Is there a singer more real than Patti LaBelle? The 73-year-old legend of song (and shade) is a firehose of strong-minded opinions, and in an age that has some tight-lipped “divettes,” as LaBelle calls them, refraining from saying too much, the ever-honest LaBelle is, refreshingly, that rare freewheeler who revels in being blunt AF.
While doing promo for her new jazz album, “Bel Hommage,” she who has given the gays so much, from music and pies to a bevy of side-eye-serving GIFs, still has more to give – even her own precious pie-making time.
I was happy to see that you did NYC Pride this summer. Is there something special about performing for an all-gay audience?
That night it poured, so when Deborah Cox was on, she did three songs and then had to be rushed off the stage. It could’ve been shut down ’cause it was so bad. Everybody got drenched. So instead of my going on at 9, I went on at about 10:15 … and they were still there!
My whole thing is, when I knew I was doing Gay Pride, I said, “I’m gonna wear something beautifully outrageous, and I’m gonna have that old Patti LaBelle hair that I used to do with the fans and all that jazz.”
I said, “I’m gonna wear that hair!” And from the time I went on until the end, they never stopped yelling for more. I mean, when we were pulling out in our car, they were still, “More, more, more!” They were so enthusiastic. But what I did: I wore that old hair, and a lot of people who didn’t know me from the ’80s – we got some bad press for it – and I said, “You know what, I did that for my queens. They understand it.” It was for you guys. But I enjoyed doing it. And then the wind knocked that sucker down. I said, “OK, I’m gonna have to kick it up.” [Laughs]
Do you pay attention to the memes and GIFs of you throwing shade that people love to share on the internet?
Yeah, I see them. And you know what, I’m honored! [Laughs] And whenever I see something that’s not totally positive about me, I say, “God, at least they thought about me.” It’s really the way to look at these situations. But at the end of the day I know who I really am … and that’s a cool chick! [Laughs]
Regarding “Bel Hommage”: If there’s ever an album that pays homage to you the way you pay homage to artists such as Nina Simone and Frank Sinatra on this album, who would get your blessing to cover your songs?
Oh, I would give Fantasia blessings. The little singing girls. The ones who can really, really sing.
So we’ve got Fantasia – who else is on this covers album?
Ledisi, Andra Day, Emeli Sandé and Leela James – my god, that girl can sing. I love these ladies.
Why have you never duetted in the studio with your goddaughter, Mariah Carey?
I don’t know. We always talk about it when we see each other.
Maybe you two can hook up for a song on your dance album, which I believe is in the works. Hopefully we don’t have to wait as long as we waited for this jazz album.
Right?! Not 10 years, that’s for sure. I have not started working on it. I’m working on a Christmas album at the moment and old R&B favorites of mine from back in the day. And that … the uptempo music, I call it [laughs] … that will be done as soon as I do something with these other two projects, but it’s definitely in the mix.
Will it be for the gay clubs?
Oh yeah, for the gay clubs. You know what, I was so angry with myself when I did NYC Pride. There was a song that I recorded many, many years ago called “Land of the Living.” I meant to do that that particular night and we didn’t have time to rehearse it, but I’m gonna put stuff like that back in my show.
Why did you want to perform that song at NYC Pride?
Because there are so many gay men who were there who might be going through something with life. You’re in the land of the living, so act like you’re living. I just know what gay men go through and I wanted to put that song in the air, but I will.
There couldn’t be a more perfect time. There is so much happening in the world. Maybe you heard, but President Donald Trump said trans people are no longer able to serve in the military.
I know! My friend told me. They’re banned from service, according to the Trumpette. Ain’t that a witch.
Do you think about your legacy, Patti?
I just want to be honest and truthful, and I want people knowing that when I did whatever I did, it was all the way. Never half percent, always 100 percent. One-hundred percent in everything: my cooking, my dressing, everything. If I can’t go all the way, I won’t go halfway. I have to go all the way. And just how honest I am – they can remember that. The more honest I am, the better I get by, the more things come to my plate. Everybody knows that if you give Patti something, it’s gonna be quality. That’s just how I work.
Any last words for your gay fans?
I just want all of my gay fans to know that I will always be here for them the way I am: honest, to the point and loving my gay fans even more and more each day. I mean, when I think about it, the gay fans are some of the reason – one big reason – I’m still standing, ’cause they loved me when other people tried not to. Everybody always says, “What makes gay men like you?” “I have no clue,” I say. I still don’t. But I know that love has lifted me up for many, many years.
As long as I can stand on stage and my gay men and lesbian women see Patti LaBelle as someone who’s always been honest on stage you know, I’ll stop and have to go to the bathroom and I’ll let them know I’ll be right back. A lot of cutie girls stand up there and they pretend for the hour or however how long and that’s just gross. It turns me off.
They pretend like they wanna be there?
Yes! And everything you see of them is gonna be mechanical. Gladys Knight – she’s a raw girl. And whenever you see Gladys, you’re gonna see a different Gladys. If you just saw her show five nights in a row, she will not do everything the same.
You just want something real.
It has to stay that way.