The year was 1984 and America and the rest of the world was rapidly changing: and so was Patti Labelle.
The Vietnam War, considered by many as the most socially divisive conflict in American history had ended less than a decade before. Patti LaBelle must’ve had her fingers on the pulse of our nation because just as the women’s liberation and civil rights movements were about to flare up, she recorded and released the song; “New Attitude.”
The song was more than just a piece of music armed with a pulse raising beat along with ear shattering vocal and “orchestral” arrangements. No, “new attitude” was an anthem for independence and freedom for women and the disenfranchised that would transcend daily playlists of the disc jockeys of America.
Recently, I along with several other journalists’ spoke with her via a conference call. After a few rounds of preliminary questions, I asked her how she felt about the social and artistic impact that “New Attitude” had on America.
“I am very, very proud of the impact that it’s had on people,” she said. “It’s a very positive song and I’ve been singing it for forty years, maybe less. Whenever I sing it I feel empowerment. I feel great about my personal new attitude. I’m 71 years young. I’ve obtained this new attitude for most of my singing life, which has been about 52 years, and each time I sing it I get a better attitude.”
After a slow starting solo career “new attitude” propelled Patti Labelle to new heights. Lest we put the cart before the horse, in 1971the group “LaBelle” began to make waves on the national scene by opening up for the Who.
“It was wonderful,” she recalled. “We opened for the Who [and] the Rolling Stones. Elton John was our piano player back in the day and Billy Joel played piano for us at one point. [We did] so many things back in our earlier days.”
In 1974 “LaBelle” became the first African-American group to be on the cover of Rolling Stone and the first Black group to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House in October of 1974.
When asked if her preparation for the historical concert was any different than usual she says; “Of course it was different. It was an evening of “Labelle” and our theme was to wear something silver. That meant the audience was to appear in something silver, and everybody had on silver that night.
Black women were not expected to perform at the Met. I said to my manager at the time along with Sarah [Dash] and Nona [Hendryx], why can’t we just ask our promoter [to book a performance at the Met]? [He can only] say yes or no and he said yes. I believe if you dream it, you can do it and we did it.”
In 1975 “LaBelle” appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone. When asked what advice that she would she give to today’s young female vocalist’s she offered this piece of advice. “I would say really think about you vocals and not taking your clothes off.” She says in a sort of matter-of-factly. “That’s what I would say. And the reasons are a lot of them think that through them looking like little sex objects that will sell your music more and for some of them it happens that way but that’s a sad way to go. Can you live with yourself if you continue to sing for a long, long time? What do you have to fall back on after having shown it all to the world?
The music of Patti LaBelle has soothed our wounded hearts and has rejuvenated our sometimes tired spirits. She along with her music is not some internet overnight sensation or a frivolous notion by the “kingdom of YouTube.”
The music of Patti Labelle, just as the works of Curtis Mayfield, Gil Scott-Herron, Edwin Starr, War and other musical/political poets have had a lasting and continued impact on not just R&B and Pop aficionados but on the cultures of America and the world.
My grandfather and grandfather used to say; “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” I now say: “Patti LaBelle didn’t change on us, she brought us change.” At the beginning of the party when they turn the lights down low and your eyes begin to wander; just remember the real “belle of the ball” is the one that you came with.
(Patti LaBelle will be appearing at The Meadows Casino, Washington, PA Sun, Sep 6, 2015 at 8:00 PM)
Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412.583.6741
Follow him on Twitter@ultrascribe