Patricia Louise Holte-Edwards (born May 24, 1944), better known under the stage name, Patti LaBelle, is an American singer, author and actress who has spent over 50 years in the music industry. LaBelle spent 16 years as lead singer of Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles, who changed their name to Labelle in the early 1970s and released the iconic disco song, “Lady Marmalade“.
LaBelle started her solo career shortly after the group disbanded in 1977 and crossed over to pop music with “On My Own“, “If Only You Knew“, “If You Asked Me To“, “Stir It Up” and “New Attitude“. She has also recorded R&B ballads such as “You Are My Friend” and “Love, Need and Want You“.
Patricia Louise Holte was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on May 24,1944 . Her father, Henry Holte (alternatively, Holt), was a railroad worker and lounge singer. Her mother, Bertha Holte, was a domestic and housewife. Holte was one of four daughters (Vivian, Barbara, Patricia and Jacqueline). Holte recalls having a happy childhood but said being sexually molested at the age of seven led her to be shy and withdrawn. Holte’s parents had an unhappy marriage. When Holte was twelve, her parents split up and Bertha Holte raised her daughters as a single mother. Holte’s mother later adopted Claudette Grant, who would become one of Holte’s closest friends.
Despite her shyness, Holte was known for her gifted voice even as a child. After first joining her church choir at ten, she sung her first solo at the Beulah Baptist Church at the age of twelve. Growing up, Holte listened not only to gospel, but jazz and rhythm and blues. By her teens, “Patsy”, as friends and family called her, also began listening to doo-wop and was encouraged to form a girl group in the late fifties. In 1958, she formed The Ordettes with three other friends. The following year, when two members of the group dropped out, singers Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash, from a former rival group, joined them. Eventually with Cindy Birdsong included in the lineup by 1961 and with respected music impresario Bernard Montague managing them, the group gained a reputation around Philadelphia and soon caught the eye of a record scout, who introduced them to Newtown Records president Harold Robinson.
After hearing Holte’s voice during an audition, Robinson, who nearly ditched the group due to their looks – he allegedly thought Holte was “too plain and dark” to lead a singing group, agreed to sign the group, renaming them The Blue Belles (the name would simply be “The Bluebelles” by the mid-1960s), after a Newtown subsidiary label.
Not long after signing, the group was credited for the hit single, “I Sold My Heart to the Junkman“, though the song was recorded by another girl group, the Chicago-based The Starlets. This led to a lawsuit by a manager of the group and its record label boss, later resulting in the group winning $5,000 in damages. “I Sold My Heart to the Junkman” eventually reached the Billboard top 20. Despite this credited success, the group could not follow up with any other hit. The Blue Belles supported themselves by constantly touring including an appearance at the Apollo Theater.
In 1963, a record label executive sued Harold Robinson for use of the name “Blue Belles”, since another group was using the name. As a result, Robinson gave Holte the nickname, Patti La Belle (La Belle is French for “the beautiful one”) and the group’s name was altered to “Patti La Belle and Her Blue Belles”. A year later, the group left Newtown switching over to Cameo-Parkway Records. Their first hit for Cameo-Parkway was the top 40 hit, “Down the Aisle (The Wedding Song)“. Their follow-ups included “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “Danny Boy“.
In 1965, Atlantic Records president Ahmet Ertegun signed the group to the label, working with the group for a year. The group issued their first studio album (as Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles) titled Somewhere Over the Rainbow in 1966. While they had a modest pop charted hit with “All or Nothing” and its b-side, a pop cover of Judy Garland‘s “Over The Rainbow“, the group was not as successful as the label predicted. In 1967, their second release, Dreamer, issued two singles, “Take Me For A Little While” and the Curtis Mayfield standard, “I’m Still Waiting”. In the middle of touring for that album, Cindy Birdsong suddenly left the group to join The Supremes after replacing Florence Ballard. The remaining trio of LaBelle, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash struggled with subsequent recordings and by 1970, Atlantic had dropped the group from its roster, as had longtime manager Bernard Montague, who had by now focused his full energy on more successful Philly groups such as The Delfonics and The Stylistics.
After almost signing a management deal with Frankie Crocker and Herb Hamlett, the group settled on British manager Vicki Wickham (producer of the UK pop show, Ready, Steady, Go!) after Dusty Springfield had mentioned signing them. Wickham advised the group to perform in London and work on a brand new image and sound. LaBelle would later have disagreements with Wickham over changes often saying in interviews that she liked things the way they were. This led to some musical disagreements between LaBelle and Nona Hendryx.
In late 1970, the group returned to the U.S. changing their name to Labelle and signing a contract with Warner Bros imprint, Track Records. Wickham then had the group open for rock group The Who. In mid-1971, the group released their Warner debut, Labelle. The record mixed harder-edged soul music with rock music elements, a marked departure from the pop sound of the Blue Belles. The album failed to catch on, as did their 1972 follow-up, Moon Shadow. The group, however, did find success singing alongside Laura Nyro on her acclaimed album, Gonna Take a Miracle. The group would tour with Nyro off and on for the next couple of years.
In 1973, Wickham had the group signed to RCA Records, in chicago where they recorded the Pressure Cookin’ album. In the middle of recording, LaBelle gave birth to her only child, Zuri. While promoting the album opening for The Rolling Stones, Wickham advised the group to adapt the same flamboyant costumes of rock artists such as T. Rex, Elton John and David Bowie. Soon, their own stage entrances started to take a life on its own, at one point the group members flew into the concert stage, while singing. Despite this change in direction, their third album failed to become a success. However, a scout for Epic Records advised the group to sign with them in 1974 at the end of the Rolling Stones tour.
Later that year, Labelle issued their most acclaimed album, Nightbirds. In October 1974, the group made history by becoming the first pop group to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House. In late December, Epic issued the single, “Lady Marmalade“. Within six months, the record became a smash and reached number-one on the Billboard Hot 100, the group’s first to do so. This helped their album sell over a million copies. Their fame was so massive during this time that they made the cover of Rolling Stone later in 1975.
Later in 1975, the group issued their follow-up, Phoenix, which did not quite catch on as fast though it was critically raved. They had a little more success with the Chameleon album in 1976, with the songs, “Get You Somebody New” and “Isn’t It A Shame”, the latter song Patti LaBelle would say was “the last record we ever did together”. Despite her success, LaBelle was not pleased at the group’s direction and by late 1976, neither LaBelle, Dash and Hendryx could agree on a musical direction. Following a concert in Baltimore in December 1976, LaBelle advised the others to break up.
LaBelle released her self-titled album in 1977 on Epic. The record was a critical success, with the highlights being the dance singles, “Joy To Have Your Love” and “Dan Swit Me” and the pop-R&B ballad, “You Are My Friend“, a song she and her husband co-wrote. Her subsequent follow-ups, however, 1978’s Tasty, 1979’s It’s Alright with Me and 1980’s Released, failed to be as successful. Though well-established in some circles, LaBelle never follow her live performance success with hit records, which was often the case with the Bluebelles. In 1981, she was switched to the CBS subsidiary, Philadelphia International Records, issuing the album, The Spirit’s In It.
LaBelle found success outside music, performing in the Broadway revival of Your Arm’s Too Short to Box with God, with Al Green. However, the play was criticized mainly because of what critics felt was vocal showboating by Green and LaBelle, criticism that LaBelle did not take lightly. In 1982, she recorded the Grover Washington ballad, “The Best Is Yet To Come“, which led to her first top 20 R&B hit and her first Grammy nomination in the spring of 1983. Later that year, LaBelle appeared in the PBS-produced play, Working. In October 1983, the mid-tempo love song, “If Only You Knew“, was released. The parent album, I’m In Love Again, was released the following month. In January 1984, “If Only You Knew” reached number-one on the Hot R&B Singles chart, where it stayed for four weeks. The song became LaBelle’s first charted hit on the Billboard Hot 100 as a solo artist, reaching the lower regions of the top fifty, peaking at number 46. The success of that single and its similar-sounding follow-up, “Love, Need and Want You“, which reached number ten on the R&B chart, helped I’m in Love Again, reached gold in the U.S.
Later in 1984, LaBelle appeared in her first film, A Soldier’s Story. Her appearance in the film later led to Steven Spielberg handpicking her for the role of Shug Avery on The Color Purple, but she turned it down due to hearing that there was a nude scene and same-sex kissing. LaBelle would later regret her decision to turn down the role, after Margaret Avery won an Academy Award nomination for her role as Shug. In the fall of 1984, LaBelle recorded the songs, “New Attitude” and “Stir It Up“, later issued for the soundtrack of Beverly Hills Cop, released in December 1984. The soundtrack became a hit, thanks to the releases of “New Attitude” and “Stir It Up”. The former single reached as high as number seventeen on the Hot 100 and was number-one on the Hot Dance Club Songs chart in the spring of 1985, introducing LaBelle to pop audiences. In 1985, LaBelle left Philadelphia International signing a lucrative contract with MCA. PIR issued the final contractual LaBelle album, Patti. The album was not successful.
LaBelle garnered headlines in 1985 for her showstopping, and some say, purposely show-stealing performances, first at Motown Returns to the Apollo engaging in the so-called “infamous mic toss” between her and Diana Ross during the show’s finale, to the Foreigner song, “I Want to Know What Love Is“. LaBelle later alleged that Ross grabbed the microphone away from LaBelle following her taking over the lead, though someone else gave LaBelle another microphone where she finished singing. That same year, LaBelle was accused again of showboating, after singing in the finale of Live Aid to “We Are the World” so loud that she sounded as the only audible singer. Due to this press, she was given her own television special later that fall. In 1986, LaBelle released her eighth album, Winner in You, which peaked at number-one on the Billboard 200 on the strength of the pop hit, “On My Own“, a duet with singer Michael McDonald. The song became LaBelle’s first number-one hit since “Lady Marmalade”. Winner in You eventually sold a million copies, becoming platinum. It remains her best-selling album. LaBelle took a break in 1988, re-emerging with Be Yourself, in 1989. The album went gold thanks to LaBelle’s soft rock ballad, “If You Asked Me To“. In 1989, LaBelle also sang the role of “the Acid Queen” in The Who’s star-studded performance of TOMMY in Los Angeles.
Her 1991 album, Burnin’, resulted in LaBelle’s first Grammy win for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, and spawned three top ten hits on Billboard’s R&B chart also selling half a million copies becoming her third gold album. Her 1994 album, Gems and 1997 follow-up, Flame, also were certified gold and LaBelle’s 1990s singles, “The Right Kinda Lover” and “When You Talk About Love” hit number-one on the dance charts. She won a second Grammy in 1998 for her live album, One Night Only! Following the announcement of the end of her marriage to her husband, Armstead Edwards, who also dismissed himself as LaBelle’s manager after more than 20 years, LaBelle released the ballad-heavy When A Woman Loves album in 2000. LaBelle would not release another album until, after signing with the Def Jam Records imprint, Def Soul Classics, she released Timeless Journey, in 2004. The album became her highest-charted album in eighteen years. In 2005 a follow-up album, Classic Moments, was released. Shortly after LaBelle left Def Jam Records in 2006 over a public dispute with Antonio “L.A.” Reid. She released her first gospel album, The Gospel According to Patti LaBelle,which was #1 on the gospel billboard charts on the Bungalo label. She returned to Def Jam in 2007 and released her second holiday album, Miss Patti’s Christmas. As of 2011, LaBelle has yet to release a new solo album. In 2008, LaBelle briefly reunited with Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash as Labelle on the group’s first new album in over thirty years, Back to Now.
Following her roles in A Soldier’s Story and Sing, LaBelle won a recurring role as Kadeem Hardison‘s mother on the hit show, A Different World. In 1992, following her success on the sitcom and responding to the success of rapper Will Smith‘s Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, LaBelle starred in her own sitcom, Out All Night. The show was cancelled after only 19 episodes. In 1993, she earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and two years afterwards, performed at the Super Bowl half time show. For a period, LaBelle’s theme song for The Oprah Winfrey Show, titled “Get With the Program”, proved to be popular along with its catchphrase. In 2003, she starred in her own lifestyle show, Livin’ It Up With Patti LaBelle, which aired for three years on the TV-One channel. In 1996, LaBelle issued her autobiography, Don’t Block the Blessings. She released her first of five cookbooks in 1997, and in 2006, released the book, Patti’s Pearls. In addition, LaBelle began to sell collections of spices, lipstick and even wigs on her website. Her “Patti Labelle”wig collection,-featured in Especially Yours wig catalogs-.
On September 14, 2010, LaBelle made a return two decades after her last Broadway performance to star in the award-winning musical Fela! about Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. LaBelle replaced Tony Award-nominee Lillias White as Fela’s mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, and remained with the production through the end of its run on January 2, 2011.
On May 23, 2011, LaBelle appeared on “Oprah’s Farewell Spectacular, Part 1” the first show in a series of three shows constituting the finale of The Oprah Winfrey Show, singing “Over the Rainbow” with Josh Groban.
She performed for Obama at the 9/11 tribute, singing “Two Steps Away.” She received a standing ovation, after she walked away from the microphone and continued to be heard.
On December 21, 2011, she appeared on an episode of the Bravo television series Top Chef, surprising the ten remaining chefs after their “Quickfire” challenge. A shortened version of Lady Marmalade was in the broadcast, which was filmed in Austin, Texas. She then served as a guest judge on the episode.
A longtime resident of Philadelphia, LaBelle currently lives in the Philadelphia suburb, Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. In 1969, she married Armstead Edwards. In July 1973, their first and only child, Zuri Kye Edwards, was born. In the late 1970s, Labelle and Edwards adopted two teenage boys, Stanley and Todd, the children of their next-door neighbor, after their mother died of cancer. Following the death of her youngest sister Jackie Padgett, Labelle raised Padgett’s teenage children. Following the disbanding of the group Labelle in 1976, Edwards, who was a schoolteacher, took over as his wife’s manager. In 2000, the couple announced their separation. Their divorce was finalized in 2001. LaBelle’s son Zuri has since taken over as her manager.
Her youngest sister Jackie Padgett became president of her sister’s fan club in the early 1980s. When Jackie later died of lung cancer in 1989, LaBelle dedicated her 1991 album, Burnin’, to Padgett and filmed the video for “If You Asked Me To” a day after her funeral. Her two other sisters, Vivian and Barbara preceded Jackie in death, dying of cancer themselves. LaBelle was diagnosed with diabetes in 1992. Prior to her marriage to Edwards, LaBelle was once engaged to Temptations singer Otis Williams breaking it off due to conflicting schedules.
In June 2011 a West Point cadet filed civil suit against LaBelle after he was allegedly assaulted by her bodyguards at Bush Intercontinental Airport, Houston in March. Houston police department is reviewing the conduct of officers responding to the incident after they posed for photographs with the singer, and have also filed assault charges against members of her entourage and warrants were issued. In August 2011, the cadet, who had initially been suspended from West Point for his involvement in the altercation, was allowed back in West Point. LaBelle has countersued alleging the cadet was drunk and using racial slurs.
In November 2011, LaBelle was sued by a woman named Roseanna Monk, from New York, after LaBelle allegedly hurled insults at her for allowing her then 18-month-old daughter to walk steps away from her at an apartment lobby where LaBelle was renting during her appearance on Fela! in November 2010. According to the lawsuit, after Monk reportedly told LaBelle it was none of her business as to why the child was “scampering”, she allegedly threw water at Monk and her child.