On the latest episode of “Drink Champs,” N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN sat down with the legendary Patti LaBelle to discuss her career, friendship with Nina Simone, success in the culinary sector, and more.
For decades, Patti LaBelle has been considered the queen of rock and soul music. As a member of the Ordettes, later known as the Bluebelles, she gained popularity with songs like “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “Down the Aisle” in the early 1960s. I’m in Love Again, LaBelle’s first solo album, was released in 1983 and marked the beginning of her fame as a solo artist.
After achieving worldwide success through albums such as 1978’s Tasty and Released, LaBelle released the ballad “The Best is Yet to Come” in 1982. The song reached No. 14 on the Billboard R&B singles chart and earned the singer her first solo nomination for a Grammy Award. That same year, she and Michael McDonald scored a No. 1 success with “On My Own.” Since the 80s, LaBelle has released several singles — including “New Attitude,” “Stir It Up,” and “If You Asked Me To” — that went on to become pop radio classics.
LaBelle’s RIAA-certified gold 1991 album Burnin’ later earned the icon her first Grammy award. Only just getting started, LaBelle continued to release successful albums, went on to win a second Grammy, star in Broadway musicals and films, and she even rejoined Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash to release another Bluebelles record. In 2014, she notably had an appearance on the hit show “American Horror Story.” LaBelle, who is also renowned for making her mark on the cuisine industry, was inducted into the Apollo Legends Hall of Fame in 2009.
To help give fans a recap, REVOLT compiled a list of nine facts we learned from the Patti LaBelle “Drink Champs” conversation. Continue scrolling to read them and watch the full episode here.
1. On rumors that she feuded with the late Aretha Franklin
Rumors of a tumultuous relationship between Aretha Franklin and Patti LaBelle are well-known, but both singers have denied having beef several times in the past. When LaBelle gave Franklin her hand to shake at the White House in 2014, Franklin seemed to reject her by refusing to do so, raising some eyebrows about the relationship between the two ladies. On the contrary, LaBelle insists there was no quarrel between them, revealing the late singer called her afterward — a fact that was unknown to the public.
“She loved me, it wasn’t a love-hate. It was love, and when I’m not feeling well, you might get another side of [me]. She’s my number one hero. Always has been, always will be. I wanted to clear this up on this wonderful show because people think sometimes when you’re … like, I thought Jasmine Sullivan hated me,” she shares.
2. On Jazmine Sullivan bringing her out of retirement
While speaking on her friendship with Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle remembers a period when she felt Jazmine Sullivan didn’t like her. She claims that it wasn’t until a week prior to attending “Drink Champs” that she understood Sullivan was genuinely shy. The singer says, “You see how things are misunderstood in this so ugly business? Sometimes people want to make us hate each other.”
Later, LaBelle announces she’s coming out of retirement to record for the first time in over 15 years with the “Pick Up Your Feelings” songstress. She explains, “Jazmine and I are recording soon. After 15 years, I haven’t recorded R&B. I’m doing stuff with her and a bunch of other sweeties. I just wanted to clarify that because I was holding this thing that she didn’t like me. She loved Patti LaBelle so thank you, Jazmine.”
3. On Luther Vandross being the leader of the Bluebelles fan club before becoming an R&B sensation
While singing at the Apollo Theater in New York City with the Bluebelles, LaBelle met Luther Vandross, who was only an adolescent at the time. He met the singer backstage and pretended to be a designer, giving clothing to the group before shortly becoming their first fan club president. It wasn’t until LaBelle learned who Vandross was several years later that their bond became even stronger, she says. “He was a Patti baby. I love him so much.”
When asked whether she saw the potential in Vandross when they first met, the living legend shares, “I didn’t see anything but clothes. All I saw was free costumes ‘cause we didn’t have any. So no, I just saw a great man. I never knew he had that talent.”
4. On the major success of Patti’s Good Life Sweet Potato Pie
In 2015, Walmart joined forces with Patti LaBelle to create a sweet potato pie. She had already established herself as a household name in the culinary world and had one Thanksgiving classic that went viral when a fan uploaded his review of her pie on YouTube later that year. Friendship has blossomed between the two of them since, and the product reportedly sold the equivalent of 1,500 pies every hour in the following years of its debut, according to Fox Business.
“James Wright Chanel from L.A., he’s my best friend now. We didn’t know him but at the time, we were in London performing and got this video of this guy doing this [pie review]. I said, ‘Wow, that’s sweet.’ Thank God the pies had already been selling so when he did that, they sold even more. He’s one of my better friends,” LaBelle shares, adding:
“Some people are saying — let’s get it real — that I didn’t take care of him. Okay, it wasn’t planned and I did take care of him. We did. Me and Zuri make sure people are not used or abused, so [there are] things that we did for James and he appreciated it, but people had a chit-chat and talk like I should’ve bought him a mansion or something. Wasn’t that kind of party, it was organic.”
5. On spending time with Nina Simone before she passed away
At the age of 70, Nina Simone passed away at her home in France in 2003, leaving behind a legacy as a jazz icon and a key participant in documenting the civil rights struggle. Patti LaBelle recalls how the two became good friends prior to her passing and the time she announced that she was nearing the end of her life. Notably, LaBelle sang during a memorial service for the late legend.
She also shares a time when she cooked hot sausages for Nina, at which point the singer revealed she was battling breast cancer. LaBelle says, “So when I went in, she went back to lying on the bed. She showed me her hair and she said, ‘You know what I got.’ It was so heartfelt and she showed me her breast. She said, ‘I love you so much, I share things with you.’” Elsewhere, LaBelle recalls the two becoming best friends.
6. On Crip walking at Essence Festival and taking pictures with the City Girls
At 2022 Essence Festival in New Orleans earlier this month, LaBelle amazed the audience with an onstage boudoir, outfitted with a golden-embossed throne and sparkling high heels. While performing, the singer kicked off her shoes and started Crip walking to Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s “The Next Episode.”
“I did on stage at Essence, but I had been doing it for the last two years with my younger people in the band,” she tells N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN. “Google what you missed! They gave me thirty minutes, I wore that thirty minutes. Although, my beautiful suit was falling off me because I just had it made and I lost weight. The pants were almost on my knees by the time I finished Crip walking,” LaBelle adds, sharing that she has a deep admiration and love for gangster rap.
Summer Walker, Chloe x Halle, Jazmine Sullivan, and City Girls were also on the bill for the Saturday night Essence lineup. LaBelle was seen taking a picture with City Girls on social media, to which she shares, “The City Girls, they all got their own thing. Everybody is doing what they do. I took pictures with City Girls two weeks ago. I know what’s happening!”
7. On her reaction to Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP”
The internet had a split reaction to “WAP,” Cardi B’s highly sexual song (and video) with Megan Thee Stallion, widely lauded as one of the most popular records of 2020. Many fans loved the song, while others found it inappropriate. However, Patti LaBelle reveals she loves the record. She told the “Drink Champs” crew: “I heard it, I said, ‘Go girls.’”
“That’s what they do and people love it, you know,” she shares regarding the multi-platinum selling rappers. When asked if she knew that music would eventually get that provocative, she says, “Never. Never ever! Don’t get it twisted, I love those girls for what they do.” Her 1974 song “Lady Marmalade” has previously been dubbed the “WAP” of its time, with the theme of the record being about a prostitute from New Orleans, Louisiana.
8. On losing her sisters and her son pulling her out of a dark place
Towards the end of the interview, LaBelle breaks down in tears while describing how blessed she is to still be here and to have become the icon that she is today. She lost all three of her sisters —Barbara, Vivian, and Jackie — to cancer between 1975 and 1989, which really took a toll on her mental health. Thus, she reflects on how appreciative she is to have had them in her life while they were still here.
“I’ve been touched by angels and when my sisters all left me, they laid this thing on me that they never had. And I have it because I always say, ‘Why didn’t I die at 50 like they did?’ And I’m 78, I’m still standing strong. I’m not sick. They were all so sick, and I think they left so I can keep on rising. Tears are great … I don’t mind crying because they were the best sisters you could ever have and they left so early.”
She cites her son as one of the people who helped her come out of a dark state in her life. “My son Zuri is the best son that a woman can have,” she emphasizes. “I was evil, I went through a six-month period of something trying to take over me. My son stood there, he cried with me, he stayed with me, and he kept promoting me, saying, ‘Ma, you’re great.’ He kept holding me and I love telling this story. I don’t think a lot of people would, but I thought I lost my livelihood.”
9. On being offered “I Will Always Love You” before Whitney Houston
Patti LaBelle almost recorded a cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” before Whitney Houston released her record-breaking iteration of it. Before Houston sang it in 1992’s The Bodyguard, Dolly Parton offered it to LaBelle as a result of the musicians sharing the same management. Houston’s version topped the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 weeks and earned her the Grammy awards for Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1993.
“Dolly wanted me to record it after she had. Because we were managed by Sandy Gallin, the same manager for both of us. So we had a lot of communicating with each other. I did Dolly’s show and guess what? We were the same size with everything; boobs, waist, and butt. I said, ‘Wow Dolly, I got you.’ It was one of those moments, so we were friends friends.” LaBelle continues, “I was going to do it, then The Bodyguard came out and thank God Whitney got it. It was a wonderful way she performed that song. And I’m still going to do it, I just don’t know when.”
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