 2006, LaBelle issued her oft-promised gospel album on an independent label titled The Gospel According To Patti LaBelle was released. As a promotion, all copies sold at the retailer, Wal-Mart, contained a bonus track, "The Lord's Prayer". The album debuted at #86 on the Billboard 200, #17 on the R&B chart and peaked at #1 on the Gospel chart. A year later, LaBelle re-signed with Def Jam Records after Reid began re-negotiated terms with LaBelle. The new Def Jam release was her second holiday album called, Miss Patti's Christmas, released in 2007.
The year 2008 saw Patti LaBelle reunite with Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash to release their first full album in thirty-two years with the Verve Records release, Back to Now. The collection blended newly recorded tracks with songs recorded before the initial break-up of Labelle. "Superlover", a single from the album, peaked at number sixty-seven on the R&B chart in early 2009. Musician Wyclef Jean also lent his songwriting and producing talents to the ultra-contemporary track, "Roll Out".
In June of 2009 LaBelle was honored at New York's Harlem Apollo Theater after she was inducted to the Apollo Legends Hall of Fame by admirers such as pop stars Mariah Carey and Prince. After she was inducted, LaBelle said, "The Apollo is a national treasure, I'm overwhelmed and honored to be recognized on this stage."
LaBelle was the third of four sisters and was overall the fourth of five. LaBelle often mentioned that she was the only member of the family to "make it past 50" noting that most of her siblings all died before reaching 45. Sisters Vivian Rogers (1936-1982), Barbara Purifoy (1940-1984) and Jacqueline "Jackie" Padgett (1946-1989) each died of cancer while her mother died of heart failure in 1985 and her father succumbed to emphysema in 1989. In 1995, LaBelle was also diagnosed with diabetes. 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. During the 1960s, LaBelle was dating The Temptations' Otis Williams. LaBelle said they were even engaged at one point, but broke it off due to their punishing tour schedules and LaBelle's refusal to "become a housewife" saying later she wasn't ready to handle the responsibilities of being one nor was she ready to give up her singing career as Williams had advised her to do. In 1969, LaBelle married a longtime buddy of hers, L. Armstead Edwards. LaBelle said she married Edwards because she was afraid he would "change his mind" saying Edwards had asked her to marry him three times and each time LaBelle wouldn't accept saying that she felt she had said no to the "wrong man". The singer later said that she and Edwards were "like night and day, I'm like wildfire and he's like ice cubes." After 31 years of marriage, they divorced in 2000 due to irreconcilable differences. LaBelle is currently single. She is the mother of son, Zuri Edwards (born , 1973) and is the adopted mother of her sister Jacqueline's two children, and two adopted children, sons Stanley and Dodd, whom LaBelle and Edwards adopted in the late 1970s. LaBelle still lives in Philadelphia to this day. LaBelle's Boerboel recently appeared on an episode of Dog Whisperer, and is now living within the pack of her trainer.