About Patti Labelle
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Patti Labelle

About Patti Labelle

An Interview with Patti Labelle

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Patti LaBelle was born in Philadelphia on May 24, 1944, and raised in Elmwood—a close-knit, mostly black, working class community in South Philly. Deeply affected by her parents' separation when she was only twelve, LaBelle—who had always suffered from paralyzing shyness—turned to music. Her extraordinary abilities soon emerged and became most clearly apparent in the Beulah Baptist Church Choir, where she remained a soloist even after embarking on a professional career.

LaBelle was still a teenager when she sang with her first girl group—The Ordettes. After several girls left the group, Nona Hendryx, Sarah Dash, and Cindy Birdsong (later a member of the Supremes) signed on and "Patti LaBelle and the BlueBells" was born. The year was 1961. By the following year, the group had their first multimillion seller, "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman." The Bluebelles quickly gathered a devoted following as one of the foremost girl groups of the era with hits that included "All or Nothing," "You'll Never Walk Alone," "Down the Aisle," and "Danny Boy."

In the late 1960s, when the "British Invasion" changed the American music industry and left a lot of black artists and their record labels struggling to survive, The Bluebelles toured England, playing to wildly enthusiastic audiences. Recognizing that a musical revolution had occurred, The Bluebelles looked for a new manager with a new vision. They settled on British producer Vicki Wickham who transformed the group into "Labelle," a trio of massive musical power and political sensibility that was consistently ahead of its time.

The trendsetting singer/songwriter Laura Nyro, a longtime Bluebelles fan, was even more impressed by Labelle and recorded her landmark album, "It's Gonna Take A Miracle," with the group. Shortly thereafter Warner Brothers released the group's first two albums, "LaBelle" and "Moonshadow." "Pressure Cookin'" soon followed on RCA. But it was "Nightbirds," Labelle's first album for Epic Records, that sent the group soaring into superstardom on the strength of "Lady Marmalade" (Voulez- vous chouchez avec moi ce soir?).

The group broke up in 1976 and LaBelle embarked on her solo career with her first album, named simply "Patti LaBelle." Wishing to broaden her appeal LaBelle appeared for almost two years in the critically acclaimed gospel musical "Your Arms Too Short to Box with God," and in the feature film "A Soldier's Story"—based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play. At the same time LaBelle kept right on recording albums—"I'm in Love Again," "Winner in You," "Burnin'"—and such hits as "If Only You Knew," "New Attitude," "Stir It Up" and "Love Never Dies."

Patti LaBelle is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including a cable ACE award, three Emmy nominations, eight Grammy nominations, a 1992 Grammy Award for Best R&B Female Vocal Performance, and the Martin Luther King Lifetime Achievement Award. She has also been honored by the B'Nai Brith, the NAACP, Ebony magazine, the U.S. Congress, President Reagan, and the city of Philadelphia.

Having lost her three sisters and a best friend to cancer, LaBelle is a tireless campaigner on behalf of cancer awareness and research. A special research laboratory for cancer was dedicated in her honor at the famed Sylvester Comprehensive Care Center at the University of Miami. She has also supported adoption, foster care, Big Sisters, and the United Negro College Fund. LaBelle is married to Armstead Edwards, who helps manage her career, and is Mom to their son Zuri, two adopted sons in their late twenties, and the son and daughter of her late sister Jackie. They all still live in Philadelphia. Find Books by Patti Labelle

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