She has been belting out popular hits, soulful ballads and spirited gospel music for 45 years. And in a new UPN special that salutes her career, Patti LaBelle gets to showcase the distinctive sound and style that has spanned musical generations and genres.
LaBelle's talents take center stage several times during the show, which was taped in the Bahamas. The hour-long event also features others, such as Nelly, Kelly Rowland, Mario and Boyz II Men, performing her hits. And it reunites her with Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx of her old LaBelle group.
"It was wonderful," LaBelle said of the show, emceed by Tracee Ellis Ross. "Jimmy Fallon did a takeoff of Michael McDonald. Jimmy, he's out of his mind. Michael was there too. It was so much fun. Ashanti was there. We sang 'New Attitude.'"
LaBelle spoke with TV Week recently about the tribute and her musical success.
Whenever, wherever you perform, do you get requests for old favorites? What do people want to hear most?
They love to hear the oldies, but then you try out the new stuff and they may get to like that, too. I never, ever get tired of the oldies. It seems like I've been singing "Over the Rainbow" for 50 years. And "Lady Marmalade," too. People know and love them. That's what they want to hear, so I can't get tired of those.
Since you began performing, what has changed the most in the music business?
There are lots of ladies on the front line now. Back in the day, you had Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, and the ladies took second seat. Now, ladies are killing the charts. On the top, you see a lot of ladies who are taking over, and I think that is a big, big change.
What about the music itself? That's also very different today.
The music has started to suck. No, maybe it doesn't suck, it's just redundant. It starts with one verse, and that same verse, that's all you hear. You wouldn't know what the title of the song was today. The Burt Bacharachs, Curtis Mayfields -- they wrote the kind of lyrics that aren't there anymore.
If the lyrics aren't there, then how would you describe today's music?
There are so many songs that I love just for the beat, that I love to dance to. But when you're done dancing, when you think about it, what did you listen to? Did you learn anything from it? And you don't know what you listened to. The young people today are taking samplings from the older songs, but the music has changed. There is still some good music out there, but not like it used to be.
What are you working on right now?
I am working on a gospel album. I've got about six [songs]. I need 10 more and then I'm done. I've always done gospel, even in the middle of a show. I'll do "On My Own" and then do a gospel song. It's in me, and if I go to church and sing, people love it and sing along. It's a wonderful thing.
What do you like to do for fun? Do you still cook for your band on the road?
I love planting flowers and arranging flowers, cleaning my house and just chillin'. I don't like to do very much of anything, since I am so tired from being on the road. I used to cook for everybody, but I haven't done that for a long time. I will sometime again, I just don't know when.
Where do you get your energy, to keep performing and writing?
I get it from God, and when I am onstage, the fans lift me. It's why I love performing live and always have. The studio is boring -- you could be there all night and there is no instant gratification from an audience. But when you perform live, it's a rush.
If someone had told you as a young girl that you'd be performing for 45 years, what would you have said?
I might have believed it would last four or five years, but never this long. But it is a blessing. There are a lot of ups and downs in this business, but if you have a strong will, a strong heart and a business sense of things, and you make sure the show comes second, you can go on. I hope to be around singing for another 45 years. At least 45 more years.
An All-Star Salute to Patti Labelle: Live from Atlantis
Tuesday at 9 p.m. on UPN
Born: Patricia Louise Holt, May 24, 1944, in Philadelphia.
Family: Children -- Zuri, Stayce, Dodd, Stanley and Billye. Divorced (married to Amstead Edwards, 1969-2000).
Music groups: The Ordettes, later Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles, then LaBelle.
Hits: "Lady Marmalade" (1975), "New Attitude" (1985), "On My Own" (1986, with Michael McDonald), "The Right Kind of Lover"(1994), "Turn It Out" (1995), "When You Talk About Love" (1996)