LaBelle, Patti (Holt, Patricia Louise)

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LaBelle, Patti (Holt, Patricia Louise)

October 4, 1944

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, singer Patti LaBelle grew up singing in the choir of the Beaulah Baptist Church. She was sixteen years old when she joined a vocal group called the Ordettes; a year later, LaBelle, Cindy Birdsong (who joined the Supremes as Florence Ballard's replacement in 1967), Nona Hendrix, and Sarah Dash signed on with Newton Records, and named their group the BlueBelles after Newton's subsidiary label, Bluebelle records. After their song "I Sold My Heart to the Junk-man" reached the top twenty in 1962, the group was rechristened Patti LaBelle and the BlueBelles.

LaBelle, who is known for her fiery stage presence and outrageous attirea mixture of leather, feathers, glitter, and enormous fanlike coiffuresreceived her first big break in 1968, when she and the BlueBelles opened for the Who during their U.S. tour. The following year, she married Armstead Edwards, an educator who enrolled in business courses in order to become her personal manager. In 1971 LaBelle and the BlueBelles became known as simply "LaBelle." Their album Nightbirds, with its number one single "Lady Marmalade," made the top ten in 1973. In 1974 LaBelle became the first black band to perform in New York's Metropolitan Opera House; as the lead singer, Patti LaBelle caused a sensation when she began the show by descending from the ceiling, where she hung suspended, to the stage.

LaBelle went solo in 1977 after personal and artistic differences between the singers caused the band's dissolution the previous year. By the end of the 1970s she had recorded two LPs for Epic Records, and she continued to appear live and record albums throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. In 1985 LaBelle appeared in Pennsylvania to perform in the Live Aid Benefit Rock Concert; her album Burnin' earned her a Grammy Award for best rhythm-and-blues performance by a female vocalist in 1991. In 1997 she released the album Flame, and her album Live! One Night Only (1998) garnered her another Grammy. In 2003 she won a Songwriters Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award.

LaBelle is well known for her support of numerous charitable and social organizations, including Big Sisters and the United Negro College Fund, as well as various urban renewal and homelessness projects in Philadelphia, where she lives. In addition to giving concert performances, she costarred with singer Al Green in a revival of Your Arms Too Short to Box with God on Broadway in 1982, and appeared in the films A Soldier's Story and Beverly Hills Cop, in her own television special, and in the television series A Different World and Out All Night.

The co-author of a book of recipes (LaBelle Cuisine: Recipes to Sing About, 1999), LaBelle expanded her career once again to launch a clothing line on the Home Shopping Network (HSN) in November 2003. LaBelle, involved in the creative process for that line of women's clothing, took inspiration from her own wardrobe and stage clothes.

LaBelle has not let her other artistic endeavors impede her musical career. She signed with Def Jam Classics to produce another album, Timeless Journey, which was released in 2004.

See also Music in the United States; Rhythm and Blues; United Negro College Fund


Ebert, Alan. "Girlfriend: A Down Home Diva!" Essence 21 (March 1991): 6870.

Hine, Darlene Clark, ed. Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, Vol. 1. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Carlson, 1993.

LaBelle, Patti. Don't Block the Blessings. New York: Riverhead Books, 1996.

pamela wilkinson (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005