“I still have so much more to do, so many other things to try. I have a lot of blessings, a lot to be thankful for, but I’m always excited about what else there is for me to do.”
It’s hard to believe that such humble words could come from the lips of one of contemporary music’s living legend. But even with her many accolades, awards and accomplishments, soulful diva extraordinaire Patti LaBelle is constantly challenging herself, both as an artist and humanitarian.
In addition to her amazing career, Patti’s philanthropic work is legendary. To list all the things that she has done for others would take reams of paper, but she remains consistently on the frontlines of women’s health issues, children’s issues, literacy and AIDS awareness. She is forever lending her talents to numerous benefits in the fight against AIDS and currently serves as spokeswoman for the National Minority AIDS Council’s “Live Long, Sugar” campaign.
Patti is also a spokeswoman for the American Diabetes Association (Patti herself is diabetic), the National Medical Association, and the National Cancer Institute. Her Patti LaBelle Medical Education Scholarship Fund is administered through the NMA, and having lost several members of her family to cancer, Patti’s unflappable efforts in the cancer field resulted in the dedication of a special research laboratory in her honor at the Sylvestri Comprehensive Care Center at the University of Miami. She was also awarded the Recording Academy’s first MusiCares Award for her “deep-hearted commitment to many notable charities and causes.”
“Patti LaBelle is a warm, honest, forthright, independent woman who has just jumped over and walked around all the obstacles in her path or just acted like they weren’t even there,” says entertainer Sheryl Lee Ralph (a 2001 Heroes in the Struggle honoree). “She is a true renaissance woman.”
Whether it’s participating in the “Fighting HIV Through R&B” campaign (which offered free concert tickets to those who tested for HIV) or singing at a Pediatric AIDS Foundation benefit concert (or a concert to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS or a night honoring Coretta Scott King’s efforts against AIDS or an AIDS Project Los Angeles benefit concert and so on and so on), Patti’s efforts on behalf of combating HIV/AIDS can only be described as endless and tireless. So much so that the National Minority AIDS Council presented her with the NMAC Lifetime Achievement Award, recognizing her years of service and commitment to combating HIV/AIDS in minority communities.
“Treat your body like a temple, not an amusement park,” she admonishes all of us in her New York Times bestselling cookbook, LaBelle Cuisine. The book is designed to help those with diabetes; cancer or AIDS (or anyone looking to eat healthier) improve their diets while still enjoying tasty meals.
Born May 24, 1944 (she has always been frank about her age), Patti was raised in the melting pot of Southwest Philly. Although affected by her parents’ separation when she was only 12, Patti lived a happy, wholesome teenage life—running track, singing in the glee club and acting in plays in high school. For the most part, her extraordinary musical gift emerged in the Beulah Baptist Church Choir, where she remained a soloist even after embarking on a professional career.
She began that storied career as the founding member of Patti LaBelle and the Bluebells, who hit it big in 1961 with “I Sold My Heart to the Junkman.” Later, Patti recorded several hits with the group LaBelle (including “Lady Marmalade”). After becoming a solo artist, she lighted up the charts with “If Only You Knew,” “On My Own” (with Michael McDonald), “Somebody Loves You Baby,” “New Attitude,” and many other hits over the years.
When A Woman Loves is her first of the 21st century. Unlike the nearly 30 albums she’s recorded in the past, her ninth album for MCA Records is composed of tunes almost entirely penned by legendary songwriter Diane Warren (responsible for hits such as Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me” and Toni Braxton’s “Unbreak My Heart”). Prominent hit makers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, as well as Warren, Randy Jackson and Hex Hector mostly produce When A Woman Loves.
The list of Patti’s awards is as long as her decades-spanning career. She’s received two Grammys, seven NAACP Image Awards, two American Music Awards, the Essence Triumphant Spirit Award, the Lady of Soul Lena Horne Award of Achievement, the BET Walk of Fame award, and honorary degrees from the Berklee College of Music, Cambridge University and Drexel University. She is also the author of Patti Labelle’s Lite Cuisine: Over 100 Dishes With To-Die-For Taste Made With To-Live-For Recipes and Don’t Block the Blessings: Revelations of a Lifetime, a revealing memoir of her life in and out of show biz.
A mother of three sons, (as well as being a maternal figure to two children by her late sister Jackie), Patti’s life has been filled with triumph and challenges, both personal and professional. Through it all, she has emerged as a household name whose realness and compassion have ensured her a place in the hearts of millions worldwide. “I feel very proud,” she says of her status as one of the world’s most beloved musical divas.