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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
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Albums by

Top Songs by

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