Nowadays, new school rhythm and blues flagrantly breeds carbon-copy-here-today-gone-tomorrow artists chartered by formulaic gimmicks, synthesized beats and digitalized studios, but longevity is rarely synonymous with their futures. However, authentic R&B veterans who revolutionize the genre command respect and staying power. One notable soulful maven whose indelible talent has earned her a rightful place among rhythm and blues royalty is the incomparable, Patti LaBelle.
Even as the melodic doyen of the legendary 60s quartet, Patti Labelle & the Bluebelles, and the retro 70s trio, Labelle--Patti's kinetic performances and signature, four-octave instrument served as the group's torch. For more than 40 years in the music business, the two-time Grammy-winning legend continues to solidify herself as a musical pioneer. Never resting on her laurels, Patti embarks on a new genesis as Def Soul Classic/Def Jam's premiere artist with the release of her introspective masterpiece, Timeless Journey.
A musical tale, Timeless Journey delivers seasoned sultry ballads and buoyant grooves. The mid-tempo track and first single, "New Day," is an inspirational ode to rediscovering one's independence and embracing the future with renewed fervor and can appropriately serve as the sequel to Patti's 1985 chart-topper "New Attitude." The girlfriend-to-girlfriend anthem "Sometimes Love," offers advice on moving forward after an unrequited love affair while the jazzy, bounce-heavy "Good Lovin'" talks about a lover's willingness to seduce and satisfy her partner. Patti's ability to evoke a ying yang of emotions continues with the heartfelt "Not Right, But Real," which candidly encourages one to choose personal happiness by walking away from a relationship that is not working. The gut-wrenching "More" is about wanting more than just the obvious out of a relationship. The songstress admits that she is partial to the entire album, but has created her own barometer to measure the depth of a song. "When I'm having a soul moment--that's when a song makes me dance and do the funky chicken, get chills or makes me boo-hoo and get all ugly in the face when I'm singing," she jokes. "Then I know that's the song."
Patti's artistic evolution has enabled her to be a chameleon without diminishing her edge, vocal prowess or legion of fans. "I'm always moving and trying to discover something new to entice me," explains Patti of why she chose the album's title, the third and final pick. "I'm always going to be on a journey and I can only hope with my new discoveries that I will always be able to please my fans." For Timeless Journey, Patti collaborated with prolific songwriters, producers and performers such as Babyface, Carlos Santana, Sammi McKinney and Gordon Chambers and recorded primarily at Edwards Entertainment Studio, a Philadelphia studio owned by her son Zuri Edwards.
Although Patti's widely-known for classic moonstruck ballads such as the duet "On My Own" with Michael McDonald, "If Only You Knew," "You Are My Friend," and "If You Asked Me To," her diverse musical tastes have only enhanced her versatility. In 2003, DMX enlisted Patti's renowned pipes to season his spiritual tribute "Thank You." Hip-hop aficionados such as Outkast and Wyclef Jean ("Celebrate") have also recruited Patti to grace their tracks. Today Patti continues to receive a respectful nod from the new litter of pop-pound. Pop princesses Christina Aguilera, Missy Elliott, Pink, Mya and raptress Lil' Kim paid homage to the soulful diva with a hip-hop infused rendition of the 1973 hit, "Lady Marmalade," which appeared on the soundtrack for the Academy Award winning silver screen musical Moulin Rouge. The Grammy-nominated neo-soul tandem Floetry, teamed up with the soul queen on the single "Hear Me Cry" for their upcoming sophomore offering. This year, she was also showcased on VH1's popular "Divas" special, accompanied by other super-star talents such as Jessica Simpson, Cyndi Lauper and Gladys Knight.
The Philly songbird's resilience isn't surprising since she's savored one of the longest lived careers in contemporary music spanning from girl-group pop to space-age funk to heavenly ballads. Despite her appreciation for today's younger artists, Patti concedes that her goal has never been to emulate younger artists. "Youth has nothing to do with it because I'm not trying to stay young because I'm still trying to love me no matter what my age. I just want to show the world that at 60 you can still record like you're 20." Still, Patti adheres to a few cardinal rules of her own when it comes to her musical philosophy: "Foremost, the song must always be age-appropriate," she says. "Then I listen to the beat because I have to be moved emotionally. I often find myself being moved by melody and sometimes it's the modulation that moves me. Finally, the lyrics have to be something that I want to say."
And rightfully so, Patti's soulful timbre and earth-quaking crescendos have resonated with millions worldwide. Def Soul Classics President Jheryl Busby, a heralded label executive, former artist manager and entrepreneur, with a penchant for perennial talent, has been an avid fan and supporter of Patti's and can attest to her cross-generational appeal.
Busby worked with Patti when he was head of the Black Music Division at MCA Records and has been instrumental in overseeing some of Patti's biggest career hits. Labelle loves Busby as a friend and mentor and says, "It's an honor to be the first artist on Def Soul Classics especially when I think that I would have been the first along with the legendary Barry White, whom we regretfully lost. But I'm excited and want to prove that I'm worthy to be the label's first artist."
While Patti's celebrated career has been more than laudable, she has also endured and survived personal strife. Within a 10-year period, she lost her mother, three sisters and best friend to diabetes and cancer. However, Patti persevered and refused to be hindered by sorrow and live her dreams--something she knows her family and friends wanted her to do. As a mother, author, actress, activist, the Philadelphia native born Patricia Holte has transcended the music arena. A devoted mother of four sons and one daughter (one biological son, four adopted children of her late sisters), four rottweilers and two cane corsos, Patti is a natural born nurturer. As an author, she's written four best-sellers including Don't Block the Blessings: Revelations of a Lifetime, Patti Labelle's Lite Cuisine, Labelle Cuisine and Patti's Pearls. Finally, as an actress, she's starred in her own sitcom-series, "Out All Night", and numerous television shows and specials. Patti recently launched a new lifestyle show, "Living It Up With Patti LaBelle", on the TV One Network and has expanded her horizons into fashion with Patti LaBelle Clothing, available on HSN and at HSN.com.
Also a diabetic, Patti has been pro-active in the fight against the very disease that claimed her dear mother's life. She serves as a spokeswoman for the National Medical Association that administers a scholarship in her name, the National Minority AIDS Council's "Live Long, Sugar" campaign and the American Diabetes Association. Patti also serves on the Boards of the National Alzheimer Association and the National Cancer Institute and the University of Miami's prestigious Sylvestri Comprehensive Care Center dedicated a special research laboratory in her honor for her work on behalf of cancer awareness. In addition, Patti has three Honorary Doctorate Degrees from Cambridge University, Drexel University and the Berklee School of Music, among a host of other accolades.
Undoubtedly, Patti's exemplary and multifaceted career has enriched the music world and inspired intangible lives in song and philanthropy. Amid today's flourishing, but often lackluster newbie artists, Patti's incessant devotion to rhythm and blues and her fans is the good stuff that real artists are made of. "My motivation is having a public waiting for my music because it makes me feel better about what I've done. You think, 'Hey, I still got it and never lost it'", she says.
"If you're feeling what you're doing, if you have that soul, spirit and motivation you can do anything. As for me, I'm ready for greatness - I am ready for the world." And the world is always ready for a true nightingale.