Patricia Louise Holte also known as Patti LaBelle was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on May 24, 1944 .
After first joining her church choir at ten, she sung her first solo at the Beulah Baptist Church at the age of twelve. Growing up, Holte listened not only to gospel, but jazz and rhythm and blues. By her teens, “Patsy”, as friends and family called her, also began listening to doo-wop and was encouraged to form a girl group in the late fifties. In 1958, she formed The Ordettes with three other friends. The following year, when two members of the group dropped out, singers Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash, from a former rival group, joined them. Eventually with Cindy Birdsong included in the lineup by 1961 and with respected music impresario Bernard Montague managing them, the group gained a reputation around Philadelphia and soon caught the eye of a record scout, who introduced them to Newtown Records president Harold Robinson.
After hearing Holte’s voice during an audition, Robinson, who nearly ditched the group due to their looks – he allegedly thought Holte was “too plain and dark” to lead a singing group, agreed to sign the group, renaming them The Blue Belles (the name would simply be “The Bluebelles” by the mid-1960s), after a Newtown subsidiary label.
Not long after signing, the group was credited for the hit single, “I Sold My Heart to the Junkman”, though the song was recorded by another girl group, the Chicago-based The Starlets. This led to a. lawsuit by a manager of the group and its record label boss, later resulting in the group winning $5,000 in damages. “I Sold My Heart to the Junkman” eventually reached the Billboard top 20. Despite this credited success, the group could not follow up with any other hit. The Blue Belles supported themselves by constantly touring including an appearance at the Apollo Theater.
In 1963, a record label executive sued Harold Robinson for use of the name “Blue Belles”, since another group was using the name. As a result, Robinson gave Holte the nickname, Patti La Belle (La Belle is French for “the beautiful one”) and the group’s name was altered to “Patti La Belle and Her Blue Belles”. A year later, the group left Newtown switching over to Cameo-Parkway Records. Their first hit for Cameo-Parkway was the top 40 hit, “Down the Aisle (The Wedding Song)”. Their follow-ups included “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “Danny Boy”.
In 1965, Atlantic Records president Ahmet Ertegun signed the group to the label, working with the group for a year. The group issued their first studio album (as Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles) titled Somewhere Over the Rainbow in 1966. While they had a modest pop charted hit with “All or Nothing” and its b-side, a pop cover of Judy Garland’s “Over The Rainbow”, the group was not as successful as the label predicted. In 1967, their second release, Dreamer, issued two singles, “Take Me For A Little While” and the Curtis Mayfield standard, “I’m Still Waiting”. In the mid of touring for that album, Cindy Birdsong suddenly left the group to join The Supremes after replacing Florence Ballard. The remaining trio of LaBelle, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash struggled with subsequent recordings and by 1970, Atlantic had dropped the group from its roster, as had longtime manager Bernard Montague, who had by now focused his full energy on more successful Philly groups such as The Delfonics and The Stylistics.
After almost signing a management deal with Frankie Crocker and Herb Hamlett, the group settled on British manager Vicki Wickham (producer of the UK pop show, Ready, Steady, Go!) after Dusty Springfield had mentioned signing them. Wickham advised the group to perform in London and work on a brand new image and sound. LaBelle would later have disagreements with Wickham over changes often saying in interviews that she liked things the way they were. This led to some musical disagreements between LaBelle and Nona Hendryx.
In late 1970, the group returned to the U.S. changing their name to Labelle and signing a contract with Warner Bros imprint, Track Records. Wickham then had the group open for rock group The Who. In mid-1971, the group released their Warner debut, Labelle. The record mixed harder-edged soul music with rock music elements, a marked departure from the pop sound of the Blue Belles. The album failed to catch on, as did their 1972 follow-up, Moon Shadow. The group, however, did find success singing alongside Laura Nyro on her acclaimed album, Gonna Take a Miracle. The group would tour with Nyro off and on for the next couple of years.
LaBelle released her self-titled album in 1977 on Epic. The record was a critical success, with the highlights being the dance singles, “Joy To Have Your Love” and “Dan Swit Me” and the pop-R&B ballad, “You Are My Friend”, a song she and her husband co-wrote. Her subsequent follow-ups, however, 1978’s Tasty, 1979’s It’s Alright with Me and 1980’s Released, failed to be as successful. Though well-established in some circles, LaBelle never follow her live performance success with hit records, which was often the case with the Bluebelles. In 1981, she was switched to the CBS subsidiary, Philadelphia International Records, issuing the album, The Spirit’s In It.
Her 1991 album, Burnin’, resulted in LaBelle’s first Grammy win for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, and spawned three top ten hits on Billboard’s R&B chart also selling half a million copies becoming her third gold album. Her 1994 album, Gems and 1997 follow-up, Flame, also were certified gold and LaBelle’s 1990s singles, “The Right Kinda Lover” and “When You Talk About Love” hit number-one on the dance charts. She won a second Grammy in 1998 for her live album, One Night Only! Following the announcement of the end of her marriage to her husband, Armstead Edwards, who also dismissed himself as LaBelle’s manager after more than 20 years, LaBelle released the ballad-heavy When A Woman Loves album in 2000. LaBelle would not release another album until, after signing with the Def Jam Records imprint, Def Soul Classics, she released Timeless Journey, in 2004. The album became her highest-charted album in eighteen years. In 2005 a follow-up album, Classic Moments, was released.
LaBelle was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the BET Awards on June 26, 2011.