LADY LABELLE

Armed with a new jazz al­bum and cook­book, plus concert dates and a third sea­son of her cook­ing show lined up, Philly’s own PATTI LABELLE is proof that life is greater later.

Philadelphia Style - - Contents - By A.D. Amorosi Pho­tog­ra­phy by Derek Blanks

Armed with a new jazz al­bum and cook­book, plus concert dates and a third sea­son of her cook­ing show lined up, Philly’s own Patti Labelle is proof that life is greater later.

A sparkling 73 years young in May, Patti Labelle, Philly’s God­mother of Soul—be it mu­sic or food—has more on her plate than at any time in her five-decades-long ca­reer. The fact is, she looks bet­ter than ever do­ing it. “And God bless to that,” says Labelle, with quiet as­sur­ance.

Labelle is look­ing for­ward to even more bless­ings with the May re­lease of her first al­bum in 10 years. Ti­tled Bel Hom­mage, the smoky jazz record­ing is a joint ven­ture be­tween Sony Red and her own la­bel, GPE Records, and the first of sev­eral new al­bums to come. The Grammy Award-win­ning singer her­self says the al­bum is “some­thing you’d never ex­pect from Patti.”

What we have come to ex­pect-—in no small part thanks to the “Patti Labelle Sweet Potato Pie” vi­ral video in Novem­ber 2015-— is the singer’s dou­ble life as a celebrity cook. She’s fur­ther­ing her culi­nary con­nec­tion to Wal­mart by de­vel­op­ing the Patti’s Good Life trade­mark and bring­ing new dishes to the ta­ble. Along with ready­ing her third sea­son of the Cook­ing Chan­nel’s Patti Labelle’s Place this spring, she’s pub­lished her fourth cook­book, Desserts Labelle: Soul­ful Sweets to Sing About. She is in talks with fel­low Philly pal pro­ducer-di­rec­tor Lee Daniels about ap­pear­ing in his hit Fox se­ries, Em­pire, again as well as hav­ing “Lala” (“that’s what he calls me”) in his new Fox show, Star. All that, she adds, hap­pens with the aid of her son, man­ager Zuri Ed­wards. “He’s as shy and quiet as me, but

“NOW IS A TIME OF GREATER, MORE DI­VERSE OP­POR­TU­NI­TIES FOR WOMEN—AND IN MY CASE, BLACK WOMEN—TO DO IT ALL AND DO IT ALL WELL.”

with a clearer head,” she says with a laugh. “Great man­ager or not— and he’s watched me through them all—we still fight like mother and son. To tell you the truth, some­times I’m will­ing to fight even when I’m wrong. Just some­thing about me. I want to give peo­ple a run for their money.”

Labelle is able to give ev­ery­one—her son, ex-hus­band Arm­stead Ed­wards, who ex­ec­u­tive-pro­duced Bel Hom­mage and came up with the jazz con­cept, and her ador­ing public—a run for their money be­cause of how ca­reer pos­si­bil­i­ties have ex­panded for women over the years, re­gard­less of age.

“It’s not so much about hus­tling. I was al­ways too shy to hus­tle or be pushy. I be­lieve now is a time of greater, more di­verse op­por­tu­ni­ties for women—and in my case, black women—to do it all and do it all well. I have been do­ing this now for over 50 years, and it seems as if the older I get, the more comes on my plate.”

Labelle con­fesses that her shy­ness goes back as far as her child­hood days singing in the Beu­lah Bap­tist Church Choir in South­west Philadel­phia. This may be part of the rea­son that she still calls the sub­urbs of Philadel­phia home, avoid­ing the glare of Los An­ge­les (“too bor­ing”) or New York City (“too fast”). “I’m not about go­ing to par­ties. I’m very laid back. Philly is just my pace,” she says.

Ev­ery­thing Labelle does, from choos­ing dy­namic songs from the cat­a­log of “the queen” Nina Si­mone, Peggy Lee, and Frank Si­na­tra for Bel Hom­mage to de­cid­ing what chain will sell her sweet potato pie, ba­nana pud­ding, and peach cob­bler, is care­fully con­sid­ered and must be filled with “class and thought,” she says. “I was never one to just take what­ever came my way. My think­ing was al­ways as long as some­thing is qual­ity and made sense [for me], then I’d say yes.”

“If you care about your rep­u­ta­tion, how you view yourself and how the world views you, then you have to do things with a sense of pride and de­cide what can last and be great.” Maybe that’s where Labelle’s shy­ness and ret­i­cence paid off; she doesn’t rush to judg­ment or ac­tion. “I know you’re gonna bring up that we’ve been talk­ing about this new al­bum of mine for 15 years now,” she says with a laugh, re­call­ing sev­eral con­ver­sa­tions we’ve had about the newly ti­tled Bel Hom­mage. “Things have to sim­mer.”

Labelle is the first to ad­mit, how­ever, that shy­ness didn’t al­ways work to her ad­van­tage. Like when she au­di­tioned for Steven Spiel­berg’s 1985 film The Color Pur­ple and gave what she and the di­rec­tor agreed was a per­for­mance that “needed more en­ergy, but he wanted me to try again.” Labelle never went back for a sec­ond au­di­tion. “Maybe I didn’t want my first film to fea­ture me in a love scene be­cause I was so shy,” she says. When it came time to au­di­tion for 1990’s Ghost, Labelle’s limo got stuck in Lin­coln Tun­nel traffic and Whoopi Gold­berg tried out be­fore her and got the part.

She was a bit de­flated, but pleased for her friend. “Whoopi of course won the Os­car, and God bless her for that.”

Labelle’s film star has risen, but it’s only been over the last few years thanks to me­morable ap­pear­ances in Em­pire, 2014’s Amer­i­can Hor­ror Story (“I died so hard in that one, I ain’t never com­ing back,” she laughs, con­sid­er­ing that se­ries’ count­less star turns), and, of course, as her­self through a now-three-sea­sons-and-count­ing run with the Cook­ing Chan­nel.

Ask if there is syn­ergy re­gard­ing what she’ll cook on her tele­vi­sion show, what she’s des­ig­nated as her next Good Life sweets project for Wal­mart (“lots of cob­blers com­ing up”), and what she’s writ­ing about for her lat­est cook­book, and the singer says that she be­lieves things hap­pen or­gan­i­cally. “I like work­ing with Wal­mart be­cause they’re smart and they, like me, wish to keep things af­ford­able so ev­ery­one can en­joy them, no ex­clu­sions. That’s the same rea­son that, in Desserts Labelle, I made sure to in­clude recipes for those who can’t eat su­gar, be­cause I’ve been di­a­betic for more than 20 years. You want su­gar now and then—so do I—so I want you [to] have what you want.”

That same syn­ergy is what fi­nally made Bel Hom­mage a re­al­ity. She says she started the project at a time when she wasn’t com­pletely happy with her voice. The emo­tions of feel­ing her way through that ini­tial strug­gle cou­pled with find­ing foot­ing in a genre she loved but hadn’t de­voted her­self to in the past (“my ex-hus­band wanted me to do this for a while... he knew me and my voice”) bub­ble to the top of ev­ery high note in Bel Hom­mage, from Nina Si­mone’s “Go to Hell” to Shirley Horn’s “Here’s to Life,” a vi­brant cut that Labelle states will close her up­com­ing shows. The al­bum has been a true la­bor of love, but Labelle wouldn’t have it any other way. “All good things in good time, baby.”

“IF YOU CARE HOW YOU VIEW YOURSELF AND HOW THE WORLD VIEWS YOU, THEN YOU HAVE TO DO THINGS WITH A SENSE OF PRIDE AND DE­CIDE WHAT CAN LAST AND BE GREAT.”

Styling by Tameka Fos­ter Hair by Norma Har­ris Gor­don Makeup by Lona Azami

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