Patti LaBelle: The People's Diva

The name Patti LaBelle is synonymous with one-word adjectives: diva, show-stopper, extraordinary, etc. Her career has spanned over four decades, and in that length of time, she has stunned the world time and time again with ageless classics. She set the benchmark that vocalists, male or female, would always attempt to follow. Her powerhouse vocal ability and sultry style have combined to create a mystique unlike any that has been seen in this entire industry. Many have tried, and many have failed, and she has proved there can only one Patti.

After over 30 albums recorded - 16 of them solo - the ultimate in class and charisma has decided to triumphantly return to us one more time. Her latest opus “Timeless Journey” hit stores nationwide on May 4th, and of course, her millions of adoring fans are in a stir. What could possibly drive a living legend to want to continue to take the long journey into the hearts of her listeners? The vivacious superstar sat down with Alternatives to answer those questions. Alternatives: I would like to start our conversation off by saying what an honor it is to be speaking with you. I, as a young man and young journalist, never thought I would experience anything like this.

Patti LaBelle: Thank you!

AHHA: What kind of responses and fanfare have you received with this album thus far?

PLB: Great reviews so far. It entered the Pop charts at number 18 and the R&B charts at number 8.

AHHA: You do not need anyone to take any unnecessary air space sharing vocals with you, but did anyone make the cut as a guest on the album?

PLB: I have one song that I did with Floetry. We wrote it and they sang on it. I did a song with Carlos Santana, but of course he didn’t sing - but I did sing with one of his band members, named Andy Vargas. I also did a song with Ronald Isley. The only other producer that you would know on the album would be Babyface. The other guys are the underdogs. I dealt with a lot of the up and coming producers and writers on this album. I demoed about 44 songs and I had to choose 14 out of those 44.

AHHA: Discuss with me the preparation and measures that you take in order to put together such an incredible production.

PLB: This time the preparation was easy because my son Zori has a studio in Philadelphia. This was the easiest time I’ve had in the studio because when you are doing demos, it’s very smart to see if you love the song before you pay the producer $150,000 for one song. So, this way I had time to create, come up with ideas, and it didn’t cost me money. Since it’s my son’s studio, I can stay in there as long as I want. At the end of the project, I didn’t go over budget. Instead of going over budget, I think I had $5 left to go buy me some chicken. [laughs] One day at a studio, when I never hit the microphone, a big producer {name withheld} hit me with a bill for $24,000. I said, ‘Well, did I hit the mic?’ That was stupid. I was determined not to do that this time.

AHHA: Does creating and crafting these albums become more natural to do after each and every album?

PLB: Yes. With me, I don’t take very long in the studio. My son calls me “One Take Patti”. You know, some people are so pitiful and they can’t sing at all, so the producer has to take it one word at a time or one line at a time. Someone asked me, ‘Ms. LaBelle, would you like to do this one line at a time?’ I said, ‘I will kill you up in here if you try to do one line at a time!’ I don’t do it like that.

AHHA: It is no secret that R&B is shifting their marketing toward the new generation of listeners. Are you doing anything in particular or different to keep up with these changes?

PLB: I didn’t intentionally do it. I think some of the stuff came out on the album that sounds like I tried to, but I didn’t. Everything that I did was age appropriate. I’m 60, and I did 60-year-old women songs. I’m not trying to be the Hip-Hop Queen, although I am the original Hip Hop Queen. I’ll give that to my daughter Mary J. - I don’t try to do Mary J. Blige songs; I do Patti songs. If it ends up sounding like a younger person’s rhythm, it just so happened that I loved whatever that was. I’m not trying to impress the younger or the older generation. I’m just really trying to impress people who happen to like my music.

AHHA: I have a serious question for you. Are you against the loss of live instrumentation in R&B? In the last few years, I am sure you have noticed that machines have taken the place of live instruments.

PLB: I love live tunes, and I love the fact that someone will keep a job. That machine coming in knocks everybody out of work. I love the sound of a full orchestra, or if it’s a band, I want to see everybody playing something up there. I don’t want to see nobody pushing buttons. I don’t go out like that. I like the real thing.

AHHA: Would someone like Alicia Keys be a person you would consider a breath of fresh air because she can actually play music?

PLB: She can play that piano! I love her. If you are going to do this business, really do the business.

AHHA: What do you do personally to want to stay in this business? The industry is ever-changing and does not stay the same as the years go by.

PLB: I just like the challenge. I keep showing decade after decade that I am a real performer. I don’t play. That just makes me want to stay out here and do it more and more. If I can give some of the information to the young girls coming up, then I will do that and I have done that. I think some of them need to know what ‘real’ is. It keeps me out here because I want to show people that this can be done. You can stay out here for 60 or 70 years and do it well. My motivation is I have the chance to show a few young girls and young men how easy or hard it can be.

AHHA: After many years in the business, countless accolades, and world acclaim for all the work you have done, are there any personal achievements you have not reached that you are looking to reach this time around?

PLB: Triple platinum! That’s all a girl wants.

AHHA: I have one final question for you. If I was a young, aspiring singer seeking advice on the business and how to keep God and everything in its proper perspective, what wisdom could you offer me?

PLB: All I can tell you really is if you get to the point where someone is telling you that you are not great or not good enough, just follow your heart and don’t let anybody crush your dream. Always respect yourself and don’t go out there disrespecting yourself. Put some clothes on and keep them on. Have great management around you and know the business before the show starts. You’ve got to know business before you go to show business.