Patti Labelle talks new jazz album and musical longevity
At 72, Patti Labelle is still going strong. For over five decades, the powerhouse singing legend has blessed music lovers with a plethora of hits, including, “If You Only Knew,” “The Right Kind of Lover,” “Lady Marmalade” and “Somebody Loves You Baby,” just to name a few.
And the saga continues with Labelle’s new jazz album, Bel Hommage, released May 5. The two-time Grammy award-winning vocalist released her latest project on her own record label, GPE Records. This will be her first album since her 2006 release, The Gospel According to Patti Labelle. Along with the album, Labelle is still touring around the world and released her sixth book, Desserts Labelle, in April.
TheGrio spoke with the “Godmother of Soul” about the new album, longevity in the business, her latest projects, her favorite singers of today, and more.
theGrio.com: What was the concept behind your new album, BEL HOMMAGE?
Patti Labelle: It’s a jazz album. It wasn’t an easy thing for me to sing jazz, because I always thought I would mess it up. Sometimes you’re afraid of certain things until you actually do them. But, once you’ve done it, you feel good about it because it’s already been done. My ex-husband said to me, “You have to record a jazz album.” I said to him “No, I don’t. I’m going to mess it up,” but eventually, I recorded jazz songs from my upbringing. I remember listening to James Moody, Nina Simone, Peggy Lee, and Billie Holiday growing up, and I was very much into jazz. But I never thought I would make a jazz album, but I did it. I love the project.
TG: Let’s talk about your record label, GPE Records.
PL: It’s about time. I’ve been in a business for 53 years, and I think when things are supposed to happen, they happen. You can wish for it, but if that’s not the time for it to take place, it’s not going to happen. The label was named after my granddaughter, Gia Patricia Edwards. It’s a great feeling. It is a huge step for me, and I am very happy that I finally have my own label.
TG: How is your new book, Desserts Labelle, different from other books you’ve released?
PL: Since my sweet potato pie and peach cobbler were doing well at Walmart, I was thinking about banana pudding. But, then I said, “I’m going to write a book on different desserts even though I am a diabetic.” I created different recipes for everyone to eat after reading the book. But if you’re worried about your sugar intake, you can add Splenda or any other substitute to replace sugar. But you can still follow the recipes. If you’re going to eat the desserts, eat them in moderation. I also share my fondest kitchen memories with members of my family.
TG: You also have a cooking show coming up. Where can viewers watch your show?
PL: My show, “Patti Labelle’s Place,” is going to be on the Cooking Channel. I believe the show is going to air in September.
TG: You’ve been in the business for over five decades. How would you describe touring?
PL: I love performing; I’m not tired of it at all. Thank God I can still hit a high C. I am still moving like a woman should at my age. There’s nothing in the future for me to say stop.
TG: What do you think of today’s singers? Who do you think would have your longevity?
PL: Of course Beyonce, Rihanna… then, you have the ladies with voices: Jill Scott, Ledisi, Fantasia.
TG: What’s Patti’s definition of an icon?
PL: It means I always have to carry myself like a lady. I have to be respectful. I watched my mother, and she was such a lady, and I carry her with me. I’m just happy to be thought of as a legend. I just don’t want to be abuse that honor.
TG: Do you feel pressured to record a successful album or put on a great show due to your reputation in the industry?
PL: I never felt pressured. I strive to do my best. If I felt like I couldn’t accomplish certain things in my career, I would not have done it. I know I’m not going to cheat myself with anything. I am happy with who I am as an artist. I just can’t feel that way.
TG: Many artists have sampled your music or remade some of your biggest hits. How does that make you feel?
PL: I’m blessed. It feels like a big old blessing. When someone samples your music or records your song, it’s a wonderful thing.
TG: What would be your words of encouragement for someone who would like to have a successful music career without losing their integrity?
PL: That is it: don’t lose your character for any type of job. If you know in your heart you can sing, go for it. Keep on going, keep trying, and be honest with yourself.
TG: What is your favorite Patti record?
PL: There’s a few: “Over the Rainbow,” “Love, Need, and Want You Baby,” “If You Only Knew,”…let’s just say 20. I love all of them, from gospel to jazz to R&B. But I don’t like performing “New Day.” My son, Zuri, tells me to add that song into the show, and I said to him, “I don’t like that record.” So many people tell my son to add that song to my show because they love the record. But I might add it to the show, because so many people tell me they love the song.