“Beautiful” simply does not describe the incomparable force known to the world as PATTI LABELLE. As time continues to evolve, the soulful songbird’s name has become synonymous with grace, style, elegance, and class. Belting out classic rhythm and blues renditions, pop standards, and spiritual sonnets have created the unique platform of versatility that Patti is known and revered for. As she continues into her fourth decade of performing, the Philadelphia maven has returned to her roots with The Gospel According to Patti LaBelle (2006). “I was born gospel, so it’s not like I’m coming back or trying to impress people with this new gospel project. I’ve always done this. I’ve never done a whole album. That’s the only thing that’s missing,” observes the songstress. “I’ve come full circle where you can say it’s a complete project.”
Timing — coupled with ten years of mental preparation — was the key component for Patti to complete this life-inspired album that was always on her heart. In between touring, taping her TV One show Living It Up with Patti LaBelle, acting — having made a special guest appearance in the Bryan Barber-directed OutKast movie Idlewild — and with her Home Shopping Network endeavor, Patti LaBelle Clothing, it’s no wonder that everything has been crafted according to a divine plan. “Because of Budd’s (longtime musical director and friend, James R. “Budd” Ellison) situation — and I always wanted him to be involved with my gospel project because he was involved in all of my CDs — I said I better start now because he’s slowly going away. That was my real reason for starting it.”
Sadly, Ellison passed away from prostate cancer before the completion of the album. Patti has dedicated this album to his loving memory in addition to donating all the proceeds to a variety of cancer organizations. “We’re praying it is going to be one of my bigger albums that I won’t be paid for. In a way, my payback will be [that] we sold so many records and this money went to cancer research.”
Music industry veteran Jheryl Busby lent his time, talent, and treasure to overseeing The Gospel According to Patti LaBelle via his Umbrella Recordings, and the guest appearances alone raise an eyebrow, as the all-star lineup boasts of a who’s who across musical genres. “Many people do things like this and you never hear about it. I think it’s the right thing to do because you have to help wherever you can when you’re in the position to help. I’m in the position, I don’t need the money, but they need it for research so we can find out why we lost our loved ones and so that we don’t have to lose any more.”
A 14+-city church tour accompanied the release of The Gospel According to Patti LaBelle. Beginning at The Potter’s House in Texas, home to Bishop TD Jakes, Patti was blessed to have gospel legend Shirley Caesar pray a special prayer, “for people to accept me as the new carrier of His word. God is working on me, He’s working through me, and He’s putting changes all over me — positive. I know I’m chosen. I know this is something I was meant to do. For 10 years now I’ve been trying to do this gospel album and I finally did it. And it feels so good singing these songs.”
For Patti, she simply desires her fans not to judge her with this record and to be aware that this gift is from her heart and deep within her soul. “I want them to take away a beautiful message. I want them to take away a beautiful CD, which means take it home, buy it so that we can help with this cancer calling.” That humility and honesty has been the true gospel according to Patti LaBelle. “Staying a person that people can say they encountered and she was very, very giving. She didn’t get Hollywood on us. I never want to be thought of as a Hollywood person, you know the people who don’t have time for the people who made them.”
The same motivation that had Patricia Louis Holt blossom from a choir member to lead vocalist for Patti LaBelle & The Bluebelles to a solo artist is the same energy that keeps her fire burning at 65 years young. “Each year I grow, and that’s a blessing from God. I do what I can do. I do what I feel God has given me the energy to do, so I just go out there and I do it… It’s not about making money because I don’t need money, but I need to sing. With a voice or without, I’ve got to get on that stage.” And the world is thankful that Patti’s preaching sounds so good to our ears.