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


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.”


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