Few people have earned the right to be called a “living legend” and Patti LaBelle is one of them. For more than three decades, “The high priestess of good vibrations” as THE NEW YORK TIMES calls her, has been at the trend-setting forefront of the music world, enjoying phenomenal success as a member of the legendary girl group, Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles in the sixties, as leader of the flamboyant Labelle in the seventies, and as a Grammy-winning solo artist in the eighties and nineties.
Throughout her career, she has won admiration not only for her music, but also for her tireless charity work and devotion to her fans. Now, after a three year hiatus from recording during which Patti spent time gathering material for her new CD and writing her best-selling autobiography, the queen of rock and soul says: “I feel like I’ve dusted off my soul and now I can shine.”
“Flame,” Patti’s first CD since she bared her heart and soul in her moving memoir, is filled with the same fire, the same passion, the same gut-wrenching emotion that put “Don’t Block the Blessings” on every national bestseller list and earned it the NAACP Image Award for outstanding literary work. Produced by Patti and a number of top flight talents including Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, “Flame” features a host of five star musicians in a variety of roles (e.g., Ann Nesby and Lisa Fischer on background vocals; Najee on saxophone; Brenda Russell, who co-wrote the title song; and Gerald LeVert contributing to the producing, writing and arranging.)
Patti’s unique ability to raise our spirits and our consciousness through song, the way she uses music to show us the way past pain, is on full display on “Flame.” It was music that helped sustain Patti through the most difficult times of her life, including the deaths of all three of her sisters to cancer before their 44th birthday, and many of the songs on “Flame” reflect her hard won lessons about love and loss. On tunes like “If By Chance,” “Flame” and “Don’t Block the Blessings” (which was co-written by Patti’s husband and manager, Armstead Edwards), Patti shares many of the insights that led her, at age 52, to a newfound sense of peace and purpose and a deep personal understanding of what’s important in life and how it’s always there for all of us — if we don’t block the blessings.
The song “You Saved My Life” is particularly special to Patti because, as she puts it, “It’s a love letter to my fans.”
“There have been times in my life when I was hurting so bad that even my blues had blues,” Patti explains. “No matter what I was going through, though, my fans were always there for me, showering me with love and appreciation. Even when I didn’t have a hit record, they came out to see me anyway. Any artist will tell you, that’s special. And I want my fans to know how much it means to me. ‘You Saved My Life’ is my way of saying thank you.”
In her more than 30 years in show business, Patti has won just about every honor and award than can be bestowed upon an entertainer:
*Eight Grammy nominations and the 1992 Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance;
*Seven NAACP Image Awards (including the coveted Entertainer of the Year Award);
*Three Emmy nominations;
*Two American Music Awards;
*A Cable Ace Award;
*An honorary doctorate from Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music;
*Her own star on the fabled Hollywood Boulevard “Walk of Fame” (Patti is the only recording artist whose star was paid for entirely by fans).
Perhaps more than any other contemporary entertainer, Patti is known for giving as much of herself offstage as on. Among her many charitable activities, Philadelphia’s favorite native daughter serves as spokeswoman for the National Medical Association which is endowing a scholarship in her name; the National Minority AIDS Council’s Live Long, Sugar campaign; and the National Cancer Institute. (For her work on behalf of cancer awareness, a special research laboratory was dedicated in her honor at the famed Sylvester Comprehensive Care Center at the University of Miami.) And this year, after Patti revealed on the Oprah Winfrey show that she is a diabetic, she also agreed to serve as spokesperson for the American Diabetes Association.
Since l961 when she recorded her first million selling hit, “I Sold My Heart to the Junkman,” Patti has built a career most entertainers only dream of. Not only have her one woman Broadway shows shattered records on the Great White Way, she has starred in her own prime-time television special and weekly TV series, “Out All Night” which can still be seen on BET. Her high energy concerts are always standing room only affairs and recently, the First Fan himself, President Bill Clinton, surprised Patti by showing up — with the First Lady — at her sold out concert at Washington’s Warner Theater.
But despite all the accolades, despite the fabulous, fairy tale limo-scene life, Patti will be the first to tell you that her most important role is that of wife (her husband, Armstead Edwards, has managed her career since the early eighties) and mother (she’s Mom to Zuri, her 22-year-old son with Edwards; two adopted sons in their thirties and the son and daughter of her late sister, Jackie).
When Patti isn’t touring or recording, she’s at home in Philadelphia cooking (“I’m thinking of doing a cookbook filled with all my secret recipes”), shopping (at last count she had 3,000 pairs of her signature six-inch “fever pumps”), and “making our house a home,” she says.
Her classic hits include “Over the Rainbow,” “Lady Marmalade,” “New Attitude,” and “On My Own.”
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