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Thread: Labelle

  1. #1

    Labelle

    This is actually an extension thread from one that started in the DRATS forum. Anyone have any questions for a guy who has been a Labelle historian for decades? I'll be happy to answer anything I can as long as it isn't about their private personal lives.

  2. #2
    I have every Labelle album. They got better with each release. Sometimes Patti's voice could be a bit too nasal but Nona & Sarah had a calming affect. Of course Nona's writing is what made them very special and different from the rest. Loved their comeback album too. Met Nona & Vicki in NYC in 1999 after a great performance. Nona's solo career should have been massive. C'est la vie!

  3. #3
    Vicki is awesome. What show did you see in 1999?

  4. #4
    This is the clip that changed my life and made me a fan of Labelle for life:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnMqpAT0ubE

  5. #5
    It was Sept 1999 at the venue below Time Cafe in Lafayette Street. I have forgotten the name.

  6. #6
    Joe's Pub?

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by BobbyC View Post
    Joe's Pub?
    I saw Sarah at Joe's Pub a few years back. She was very good. I also caught the Labelle reunion shows at the Apollo and the Beacon, meeting them briefly after the latter. I've seen Patti in concert many times.

  8. #8
    I was at the Apollo show--what a nightmare. I had to fly home to TX the next day so I couldn't stay for the make up show. Uhg.

  9. #9
    Did they replace Cindy after she left for the Supremes or did they permanently continue as a trio the moment she left?

  10. #10
    I adore Labelle. I was introduced to the trio on the great Ellis Hazlip PBS show Soul! and immediately bought the first lp, and every one thereafter. Their concerts were a great joy and inspiration and each-and-every lp superb. What more to say? Glorious women, glorious talents.

  11. #11
    Hi Guys--Patti, Nona and Sarah interviewed a few singers in 1967 but never found the right "fit." After that they realized they didn't really need a 4th voice.

  12. #12
    I became OBSESSED with Labelle in the mid-90s around the time "Something Silver" was issued. I already had "Nightbirds" and "Chameleon" Then I got the first two albums when released on CD by Wounded Bird. Then I got "Pressure Cookin" and "Phoenix" on used vinyl.

    The majesty of their vocal sound is unparalleled. I am not a fan of every song but their catalog is phenomenal. I actually felt great pain that I had never experienced them perform live as a group during the time they were recording.

    So when "Back To Now" came out, I made sure I was fifth row at the Los Angeles reunion show at what is now the Microsoft Theater. I enjoyed the show but it really felt like a Patti LaBelle show. They didn't quite conjure the vocal magic or drama of "Can I Speak To You..." Sarah's piercing soprano did not show up that evening. Also, I didn't know that the LaBelle songs I love were the ones they were least likely to sing live. Still, I'm glad I got to see them.

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by BobbyC View Post
    I'll be happy to answer anything I can as long as it isn't about their private personal lives.
    ???!!!!! Well that's disappointing. Just as we were trying to pinpoint when Nona Hendryx came out as queer. I mean if "Going Down Makes Me Shiver" is not about what we all know it is about then what is it about? And why did Patti decide she was done singing lesbian love songs?

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by BobbyC View Post
    Hi Guys--Patti, Nona and Sarah interviewed a few singers in 1967 but never found the right "fit." After that they realized they didn't really need a 4th voice.
    Is is true that they stopped their search after a drag queen auditioned?

  15. #15
    Guy--Nona admitted to having sex with men and women back in 1975. She didn't think it was a big deal until she had to deal with the reaction she got. She said she didn't "make hassles where none exists" but then said "people's heads get funny when it comes to sex." She was right. Back then admitting you were bi, let alone gay, was a huge issue for a lot of the public. Labelle, even going back to the Bluebelles days, always attracted a big gay following, and Sarah theorized that it was because the three of them did a lot of touching onstage. After the "wear something silver" show at the met, the gay fans got very outrageous and started wearing crazy costumes to their shows and got in fights with straight people in the audience. The vast majority of gay people were not out in those days so I'm sure a lot of the straight people in the audience thought they were seeing gay people for the first time. Today, it's hard to imagine but that's how it was back then. By the time Chameleon came out, people started thinking you had to be gay to be a fan, which really impacted their careers. Patti never "got tired of singing lesbian songs"--none of Nona's songs, according to Nona, were about gay sex. According to Nona, Going Down Makes Me Shiver is about spirituality. "Going down to your river" might be a reference to baptism. It's true, IMO, that Nona wrote a lot of double entedres in her songs, which is why I love them.

  16. #16
    Reese--you're so bad! hee hee! Yeah a drag queen did audition but I don't know if that was why they stopped auditioning singers. Sarah and Cindy were basically doubling up on the high notes anyway so when Cindy left in '67, Patti made the decision to just go outt as a trio.

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by reese View Post
    Is is true that they stopped their search after a drag queen auditioned?
    At least one of the ladies has relayed that story.

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by BobbyC View Post
    This is the clip that changed my life and made me a fan of Labelle for life:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnMqpAT0ubE
    Lawd have mercy!
    Heard that song hundreds of times but never saw it performed live...Dang, I wish I had
    been there. Patti is Patti, yes we know but Nona and Sarah had some pipes of their own....

  19. #19
    Isn't it crazy? There was nothing like them--and there still isn't anybody like them. The whole idea of Labelle was that they approached everything the way a rock band would. Their approach was not stereotypically feminine for lack of a better term. There were no synchronized dance steps, no canned dialogue and they never strayed from saying controversial things. A long time ago Patti told me that she didn't think their manager, Vicki Wickham, really understood America when she started managing Labelle. Vicki's ideas were completely the opposite of what girl groups were doing at the time but Vicki didn't see it as controversial. At first. Don Kirshner told Labelle, to their faces, that they had to act more feminine if they wanted more success. He found them to be too aggressive I guess. I personally loved the approach, but it was a bit too much for middle America.

  20. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by BobbyC View Post
    This is actually an extension thread from one that started in the DRATS forum. Anyone have any questions for a guy who has been a Labelle historian for decades? I'll be happy to answer anything I can as long as it isn't about their private personal lives.
    OK Bobby , you asked for it !! do I dare ..... oh hell why not ...

    my question:

    What if Patti had recorded Streisands "Guilty" album??

  21. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by BobbyC View Post
    Guy--Nona admitted to having sex with men and women back in 1975. She didn't think it was a big deal until she had to deal with the reaction she got. She said she didn't "make hassles where none exists" but then said "people's heads get funny when it comes to sex." She was right. Back then admitting you were bi, let alone gay, was a huge issue for a lot of the public. Labelle, even going back to the Bluebelles days, always attracted a big gay following, and Sarah theorized that it was because the three of them did a lot of touching onstage. After the "wear something silver" show at the met, the gay fans got very outrageous and started wearing crazy costumes to their shows and got in fights with straight people in the audience. The vast majority of gay people were not out in those days so I'm sure a lot of the straight people in the audience thought they were seeing gay people for the first time. Today, it's hard to imagine but that's how it was back then. By the time Chameleon came out, people started thinking you had to be gay to be a fan, which really impacted their careers. Patti never "got tired of singing lesbian songs"--none of Nona's songs, according to Nona, were about gay sex. According to Nona, Going Down Makes Me Shiver is about spirituality. "Going down to your river" might be a reference to baptism. It's true, IMO, that Nona wrote a lot of double entedres in her songs, which is why I love them.
    Thanks for this exposition, Bobby C. I can certainly understand Labelle's appeal and queer following. I've related to Nona's songs as queer affirmations and expressions since her 80s RCA solo work. I didn't know anything about her personal sexual identity but I felt kinship when jamming to "Keep It Confidential" or "The Heat." At that point, I didn't know any Labelle other than "Lady Marmalade."

    When I finally heard "I Believe I Finally Made It Home" it sounded like an anthem of gay liberation. I couldn't believe she wrote that in the early 70s. After that I found queer affirmation in everything she wrote, and they sang -- "Space Children", "Gypsy Moths", "Let Me See You In The Light", "If I Can't Have You", "You Turn Me On" -- although all of those songs are easily susceptible to other interpretations. However, "Going Down..." seems explicitly gay (lesbian). I had assumed -- perhaps wrongly -- that Patti was fed up with Nona pressing further and further into that territory in her songwriting.

  22. #22
    Boogie-- hee hee I see what you did there! I'm glad people on this forum are "breaking bad!" People need to laugh more, especially these days!
    Guy you put your finger on why I love Nona's lyrics. You could make them be about anything and not be expressly wrong. For me, I always thought her song Chameleon could be about being gay. Since almost everybody in the 70's was terrified of being outed--Nona wrote "your sighs, your face your name, determines who's the same" and then "pretend you never cared and carry on..." I am not saying the song is about gay people but it certainly could be. Gypsy Moths, too. The fact that nobody can say for sure, to me, is the mark of a genius song writer. I absolutely do NOT think Going Down is an obvious homage to lesbian sex since every other group engages in that same act. At least the fun ones do. KIDDING. Oh and by the way--I think Let Me See You in the Light is about Vicki.

  23. #23
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    I saw Labelle in concert in Columbus Ohio at the Agora Theater on the OSU campus. This was when Lady Marmalade was at the top of the charts. The temperature in the theater was as hot as hell, and Patti took off her very long earrings trying to cope with the heat.

  24. #24
    Very cool! I never saw Labelle until they got back together years later--I was too young

  25. #25
    Quote Originally Posted by BobbyC View Post
    Very cool! I never saw Labelle until they got back together years later--I was too young
    If you saw the reunion / Back to Now tour you at least got to see Labelle still at the near-top of their game. I attended the Apollo and Beacon shows and found both joyous and spine-tingling. I thought the costumes and makeup were gorgeous and age-appropriate nods to their past appearances and the musicians were great. I was also happy with the song selections. There was such a sense of true joy in the audience - I think most of us did not think there would ever be a real, live, actual Labelle reunion after so many years of promises.

  26. #26
    As regards the meaning of Nona's lyrics, most likely it is only Nona herself who could tell us! I always felt that the songs performed by Labelle were largely about post-midcentury American societal and personal liberation as a whole. One exception could be 'Are You Lonely' which Nona did say (maybe during a Back to Now tour interview) was about homelessness. Mostly I can agree with the listener-interprets-the-lyrics philosophy, but it can get ... touchy ... such as Ronald Reagan misappropriating 'Born In The USA' and rioting white nationalists using 'Gloria' as a rallying cry. Nasty business, that.

  27. #27
    Hi Peace--wanna hear something funny? back in, I guess, 2001 or so, I read an interview with Patti where she announced that Labelle was getting back together. I was so excited I called Nona, wanting to know the details! Nona had no idea what I was talking about!! The "reunion" was news to her!! There were no plans at all for a reunion. Patti even said Cindy Birdsong was going to be part of it, which was NEVER going to happen. I love Patti but she had a habit of telling people what she thought they wanted to hear!! Anyway I've seen clips of the Beacon show and they were amazing. I was at the Apollo show too but Patti was not feeling well and then the power went out as you know. That was one ill-fated show, in hindsight. I started laughing when Patti turned her back towards the audience and I saw those huge pheasant feather sticking out of her butt!! I was like YES!!! Now that is Labelle, baby! I told Nona how amused I was seeing that, and she explained that the ladies knew that they had to come out in something outrageous or the fans would rebel!! She was right! LOL!!!

  28. #28
    Peace--I wish I still had the Essence article about the break up of Labelle. In it, Nona explained that she never felt compelled to write anything about homosexuality--she said she found it unnecessary. She said her songs were about sexuality. To be honest, Nona came off a little defensive--but then I learned that fans read that into some of her of her songs and started gossiping and those rumors got back to Patti. Today people probably wouldn't care but back then the rumors hurt the group. I agree with your assessment that many of Nona's best songs were about personal liberation.

  29. #29
    Quote Originally Posted by BobbyC View Post
    Guy you put your finger on why I love Nona's lyrics. You could make them be about anything and not be expressly wrong. For me, I always thought her song Chameleon could be about being gay. Since almost everybody in the 70's was terrified of being outed--Nona wrote "your sighs, your face your name, determines who's the same" and then "pretend you never cared and carry on..." I am not saying the song is about gay people but it certainly could be. Gypsy Moths, too. The fact that nobody can say for sure, to me, is the mark of a genius song writer. I absolutely do NOT think Going Down is an obvious homage to lesbian sex since every other group engages in that same act. At least the fun ones do. KIDDING. Oh and by the way--I think Let Me See You in the Light is about Vicki.
    Bobby C, I've always said she is sorely underrated as a songwriter. If she were male, I think her bold statements and skill at double-meaning would be widely heralded by now. The songs may have never been hits but 'his' songs would have been revisited by music critics and probably even covered by other artists. The only Nona cover I am aware of is "Come Into My Life" by Nnenna Freelon.

    Only a previous few of us have any appreciation of Labelle's larger catalog -- or Nona's artistry. Her biggest hit to date as a songwriter is "Why Should I Cry?" -- certainly a killer track (especially the Jam & Lewis remixes!) but hardly the pinnacle of her songwriting.

  30. #30
    Guy--no argument from me. I think if she were male she'd have gone much farther. I'd put her 70's stuff right up there with Stevie Wonder or Marvin Gaye. Ever since Lady M hit, pressure was on Nona to write another Lady M. Do you know the song Far As We Felt Like Going? Nona told me that that song was a "hideous attempt to recreate Lady M." None of them liked the song. That's why you never see them performing it, even though it was a single.

  31. #31
    Hi Bobby ! Yes I was laughing when I posted that , hoping it would come through but not totally sure how it would be received. (Actually , I had full confidence in you!)

    I can see why this song wasn't liked by them . I did you, you did me .....charming





    LADY MARMALADE was written by my disco boys Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan. Here's their original release of it :



    Credit the ladies and Allen Toussaint ( with Vicki Wickham) to kick it up a few notches.
    Last edited by Boogiedown; 01-28-2021 at 03:23 PM.

  32. #32
    You're awesome, Boogie--and yeah I definitely got the joke! Yeah Far As We Felt Like Going sucked. It was beneath them, frankly. Typical of the music industry however. You get one hit and the suits want you to somehow recreate the formula over and over. Pretty much ANY of Nona's songs were better than this one.

  33. #33
    I never got to see Labelle perform as a group, though I wish I had. I have seen Patti, of course, and Nona. Nona performed at a Gay Mens Health Crisis Dance Marathon one year. She was fantastic! I wish I could remember the songs she did. I thought they were great songs - well, she always wrote great songs!

  34. #34
    I remember that, thommg--wasn't that around 1984? I didn't see the show but definitely remember hearing about it (if we're talking about the same event, anyway).

  35. #35
    Quote Originally Posted by BobbyC View Post
    You're awesome, Boogie--and yeah I definitely got the joke! Yeah Far As We Felt Like Going sucked. It was beneath them, frankly. Typical of the music industry however. You get one hit and the suits want you to somehow recreate the formula over and over. Pretty much ANY of Nona's songs were better than this one.
    LOL. You know who it wasn't beneath? These broads:


  36. #36
    Perfect time to post this clip. According to one of the comments, after the power outage, and fans getting restless and angry, Labelle came out and sang this song without microphones.


  37. #37
    Thank you, Khansperac. That clip is MAGIC.

  38. #38
    Quote Originally Posted by Guy View Post
    Thank you, Khansperac. That clip is MAGIC.
    You’re welcome. I agree, this is magic. So talented.

  39. #39
    Bobby C, who was Nona's inspiration for "Can I Speak To You Before You Go To Hollywood"?

  40. #40
    Quote Originally Posted by khansperac View Post
    Perfect time to post this clip. According to one of the comments, after the power outage, and fans getting restless and angry, Labelle came out and sang this song without microphones.

    Yes, after the outage and a rather long delay (during which the Apollo offered open bar!) the group came back and did 'Hollywood' and 'What Can I Do For You' a capella. A major concert moment for me!

  41. #41
    Guy--Nona has said many times that Hollywood was about a whole bunch of people who played the Chitlin Circuit in the 60's. She said that the Bluebelles and Labelle would play the same small clubs for weeks with other artists, and be friends, but once some of them "rose above" Labelle, they got an attitude and didn't "know Patti anymore." Labelle fans love to spread rumors that Hollywood is about Cindy Birdsong, or even Elton John. Elton John played piano for Labelle when he first got into show biz, before he changed his name from Reginald to Elton. The ladies had no idea that "Reginald" had become Elton when Nona wrote the song so it probably isn't about him. Cindy had been gone for five years, and the group pretty much put it behind them. So what artist is Hollywood about? Several. Is Cindy in that group? IMO yeah but she wasn't the only one

  42. #42
    Peace: Here is what I recall from the Apollo show. The ladies were singing and the crowd was so uhhh rambunctious that it was hard to actually hear them. Suddenly Patti just stopped singing and asked the crowd if we could hear her, and a bunch of people yelled "No!!" Her mic had gone dead. Nona walked over and once she realized what was happening, she offered Patti her mic. Then that mic went dead too and Sarah's wasn't far behind. Seemed like people at the Apollo thought the problem could be fixed if they just paused the show for a few minutes, but the break just went on and on. People started to get huffy puffy. nobody knew what was going on. Some guy came out and said they'd open the bar for free drinks while they fixed the sound system. This was a smart move because people were getting impatient. Eventually poor Nona had to come out to let us know their status--she had changed into a cool outfit with silver devil horns on her head and looked fantastic. Unfortunately, the sound system had gone down due to the snow storm that was occurring, and there was no way to get it fixed for that show. Nona said we could come back tomorrow for a make up show the next night, and then said that she, Patti and Sarah would sing a few songs acapella, which they did. Labelle made the best out of a bad situation but i had to fly back to Texas the next day, so there was no make up show for me. Patti was not feeling good anyway, she complained about feeling really hot and had to sit down on a stool several times--it was a diabetes flare up, I'm sure. it was nothing but bad luck everywhere you looked.

  43. #43
    Bobby , how is it that you are/were communicating with Nona ??

  44. #44
    Hi Boogie--I did promotional art for Nona, including her then-website from about 1998-the 2000's. I did her t-shirts for her (I'm an artist) and a bunch of logos and other stuff for her. Nona did a show at Joe's Pub in 2002 or so and I passed out free Nona shirts for the super fans, and they loved them! Nona introduced me from the stage--I wasn't expecting that--saying I was the head of her fan club! I never thought of myself as that but in hindsight I was I guess. I got to know her and Vicki over the years. They did some very nice things for me that I'm not supposed to talk about. The relationship was reciprocal I think you'd say.

  45. #45
    Quote Originally Posted by BobbyC View Post
    Hi Boogie--I did promotional art for Nona, including her then-website from about 1998-the 2000's. I did her t-shirts for her (I'm an artist) and a bunch of logos and other stuff for her. Nona did a show at Joe's Pub in 2002 or so and I passed out free Nona shirts for the super fans, and they loved them! Nona introduced me from the stage--I wasn't expecting that--saying I was the head of her fan club! I never thought of myself as that but in hindsight I was I guess. I got to know her and Vicki over the years. They did some very nice things for me that I'm not supposed to talk about. The relationship was reciprocal I think you'd say.
    That most recent Nona release had MAJOR gorgeous artwork -

  46. #46
    Quote Originally Posted by BobbyC View Post
    Peace: Here is what I recall from the Apollo show. The ladies were singing and the crowd was so uhhh rambunctious that it was hard to actually hear them. Suddenly Patti just stopped singing and asked the crowd if we could hear her, and a bunch of people yelled "No!!" Her mic had gone dead. Nona walked over and once she realized what was happening, she offered Patti her mic. Then that mic went dead too and Sarah's wasn't far behind. Seemed like people at the Apollo thought the problem could be fixed if they just paused the show for a few minutes, but the break just went on and on. People started to get huffy puffy. nobody knew what was going on. Some guy came out and said they'd open the bar for free drinks while they fixed the sound system. This was a smart move because people were getting impatient. Eventually poor Nona had to come out to let us know their status--she had changed into a cool outfit with silver devil horns on her head and looked fantastic. Unfortunately, the sound system had gone down due to the snow storm that was occurring, and there was no way to get it fixed for that show. Nona said we could come back tomorrow for a make up show the next night, and then said that she, Patti and Sarah would sing a few songs acapella, which they did. Labelle made the best out of a bad situation but i had to fly back to Texas the next day, so there was no make up show for me. Patti was not feeling good anyway, she complained about feeling really hot and had to sit down on a stool several times--it was a diabetes flare up, I'm sure. it was nothing but bad luck everywhere you looked.
    I do believe Patti mentioned here diabetes during the (half) evening. But, sir, I demur. Bad luck with Whoppi introducing? With Ashford & Simpson sitting directly in front of me? With Bette Midler in the audience? With Nona in (excuse-me-please) Viking horns in her Afro? AND - the chance to hear mutha-shuckin' Labelle sing a capella? I regret you had to leave the next day, but ... with all the shenanigans it was an historic show! Simply to see Sarah spilling over her gown crouching while singing here verse of CISTY... was an EVENT! I was 3rd-4th row center front. You may have heard me involuntarily scream "I love you, Sarah!!" the second I saw her shadow emerge on stage. Giants walked the earth. And we got to witness a few.

  47. #47
    Quote Originally Posted by PeaceNHarmony View Post
    I do believe Patti mentioned here diabetes during the (half) evening. But, sir, I demur. Bad luck with Whoppi introducing? With Ashford & Simpson sitting directly in front of me? With Bette Midler in the audience? With Nona in (excuse-me-please) Viking horns in her Afro? AND - the chance to hear mutha-shuckin' Labelle sing a capella? I regret you had to leave the next day, but ... with all the shenanigans it was an historic show! Simply to see Sarah spilling over her gown crouching while singing here verse of CISTY... was an EVENT! I was 3rd-4th row center front. You may have heard me involuntarily scream "I love you, Sarah!!" the second I saw her shadow emerge on stage. Giants walked the earth. And we got to witness a few.
    Wasn't it a great night?

    I had a first row seat, orchestra left. I had some great people in my section and a few of us bonded during the extended break, even taking the subway back into the Times Square area together after it was decided that the show would be postponed.

    About the only problem I had was with the patron behind me who kept yelling "Sing, bitch!" whenever Patti hit a note he liked, and whose drink kept dripping on me.

  48. #48
    Quote Originally Posted by BobbyC View Post
    Hi Boogie--I did promotional art for Nona, including her then-website from about 1998-the 2000's. I did her t-shirts for her (I'm an artist) and a bunch of logos and other stuff for her. Nona did a show at Joe's Pub in 2002 or so and I passed out free Nona shirts for the super fans, and they loved them! Nona introduced me from the stage--I wasn't expecting that--saying I was the head of her fan club! I never thought of myself as that but in hindsight I was I guess. I got to know her and Vicki over the years. They did some very nice things for me that I'm not supposed to talk about. The relationship was reciprocal I think you'd say.
    Fantastic! Did you reach out to her first , or she found you? Did you connect as a fan first that then lead to so much more??

  49. #49
    double post sorry
    Last edited by Boogiedown; 01-30-2021 at 03:06 AM.

  50. #50
    I'm enjoying this discussion ! All this talk of lyric writing , secret messaging etc. ....And a light bulb has gone off! ... I never thought of this before, but concerning :


    (I'M) BUSTIN' OUT



    Is this a take on Diana's I'M COMING OUT ? which had come out less than a year prior?

    I've got this cell door with no handle for
    I'm gonna move on
    Been so many years I've been inside of here
    Now I'm bustin' out , there will be no more tears.

    I'm bustin' out, I'm bustin' out

    Am I just now noticing the obvious here ?
    or
    Is it just my imagination , running away with me.
    Last edited by Boogiedown; 01-30-2021 at 03:09 AM.

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