Born: Patricia Holt on May 24, 1944 in Philadelphia, PA
Styles: Soul, Urban, Quiet Storm, Early R&B, Pop/Rock
Soul diva Patti LaBelle enjoyed one of the longest-lived careers in contemporary music, notching hits in a variety of sounds ranging from girl group pop to space-age funk to lush ballads. Born Patricia Holt in Philadelphia on May 24, 1944, she grew up singing in a local Baptist choir, and in 1960 teamed with friend Cindy Birdsong to form a group called the Ordettes. A year later, following the additions of vocalists Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash, the group was rechristened the Blue Belles; with producer Bobby Martin at helm, they scored a Top 20 pop and R&B hit in 1962 with the single "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman," subsequently hitting the charts in 1964 with renditions of "Danny Boy" and "You'll Never Walk Alone."
In 1965, the quartet - now known as Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles - signed to Atlantic, where they earned a minor hit with their version of the standard "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." The group's Atlantic tenure was largely disappointing, however, and in 1967 Birdsong replaced Florence Ballard in the Supremes. The remaining trio toured the so-called "chitlin circuit" for the remainder of the decade before signing on with British manager Vicki Wickham in 1970; Wickham renamed the group simply LaBelle and pushed their music in a funkier, rock-oriented direction, and in the wake of their self-titled 1971 Warner Bros. debut they even toured with the Who. (The trio also collaborated with Laura Nyro on her superb R&B-influenced album Gonna Take a Miracle.)
By 1973, LaBelle had gone glam, taking the stage in wildly theatrical, futuristic costumes; a year later they became the first African-American act ever to appear at New York's Metropolitan Opera House, a landmark performance that also introduced their lone chart-topping single, the Allen Toussaint-produced classic "Lady Marmalade." However, after two more albums - 1975's Phoenix and the following year's Chameleon - LaBelle disbanded, and its namesake mounted a solo career, issuing her eponymous debut in 1977. In addition to subsequent releases including 1979's It's Alright with Me and 1980's Released, LaBelle also turned to acting, co-starring in a 1982 Broadway revival of Your Arms to Short to Box with God.
Upon signing with the Philadephia International label, LaBelle scored a number one R&B hit with "If You Only Knew," from 1983's I'm in Love Again. Two years later, she reached the pop Top 20 with her Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack contribution "New Attitude." Her subsequent MCA debut, 1986's The Winner in You, went platinum on the strength of the Burt Bacharach-penned "On My Own," a duet with Michael McDonald, while the follow-up, 1989's Be Yourself, featured a pair of cuts written by Prince. Released in 1991, Burnin' earned a Grammy for Best Female R&B Performance. LaBelle recorded less and less frequently in the years to follow, in 1995 publishing her autobiography, Don't Block the Blessings: Revelations of a Lifetime. She returned five years later to release When a Woman Loves and then signed to Def Soul for 2004's Timeless Journey and 2005's all-covers Classic Moments. In 2007 the holiday album Miss Patti's Christmas appeared, while 2008 saw the release of Live in Washington D.C., a live album recorded in 1982.
- Jason Ankeny (All Music Guide)