patti labelle

Lady Marmalade

Patti LaBelle is considered the Godmother of Soul. On the eve of her Coachella Valley appearance this fall, she opens up about career longevity, performing, and triumphs of the heart.

GREG ARCHER Arts & Entertainment, Current Digital

patti labelle
"I resonate with Over The Rainbow every time I sing it. It’s such a positive, uplifting song – “If birds fly high, why can’t I?” says Patti LaBelle.
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY PATTI LABELLE

“Momma’s coming,” Patti LaBelle practically sings to her 9-year-old Shih Tzu, who’s begging for attention in the background. A moment later as the Grammy-winning legend lovingly soothes Mr. Cuddles, we get into the business of unearthing the real Patti LaBelle.

Fact: Long before Destiny’s Child earnestly crooned Say My Name and Beyoncé vigorously demanded single ladies near and far tell their lover “put a ring on it,” there was Patti LaBelle hypnotizing the masses with her commanding vocals and mesmerizing way of storytelling through song.

Did she pave the way for today’s Christinas and Arianas? Sure.

LaBelle burst onto the scene in the 1960s as the front woman for the doo-wop group The Blue Belles (with Cindy Birdsong, Nona Hendryx, and Sarah Dash). Eventually, she branched out into the rock ’n’ roll world as part of the band LaBelle (with Hendryx and Dash) and launched a prolific solo career selling more than 50 million records worldwide and earning her spots in the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, among others.

The hits of the 1970s and ’80s – Lady Marmalade, If Only You Know, If You Asked Me To, New Attitude – may be remembered and revered yet onstage, the singer-actress-author remains a powerhouse and a rare creative force. She hits Morongo Casino Resort & Spa on Oct. 4.

Mr. Cuddles in tow, the Godmother of Soul dives deeper with Palm Springs Life.

You’ve been in business more than 50 years. What comes to mind when you venture to look back?

It’s been 60 years actually. Way back in the beginning, I never knew I would be this girl.

Really? Why is that? Was it confidence?

As a young girl, I just wanted to sing and not be paid. You start doing that and you think, “OK, this will be my living and I’ll be doing this for free.” And then something happened and I was beginning to get checks and I thought, “Oh, this is cute. How long will I be in this?” It’s been 60 years and I’m really blessed.

It’s interesting what happens when we follow our intuition and do what we love, isn’t it? You sing about strength and love, but recently there was news about you possibly being open to a new relationship.

There we go again. [Laughs] Once people hear a little bit [in the news] about a girl might be wanting to be married again, all the things that come before getting married come into the picture. I’m not looking for a boyfriend. I’m not looking for a husband. But I would like to be married again.

You would?

If somebody came along that was marriage material and we clicked and there was a great understanding, I might say yes. But I’m not looking.

pattilabellemorongo
“I’m liking getting more people to know about “Patti LaBelle” and getting them into the Patti LaBelle yard.”
— Patti LaBelle

While we’re on that subject, and it’s something you’ve sung about through the years, what do you feel makes a relationship work?

Believing in each other. Trusting each other. And being true to the one you say, “I do” to. I was married for 34 years to a wonderful man [Armstead Edwards]. We’re friends now. But as a married couple, we just didn’t make it.

So, what do you love most about singing and expressing your creativity in that way?

I love seeing new people come to the show. There’s a part in the show where I ask people, “How many people here are seeing me for the first time?” At least 80 percent of the people there raise their hand and give me a shout out. I think, “Oh my goodness.” I’m liking getting more people to know about “Patti LaBelle” and getting them into the Patti LaBelle yard.

Your memoir [Don’t Block The Blessings] was captivating and touched on your shyness as a child, the end of your parents’ relationship, and more. What do you feel got you through some of the more challenging parts of your life?

God. It was God. I’ve been through some rough periods, but no more than anybody else has. I’ve learned to deal with my loss in my own way, which is to know that people [I’ve lost] will always be in my heart even if I can’t see them any more. I have to continue my life the way that they would have wanted me to. My mother would not have wanted me to stop singing. I have to stay strong and remember them well. I say, “There by the grace of God, go I.” It could have been me that passed on.

What has been one of your most daring act or achievement?

To play at the Metropolitan Opera House. That was years ago. If you don’t ask, you don’t know if the answer is going to be yes or no. We were the first black women to perform at The Met – Sarah Dash, Nona Hyndryx and myself – performed as LaBelle. That was a scary thing to ask because you think you’re going to get a “No way.”

How was it singing for Barrack Obama’s presidential campaign, more than a decade ago now?

One of the best moments of my life.

What do you think we could use more of these days?

Honesty. Period.

What’s the song that really defines you – yours or somebody else’s?

I resonate with Over The Rainbow every time I sing it. It’s such a positive, uplifting song – “If birds fly high, why can’t I?” I can’t wait to get to that song in the show?

What about one of your own songs?

If You Ask Me To. It’s the song I sang the day we buried my sister [Jackie] and we had to do the video. I was not going to do it and I know she was saying from her casket: “You better go do that video, girl!” The tears in the video are real.

I think my Patti LaBelle song is New Attitude.

There you go.

You mentioned your sister, Jackie. What’s one of the most precious gifts she bestowed upon you?

All three of my sisters gave me a lot. They gave me the thought of belief. Jackie fought people who didn’t like Patti LaBelle, and was always saying I was better some other singers – Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler. She gave me the courage to put myself out there. But, knowing still that what she said was not all that true. I’m not “better” than Barbra or Bette. We’re on the same page in a way. I guess I’m as far as I’m going to get. I’m not trying to outdo people, but Jackie always said, ‘Think more of yourself.” I can be laid back and shy at times. She always gave me the message of being “more” and not to take seconds.

Experience Patti LaBelle at 9 p.m. Oct. 4, at Morongo Casino, Resort & Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, Cabazon. For tickets, visit morongocasinoresort.com. Learn more about Patti Labelle at pattilabelle.com.