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Politics and Progress With Patti LaBelle 

Politics and Progress With Patti LaBelle 


The last time girl-group Labelle dropped an album, the thought of a black president or same-sex marriage seemed as "far-out" as the band's disco-spacewoman suits and fusion of disco, rock, and soul. But the button-pushing, soul-singing trio has reunited, and on the heels of Prop. 8 passing and Barack Obama being elected president, Patti LaBelle talks to The Advocate about the mix of emotions she's dealt with over the past few weeks.

The last time girl-group Labelle dropped an album, the thought of a black president or same-sex marriage seemed as "far-out" as the band's disco-spacewoman suits and fusion of disco, rock, and soul. It was 1976, to be exact, and even though Sarah Dash, Nona Hendryx, and Patti LaBelle continued to put out their own work, 2008's Back to Now is their first full-length effort since Elton John came out of the closet. Always a fan of her own gay following, we caught up with Miss Patti, fresh off of a cross-country red-eye flight, and did some much-needed dishing about the new album, Barack Obama, and her pal Jennifer Hudson.

The Advocate:There have been rumors for a while that Labelle would get back together. There was the one song on the To Wong Foo soundtrack, and then "Lady Marmalade" became a huge hit again. What finally got the three of you back together?Patti LaBelle: We were apart for 30 years, but not really apart, because the girls would be working with me or doing something with me all the time, like the BET Walk of Fame or the Apollo Special. So we were never really away from each other for 30 years, we just left the scene and we all left it together. It wasn't like Patti LaBelle wanting to go solo, because even two years after the split-up I was seeing a shrink so I could get my mind right to go out there without them. I didn't want people to blame me or throw eggs at me for leaving Labelle. So the band split, but we stayed in touch and we got married again recently after hearing this song "Rosa," about Rosa Parks, that is on the album. And so we did "Rosa," and after that we started recording with Lenny Kravitz, Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, Wyclef Jean, and finished the project. It's only been this long because every time we would want to get together, I would have so much on my plate that I couldn't make the right time. Now I'm able to dedicate a little more of my real time to Sara and Nona. If I had to come back half-step, I didn't want to come back at all.

Has the creative process for you three changed since you first got together, or did you fall right back into it? It seems as though it never stopped. We didn't have to work too hard to get that sound or that feeling again. It was like old-school. It was still good.

You've always been one to deliver strong message-type songs. "Tears for the World" on the new album hits on a lot of issues, from Hurricane Katrina to the wars to homelessness to global warming. How did that song come about? That day we were recording with Kenny Gamble, and Leon Huff came into the room and it was a dark day. It was dark in the studio and my Feng Shui was jacked up. I was feeling real bad energy and so I had everyone in the studio pray together. Leon came into the room and asked me why I was crying and I said they are tears for the world. The world was going insane and there was so much that seemed wrong. He went home that night and wrote the song, and when I heard it I thought it was awesome. There's so much devastation in the world today. I mean, the gay rights thing right now -- everyone is crying and things are upside down. The most positive thing is that we did get Obama. It was such a blessing, and then this gay rights thing happened the same day. Finally, it seemed as if it was time for everyone to just get along and then Prop. 8 came after this great Tuesday night.

Exit polls show that the black community voted for Prop. 8 in large majorities. As someone who is loved so much by both the gay community and the black community, what do you think could help to mend the divide? Really? I honestly haven't heard that! I haven't been able to keep up with the news. I just catch a little bit on CNN and I was devastated about what happened to the gay community in California. You know, I thought we [the gay and black community] were together! I know it's possible for the gays and the blacks to come together because we're both the underdogs. I just think it's sad. Everyone should just give peace a chance and let everybody be themselves. I'm so tired of judgment. I hope it gets right. I'm praying for it to get right.

Did you ever think you'd see America vote for a black president? What were you doing that night? Yes. I was sitting on the edge of my bed, afraid to watch because I thought there would be some trickery. Even though I knew Obama should get it, I kept thinking that someone was going to trick him out of it. I turned it on and off over and over, and when it was finalized that Obama won, I didn't move. I just silently cried and said, "Thank you, Lord, there is hope." It's the most wonderful night I've had in my life... Well, one of the most. So I think good things for the gay community can happen. If Obama can happen, things can happen for the gays as well. Obama is for the world. He is the new hope for the world. I was in Canada and it was like he was their president.

It does seem like the perfect time for Labelle to tour, time to celebrate. Will this be a final farewell, or is this the beginning of something new for Labelle? This is the beginning. There should be more albums and more tours! I'm no one-hit wonder. And Verve, the record company, is behind us. We plan to keep on going as long as we can.

Labelle is known for flamboyant concert costumes. Should we be expecting anything crazy this time around? How much of these crazy looks are from your input? To be honest with you, I don't know what I'm wearing tomorrow night! At the Apollo Theater, I'll have something outrageous made. I'm very involved in what I wear. We go to the designer to get me the sketches and then we have to go see the muslin and then make the judgments. I don't just let anyone make something for me. I have to work with them through the process.

You and Jennifer Hudson became fast friends after you met at the 2007 GLAAD Media Awards. Have you heard from her? How is she doing? She called for me three times and I was out of reach. When her assistant finally got me on the phone, Jennifer just said, "I can't talk to Mama Patti right now." It had to be so crazy for her. When she's ready she'll talk to me herself, but I'm reaching out and praying for her.

How do you find the energy to keep going -- to keep working? I am tired, but I do it because I can. It hasn't gotten so bad that I can't sing or dance, but I do have to give myself Patti time. And me, I've got 18 jobs -- I'm like a Jamaican! It's like every day I say I have to take off next week! I just have to get away.

But you've kept doing it. You don't have to keep working. What drives you? My people! And really, the offers come in every day and I just like to say yes because I can. I can complain about my being tired, but it's my fault.

-- Back to Now is in stores now. For more information on Labelle

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