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    Music Legend Patti LaBelle Has Contributed to the Soundtrack of Our Lives

    For more than 50 years, Patti LaBelle has enriched our lives with soulful music that goes beyond entertainment. Often her work has accompanied iconic moments in history. Depending on your age, you might remember all or some of these moments.

    1960s Women’s Liberation

    During the 1960s, “girl groups” rose to the top of the music charts, often showcasing powerful voices with themes evidencing women’s growing independence. LaBelle, born in 1944, had a head start. In 1959, at age 15, she won a talent competition.

    A year later, full of promise and ambition, she formed her first singing group: the Ordettes, which would evolve to include Nona Hendryx (later of Labelle fame), future member of The Supremes Cindy Birdsong, and future star Sarah Dash, who would later perform with the Rolling Stones and carve out her own impressive career. The Ordettes were renamed as the Bluebelles, with LaBelle’s mezzo-soprano becoming a distinctive force in the group that gained a following for their passionate live performances.

    1970s LGBTQ Pride

    In 1971, the group moved to England and were managed by Vicki Wickham, who became the partner of Hendryx. Wickham also managed Dusty Springfield (1939–1999), who spoke about her bisexuality in 1970, long before Elton John and others publicly came out.

    The group changed their name to Labelle and ditched their bouffant wigs and dresses at first for Afros and jeans and then later for a glam look that at times included space suits, feathers and studs. They outdragged drag!

    Steve Ostrow, famed producer of entertainment at The Continental Baths in New York City, brought Labelle in for a New Year’s Eve show that blew away the mostly LGBTQ clientele. Ostrow famously also helped to promote other future superstars like Bette Midler, Peter Allen, The Pointer Sisters and Barry Manilow.

    By the time “Lady Marmalade” was released in August 1974, the group Labelle was already well-known to the gay community, but this song’s satisfying rock-soul mixture rocketed the band to mass appeal and international fame.

    1980s Activism

    Labelle, after 14 years together, formally announced in 1976 that they had split up. Such a disbandment can be like a divorce that leads to both personal and financial problems. LaBelle as an individual more than rose to the challenges, becoming an even bigger international star with her solo career. Songs such as “New Attitude,” “Stir It Up,” and perhaps most tellingly, “On My Own,” soared up the charts.

    As all of this was going on, however, the HIV/AIDS crisis happened. LaBelle was one of the few performers who immediately did all that she could to help: volunteering her time and money in the fight against the virus and associated stigma. We believe that she deserves more credit for her groundbreaking work in this area that influenced other performers to step up and help.

    1990s Healing

    In 1991, LaBelle reunited with Hendryx and Dash for a track, “Release Yourself,” from her Grammy-winning album Burnin. That same year, the trio reunited onstage at the Apollo Theater to major acclaim. Hendryx and LaBelle composed the gospel-flavored ballad “When You’ve Been Blessed (Feels Like Heaven).” In 1995, the trio again reunited for the hit dance single “Turn It Out” for the soundtrack to the LGBTQ-themed film To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar. The song resonated with everyone from overworked mothers to frustrated drag queens with lyrics like:

    I’m tellin’ you children, I’m looking too fierce
    My hair’s nappy, my gown is drenched, honey
    My pumps are broken, my lashes are falling off my face
    My nails are cracking ’cause I was frying some chicken
    And lost my nails in the chicken pot
    My mascara is drippin’ all down my face
    I’m tired, honey but let me tell you somethin’
    Ms. Thang will carry on ’cause I’m a true diva
    So don’t you even go there with me
    Just stay where you are and turn it out

    2000s–Present: Advocate for Social Justice

    On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama was inaugurated as our 44th President. He and First Lady Michelle Obama, like many of us, have both gained inspiration from LaBelle’s music over the years. She therefore has performed at his request several times, from her heartfelt rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” at Obama’s second inaugural in 2013 to a performance in 2014 that got both Obamas out of their seats and dancing. You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=171&v=LvYKQrBmU08

    “Intersectionality” has become a buzzword in recent years. Long before this concept became fashionable, LaBelle was working to build bridges across communities through her music, interviews and personal example. She does this all in such a joyous way too, bringing people together over coveted experiences like a great concert or even a meal. We haven’t mentioned her cooking skills until now, but wow, is she a culinary master. Those in the entertainment industry have long known of her ability to whip up a healthy gourmet meal in a hotel room in mere minutes and then generously share it with others.

    Now she is bringing her community-building skills to the Lesher Center for the Arts on behalf of children in need. We join Rock the CASA creator Dan Ashley in celebrating LaBelle’s achievements, which include Grammy Awards, American Music Awards, NAACP Image Awards, The New York Times bestsellers and the 2016 Marian Anderson Award.

    She has always been there for us, her audiences, heart and soul. Please consider attending this year’s Rock the CASA: to enjoy a memorable evening of music, to help the nonprofit beneficiaries and also to join us in showering LaBelle with much deserved love and gratitude.

     


    Patti LaBelle’s Charity Work Over the Years

    According to the nonprofit Look to the Stars, which tracks celebrity charitable efforts, “Patti LaBelle is strongly committed to peace by promoting access to education, access to healthcare, access to housing, access to employment and access to equality of justice.”

    She received GLAAD’s (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Excellent in Media Award in 2007. That same year, she also sang at the 2007 Fort Lauderdale AIDS Walk in South Florida, but this is just one of numerous events that she has donated either or both of her time and money to over the decades.

    Here are just some of the charities that she has supported:

    American Foundation for AIDS Research
    Bells for Peace
    Carma Foundation
    Clothes Off Our Back
    Elevate Hope Foundation
    Elton John AIDS Foundation
    First Book
    Lisa Lopes Foundation
    Red Cross
    The HollyRod Foundation
    United Negro College Fund
    Women Alive Coalition

    Now Dan Ashley’s Rock the CASA fundraiser for children can be added to her already lengthy list. Go Patti!