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Patti Labelle: Making a Difference

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Patsy Holte has come a long way from performing curbside at truck stops and honky tonk bars. After decades of success, the chanteuse better known as Patti LaBelle still has staying power and continues to share a musical archive that not only cross-generational but timeless. For one night only LaBelle, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight and Diana Ross will lift their voices to raise donations through the "Divas With Hearts" benefit concert. Essence.com spoke with the diva about the magic that sells out shows, forgetting lyrics and her return to Def Jam.

Essence.com: This will be a night to remember when four legendary divas share the stage. Is there any truth to the idea that women don’t like competition or get along?
 Patti LaBelle:
That’s all hype. We’re all special living women who sing and have messages to share with the masses who want to hear from us. In fact, we just added a show and Gladys Knight because it sold out! I don't know when the last time I did two major shows like this in a day.

Essence.com: So the fabulous divas will work in harmony?
P.L.:
Absolutely. I say that talks of women not getting along is just some more controversy and trickery that people like to say when they think women can’t get along but all four of us can, so we’ll show them. There’s no big deal about who goes on first because everyone has 30 minutes. As long as we put smiles on faces and empty pockets for a good cause that's all that matters.

Essence.com: What is your definition of that moniker?
P.L.:
Divas? That word has so many meanings nowadays. Over the years, it's been so misused but I will say calling this show "Divas With Hearts" they chose the right four women.

Essence.com: Absolutely. So do you consider yourself a diva?
P.L.:
Well, by my definition I do. A diva is a person who has been here for a long time and is pressing on to do more pressing work and not waiting around for someone to count you in. Honestly, I just hope I don't forget the lyrics!

Essence.com: (Laughs) I've always wondered how many artists do.  
P.L.:
Well, I don't believe I will because I remember the lyrics for my song selections for this concert.

Essence.com: Do you let the crowd know you've forgotten or simply feign the words?
P.L.:
Yes, I have let the crowd know I've forgotten the words and they usually sing it for me, which helps me to remember. But I need the teleprompter--it's just good to have just in case of emergency of forgetfulness. Every once in while I'm performing and someone is standing up and blocking the teleprompter screen and I'm thinking, Oh Lord, these folk done caught the Holy Ghost and I can't see the freaking screen! Then I'll simply say, "It's alright, sit down it's okay." 

Essence.com: Is there a favorite song you're looking forward to performing?
P.L.:
A favorite of mine is a song I did with a friend called "Two Steps Away" which talks about how close we are to achieving our goals. We are in this world and just steps away from finding cures for sudden death syndrome and autism; two steps away from your last paycheck, or the last day on this planet. We take everything for granted from getting someone great in the White House to finding true romance. It's just one of those songs you can put in any context.

Essence.com: It sounds beautiful. Word on the street is that a Labelle reunion is in the works?
P.L.:
The streets are correct. Nona Hendrix, Sara Dash and myself are working on a reunion!

Essence.com: Ohmigoodness, that's historical! And what else do you have up your sleeve?
P.L.:
(Laughs) Well, I will be releasing a new album on Def Jam in September featuring folks like Lenny Kravitz and Nile Rogers. Can you believe it after Def Jam let me go?

Essence.com: Yes I can because you're sorely missed. How do you feel about the label's change of heart?
P.L.:
Wonderful! I feel as though they are letting me know I've never been outdated. It's truly a blessing to still be making music.

Essence.com: Ms. Patti, outdated? Never that. You're timeless. What else is new with you?
P.L.:
Look out for "Patti’s Labelle’s Good Life" spices, hot sauces, cookbook and how-to cooking DVD.

Essence.com: What message do you hope people will receive from this concert?
P.L.:
I hope they take thoughtfulness and think about 50 years of the Masonic Medical Research Laboratory's work to find a cure for heart, cardiac and other diseases to help save lives and believe that there is more that they can do to help people in need in old by simply doing the best they can. And always remember Patti's a giver not a taker!

Photo Credit: Carlo Dalla Chiesa

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