With more than 50 million records sold and a pile of Grammy Awards, American Music Awards, NAACP Image Awards and a BET Lifetime Achievement award, it’s no wonder 72-year-old Patti LaBelle is known as the Godmother of Soul.
Nor is it surprising that in 2010, Rolling Stone named the powerhouse vocalist behind such hits as “Lady Marmalade,” “On My Own,” “If Only You Knew,” “New Attitude” and “Burnin’ ” as one of the 100 greatest singers of all time.
The singer, actress, author, entrepreneur and humanitarian last performed in Kansas City at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in 2015. Before her return visit there on March 17, LaBelle chatted with The Star on a number of off-the-wall topics, including advice for young artists, “her girl” Aretha Franklin, her love for Chance the Rapper and Kansas City ribs, and the three Patti LaBelle songs she says you should keep on your iPod should you get stranded on a deserted island.
Q: It’s been some time since you’ve been to Kansas City.
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A: I can barely remember. Four years? (Two, actually.) I’m just guessing. It’s been too long.
Q: We’ve got to get you some good barbecue when you come in town.
A: That’s just what I was about to say, those Kansas City ribs. I can’t eat too many, because you know I’m diabetic and that sauce can’t get too sweet for me. I have to chill. But I loooove those ribs. In moderation.
Q: Speaking of ribs, you’re obviously a great cook and there are so many dishes you’re known for. What is Patti LaBelle’s favorite dish to make?
A: Oh my, there’s so many. Last night I made liver and onions, Brussels sprouts and yams. My friends love my pasta. I can make some awesome lasagna. My macaroni and cheese — I love making that even though I can’t eat it.
Q: Are there any dishes that you’ve steered toward since your diagnosis as diabetic that you enjoy making?
A: Those boring Brussels sprouts. With a little garlic and onions and grapeseed oil, I can fill up on that. And sautéed fish. Like branzino. I make that with heavy black pepper, cayenne, sea salt and a little grapeseed oil. I love that.
Q: You’ve had so many eras as an artist: the Ordettes, the Blue Belles, LaBelle, Patti the solo star, Patti the legend. What would you say has been your favorite Patti era?
A: All of them. You know they were equally loved. There’s nothing that I can say tops the other. Like being a solo singer sure doesn’t top being with Sarah (Dash) or Nona (Hendryx, her fellow Blue Belles).
Q: On “Dancing With the Stars,” when you had the opportunity to choose your own music you picked 50 Cent’s “In Da Club,” which surprised some people. Do you have any rappers you listen to today that have caught your eye?
A: I love some of the things that Jay Z raps. Like “Jigga What.” And I like Chance the Rapper. I really appreciate him. And Kanye West has a lot of music that I love. I’m not a “rap girl,” you know. But if I hear it and I like it I’m going to play it over and over.
Q: Are there any new R&B artists who have caught your attention?
A: There’s a girl, she has a song with Usher. Yuna. And there’s a blond girl from London. She’s black with blond hair. Emeli Sandé. She’s a quiet storm. She’s phenomenal. Most people don’t know about her, but I love her. And I love Major and the song he has out.
Q: Did you by any chance catch the Oscars a few weeks ago?
A: Yes, yes I did.
Q: I have to ask, what would you do if someone gave you a Grammy and then told you it wasn’t really yours?
A: I’d have to give it up. I mean, really, what can you do? (laughter). But I’d have to give it up and say, “Hey at least I was close.”
For once black folks were equal, and I thought it was beautiful. And “La La Land,” they were very graceful in that moment. I mean it was one of my favorite moments because to see how things could have happened and how it could have unfolded, it could have been ghetto, but it wasn’t. Everyone handled it very well.
Q: You’ve had such a long, mulifaceted career as not only a singer but actress, humanitarian, author, etc. What advice would you give to a young artist looking to have your kind of success and longevity in the business?
A: Oh my gosh. Stay out of trouble. I mean, there are so many who are in trouble. There are so many of our young people who get in trouble because all of that instant stuff goes to their head. And if you’re singing and trying to be a performer or hone your craft and someone tells you “No,” don’t always believe it. Just keep on pushing. And once you get here, carry yourself like a lady or a gentleman.
Q: Another great legend, Ms. Aretha Franklin, announced she’ll retire at the end of the year. How did that news make you feel? Is retirement anywhere on the horizon for Patti LaBelle?
A: Child, I’m going to be singing with my boots on until I fall down (laughter)! But my girl Aretha, I’m sad to hear that because I love her. And not to be able to see her again live is not so cute. But God bless her because she probably has her own reasons why she feels it’s time for her to retire.
Q: Say someone gets lost on an island for a year. What three Patti songs should they keep to get them through that year?
A: Hmm. “Somebody Loves You,” “Come What May.” I won’t say “Over the Rainbow” (laughter), so “Little Girls.” … And “Rainbow!” (more laughter).
Q: I think I’d have to find a way to sneak in “If Only You Knew.”
A: Oh! That’s a cute one! Put that in there instead of something else.
Q: That’s the problem when you’ve got too many hits. It’s hard to remember all of them.
A: Well, I don’t have that many! (laughter). But thank you any way.