Slacker Logo



The female trio responsible for the proto-disco funk classic "Lady Marmalade," LaBelle's outlandish space-age costumes and brash incorporation of rock & roll were a far cry from their early days as a typical '60s girl group, not to mention the later solo career of frontwoman Patti LaBelle. While Patti naturally seems like the focal point in hindsight, the group was also blessed with a talented and prolific songwriter in Nona Hendryx, who followed an idiosyncratic muse into her own mercurial solo career, which often bordered on the avant-garde. The group's first incarnation was that of a quartet. Friends Patricia Holt and Cindy Birdsong had been singing together in a Philadelphia group called the Ordettes, and in 1962 they teamed up with Wynona "Nona" Hendryx and Sarah Dash, both members of a rival outfit called the Del Capris. At the suggestion of producer Bobby Martin, Holt changed her last name to LaBelle to match with the group's official name, the BlueBelles. Strangely enough, Patti LaBelle & the BlueBelles may not have even performed on their first hit; a group called the Starlets cut a single called "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman," which was released with the name the Blue-Belles on the label. Some accounts hold that the Starlets actually backed LaBelle, or that her vocal was overlaid, while others suggest that the lead voice wasn't LaBelle's at all. Whatever the case, "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman" became a Top 20 R&B and pop hit in 1962, and the BlueBelles started touring the R&B circuit behind it. Their next hit came in 1963 with the dramatic ballad "Down the Aisle," another R&B Top 20, and they hit the Top 40 again in 1964 with renditions of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "You'll Never Walk Alone" and the Irish standard "Danny Boy," solidifying their penchant for sentimental, classic-style pop. In 1965, the BlueBelles signed with major label Atlantic, and had some success with a version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," which remained in Patti LaBelle's concert repertoire for decades. Despite cutting an early version of "Groovy Kind of Love" (later a number one hit for the Mindbenders, not to mention Phil Collins), though, the BlueBelles' tenure wasn't as commercially productive as hoped. Cindy Birdsong left in 1967 to replace Florence Ballard in the Supremes, permanently reducing the group to a trio. With no real hits forthcoming, Atlantic wound up dropping them in 1969. In search of a makeover, they hired former British television producer Vicki Wickham (the music series Ready, Steady, Go!) as their new manager and producer in 1970. Wickham remade the group for the '70s, shortening their name to LaBelle and pushing them into a more contemporary fusion of R&B and rock; plus, the advent of glam rock suggested a new direction for their stage act, and the trio donned outrageous, space-themed costumes replete with glitter, silver, and/or feathers. LaBelle opened for the Who on an American tour and sang backup on singer/songwriter Laura Nyro's acclaimed R&B-themed album Gonna Take a Miracle in 1971. Signing with Warner Brothers, the revamped LaBelle made their debut in 1971 with an eponymous album that featured soul treatments of rock and pop material by the likes of Nyro, the Rolling Stones, Kenny Rogers, and Carole King. The follow-up, 1972's Moonshadow, featured the Cat Stevens-penned title track and the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," and also included more material written by Nona Hendryx. Neither album was all that commercially successful, and they left Warner to record one album for RCA, 1973's Pressure Cookin', where Hendryx's writing constituted the vast majority of the record. In 1974, LaBelle signed with Epic, and the label sent them to New Orleans to record with famed producer Allen Toussaint. The result, Nightbirds, featured the deeply funky single "Lady Marmalade," an ode to a New Orleans prostitute with the indelible French chorus "voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?" ("you want to go to bed with me tonight?"). Penned by Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan, "Lady Marmalade" shot to number one on both the pop and R&B charts in early 1975, sending Nightbirds into the Top Ten and making it LaBelle's first gold album. "Lady Marmalade" proved to be a tough act to follow. Despite four more charting R&B singles over the next two years, nothing duplicated the phenomenon of LaBelle's first major hit. 1975's Phoenix and 1976's Chameleon were relative commercial disappointments, even though they featured some of the group's finest vocal performances, plus increasingly ambitious and sophisticated writing by Hendryx. In fact, Hendryx's vision was pulling her away from the rest of LaBelle, and by the end of 1976, the group had disbanded to pursue solo careers. Hendryx immediately began recording in a funk-rock hybrid, and in the early '80s drifted into downtown New York's avant-garde scene, where she worked often with Bill Laswell; her solo records were sometimes accessible and frequently challenging. Patti LaBelle, of course, went on to a hugely successful and long-lived career as an R&B hitmaker with adult contemporary appeal, scoring hits like "New Attitude" and the number one Michael McDonald duet "On My Own." As for Sarah Dash, she made several solo albums that failed to attract much attention, but found her way into the Rolling Stones' sphere by the late '80s, working as a backup singer on both solo and group projects. Over 30 years following their breakup, the trio got back together to make 2008's Back to Now for the Verve label. Gamble & Huff, Lenny Kravitz, and Wyclef Jean were just a few of those who were involved in the sessions. ~ Steve Huey
Read More Read Less

Stations Featuring


    1 song

    '70s Urban Music

    '70s Urban Music
    1 song

    Super '70s

    Super '70s
    1 song

    Oldies Hits

    Oldies Hits
    1 song

    Oldies Party

    1 song

    New Orleans Sounds

    1 song

    Lite Hits

    1 song

    Grown Folks Music

    1 song

    Classic Hits

    1 song

Albums by

Top Songs by

  1.   Song
  2.   Lady Marmalade
  3.   What Can I Do for You?
  4.   Nightbird
  5.   Don't Make Your Angel Cry
  6.   Somebody Somewhere
  7.   It's Alright With Me
  8.   Don't Bring Me Down
  9.   Something in the Air
  10.   Morning Much Better
  11.   You Turn Me On
  12.   If I Can't Have You by Patti LaBelle
  13.   When the Sun Comes Shining Through (The Ladder)
  14.   Without You in My Life
  15.   Joy to Have Your Love
  16.   Last Dance
  17.   Isn't It a Shame
  18.   System
  19.   The Right Kinda Lover
  20.   Tears for the World
  21.   Come What May
  22.   Baby's Out of Sight
  23.   Wild Horses
  24.   Sunday's News by Patti LaBelle
  25.   Space Children
  26.   Let Me See You in the Light
  27.   Won't Get Fooled Again by Patti LaBelle
  28.   Time
  29.   Are You Lonely?
  30.   Medley
  31.   Lady Mermelade (Voulez Vous Choucher Avec Moi)
  32.   Action Time
  33.   Last Dance
  34.   Miss Otis Regrets
  35.   Superlover
  36.   Candlelight
  37.   Heart Be Still
  38.   Who's Watching the Watcher?
  39.   It Took a Long Time
  40.   Teach Me Tonight (Me Gusta Tu Baile)
  41.   Get You Somebody New
  42.   Ain't It Sad It's Over
  43.   Hearts Be Still
  44.   How Long
  45.   Roll Out
  46.   Plastic Dog
  47.   Too Many Days
  48.   You've Got a Friend
  49.   Peace With Yourself by Patti LaBelle
  50.   People Say They're Changing by Patti LaBelle
  51.   I Believe That I've Finally Made It Home by Patti LaBelle
  52.   Touch Me All Over by Patti LaBelle
  53.   Time and Love
  54.   Moon Shadow
  55.   Something in the Air/The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
  56.   Turn It Out
  57.   Come into My Life
  58.   All Girl Band
  59.   Open Up Your Heart
  60.   Goin' on a Holiday
  61.   Mr. Music Man
  62.   (Can I Speak to You Before You Go to) Hollywood
  63.   Sunshine (Woke Me Up This Morning)
  64.   Pressure Cookin'
  65.   I Think About You
  66.   Runnin' Out of Fools/If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody
  67.   Quiet Time
  68.   Dear Rosa
  69.   The Truth Will Set You Free
  70.   You Are My Friend
  71.   Chameleon
  72.   Lady Marmolade
  73.   Going Down Makes Me Shiver
  74.   What Can I Do For You
  75.   A Man in a Trenchcoat (Voodoo)
  76.   Messin' With My Mind
  77.   Far as We Felt Like Goin'
  78.   Take the Night Off
  79.   Slow Burn
  80.   Lady Marmelade
  81.   Gypsy Moths
  82.   Chances Go Round
  83.   Phoenix (The Amazing Flight of a Lone Star)
  84.   Black Holes in the Sky
  85.   Voulez Vous Couchez Avec Moi (Lady Marmalade)
  86.   Lade Marmalade
  87.   Good Intentions
  88.   Cosmic Dancer
  89.   Lady Larmalade
  90.   The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
  91.   Shades of Difference
  92.   Voulez Vous Coucher Avec Moi