With her trademark high-octave vocals and flamboyant stage persona, Patti LaBelle has been wowing crowds for more than five decades. It is a career that has included more than 50 albums and compilations, four books,—including the NY Times bestsellers, Don’t Block the Blessings and LaBelle Cuisine: Recipes to Sing About—and three Emmy nominations for her work in primetime TV specials.
And with two Grammys, A Lifetime Achievement Award, starring roles in “Cosby” and “The Nanny,”appearances in films such as ‘Idlewild’, and ‘Mama, I Want To Sing!’ and her music featured in several soundtracks, including ‘Miami Vice’, ‘James Bond A Licence To Kill’ and the box-office hit ‘Moulin Rouge’, and even though she hasn’t released a studio album since 2006’s, The Gospel According to Patti LaBelle, the superstar continues to gain momentum.
Now, at the age she describes as “sixty-nine years young,” the “On My Own” singer is still on a roll with her own signature line of sauces, spices and marinades and constant touring, including an upcoming performance at the Cerritos Center for Performing Arts on August 17.
“I love performing. I love to make the audience smile, clap or cry. I’m into pleasing the audience,” says the “If Only You Knew” singer.
But even a legend such as Patti LaBelle, who has sold more than 50 million records worldwide, relies on a rock to keep her centered. And for the songstress best known for her iconic disco melody “Lady Marmalade,” LaBelle’s saving grace has been her son, Zuri.
“He’s a wonderful person,” shares LaBelle, “My saving grace is my son.”
Zuri, she says, possesses a martyr-like appreciation for his mother rarely seen in children of the rich and famous.
“I look at him and I think about how he could be spoiled—with a show business mother and opportunities that a lot of boys or girls won’t have in life—and he’s not taking them for granted.”
“When we could afford new pants for him and new shoes, he waited until the pants became high-waters and the shoes had holes in the bottoms. He never had an ‘I have to have this’ mentality. He’s never been that kid. And he has always treated people really well.”
Her only son also plays an important part in her career—as her acting manager for the past seven years.
Having such a supportive son has been a blessing for the mother who has famously supported and spoken for many charities and research projects, such as the Women Alive Coalition, Elton Jon AIDS Foundation and First Book, an organization that provides access to books for children.
“I like to do whatever I can, as far as bringing attention to something. And it’s sad to say that, because you’re Patti LaBelle or Gladys Night or someone like that, people will listen quicker.”
Fact is, for as much praise as the Philadelphia native has received in the limelight, she has had equal the pain in the shadows.
Born Patricia Louise Holte, it was early on that her father, an accomplished singer, taught her how to stretch her vocal cords and helped her establish an astounding range. She sang in the choir at Beulah Baptist Church and by her teen years she had assembled a singing group called the Ordettes.
The early training paid off as LaBelle formed her first professional singing group, Patti LaBelle and the Blue-Belles in 1962. In 1971, the girl group was renamed LaBelle and took off with songs like the 1975 platinum hit “Lady Marmalade.”
Even as the group’s success soared, there were personal tragedies. In 1975 her older sister Vivian died of cancer at age 43. Eight years later in 1982, her 40-year-old sister Barbara also died of cancer and in 1988 her younger sister Jackie was also stricken with the disease. After she passed, LaBelle took in Jackie’s teenage children.
But it was diabetes that has forever altered her life. Her mother died from complications of the disease and in 1995, LaBelle was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes after collapsing onstage. Today, she keeps the disease under control through diet, exercise and testing.
The adjustment, she says, was easy having seen her mother—who had both of her legs amputated—go through it.
“I knew I had a choice,” said LaBelle. “You either live or die. You change your meals, you eat healthier, you live healthier and you try to do the right things with your medication and food intake.”
Faith has been in a key factor in her strength after the family losses that helped pave her path back to God.
“Losing my three sisters to cancer and my parents turned me to God,” says LaBelle. “Before, I used to go through life thinking that I didn’t have to pray or ask for forgiveness so I’ve been growing spiritually.
With numerous honors, including being inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Apollo Hall of Fame, the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame and a prestigious Legend Award, LaBelle wants to sing until she can’t.
“I’m going to do it for as long as I can. I get on my knees every night and thank God for my gifts because that’s what they are, she has said. “When I get on stage I become this wide-awake, lively 20-year-old and when I leave that stage, honey, I realize how blessed I am to still be doing this.”
As for her return to Los Angeles for an upcoming show, LaBelle makes a promise. “Come to the show, and you will be happy.”
To purchase tickets to Patti LaBelle’s August 17 concert at the Cerritos Center for the Performing arts, visit www.cerritoscenter.com.