Labelle Biography

This popular soul act evolved from two friends, Patti LaBelle (Patricia Holt, 24 May 1944, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA) and Cindy Birdsong (b. 15 December 1939, Camden, New Jersey, USA), who sang together in a high school group, the Ordettes. In 1962, they teamed up with two girls from another local attraction, the Del Capris - Nona Hendryx (b. 18 August 1945, Trenton, New Jersey, USA) and Sarah Dash (b. 24 May 1942, Trenton, New Jersey, USA). Philadelphia producer Bobby Martin named the quartet after a local label, Bluebell Records, and the group became Patti LaBelle And Her Blue Belles (the only hit listed under the Blue Belles name, ‘I Sold My Heart To The Junkman’, was actually recorded by LaBelle and the Starlets). Infamous for their emotional recordings of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, ‘Over The Rainbow’ and ‘Danny Boy’, the quartet also wrung a fitting melodrama from ‘Down The Aisle (Wedding Song)’. This almost kitchen-sink facet has obscured their more lasting work, of which ‘A Groovy Kind Of Love’ (later a hit for the Mindbenders) is a fine example.

Cindy Birdsong left the group in 1967 to replace Florence Ballard in the Supremes, but the remaining trio stayed together despite failing commercial fortunes. Expatriate Briton Vicki Wickham, a former producer on UK television’s pop show Ready, Steady, Go!, became their manager and suggested the trio drop their anachronistic name and image and embrace a rock-orientated direction. Having supported the Who on a late 60s concert tour, LaBelle then accompanied Laura Nyro on Gonna Take A Miracle, a session that inspired their album debut.

One of the few female groups to emerge from the passive 60s to embrace the radical styles of the next decade, LaBelle’s album releases won critical praise, but the trio did not gain commercial success until the release of Nightbirds. The 1975 US chart-topper ‘Lady Marmalade’ was an international hit produced by Allen Toussaint and composed by Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan. Subsequent singles, however, failed to emulate this achievement. Phoenix and Chameleon were less consistent, although the group continued to court attention for their outlandish, highly visual stage costumes. LaBelle owed much of its individuality to Nona Hendryx, who emerged as an inventive and distinctive composer. Her sudden departure in 1976 was a fatal blow and the group broke apart. Patti LaBelle embarked on a solo career and has since enjoyed considerable success.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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