Soul diva Patti LaBelle has enjoyed one of the longest-lived careers in contemporary music, notching hits in a variety of sounds ranging from girl group pop to space-age funk to lush ballads. Born Patricia Holt in Philadelphia on May 24, 1944, she grew up singing in a local Baptist choir, and in 1960 teamed with friend Cindy Birdsong to form a group called the Ordettes. A year later, following the additions of vocalists Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash, the group was rechristened the Blue Belles. With producer Bobby Martin at the helm, they scored a Top 20 pop and R&B hit in 1962 with the single "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman," and subsequently hit the charts in 1964 with renditions of "Danny Boy" and "You'll Never Walk Alone."
In 1965, the quartet -- now known as Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles -- signed to Atlantic, where they earned a minor hit with their version of the standard "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." The group's Atlantic tenure was largely disappointing, however, and in 1967 Birdsong replaced Florence Ballard in the Supremes. The remaining trio toured the so-called chitlin circuit for the remainder of the decade before signing on with British manager Vicki Wickham in 1970. Wickham renamed the group simply LaBelle and pushed their music in a funkier, rock-oriented direction, and in the wake of their self-titled 1971 Warner Bros. debut they even toured with the Who. The trio also collaborated with Laura Nyro on her superb R&B-influenced album Gonna Take a Miracle.
By 1973, LaBelle had gone glam, taking the stage in wildly theatrical, futuristic costumes. A year later they became the first African-American act ever to appear at New York's Metropolitan Opera House, a landmark performance that also introduced their lone chart-topping single, the Allen Toussaint-produced classic "Lady Marmalade." However, after two more albums -- 1975's Phoenix and the following year's Chameleon -- LaBelle disbanded, and its namesake mounted a solo career, issuing her eponymous debut on Epic in 1977. In addition to subsequent releases including 1979's It's Alright with Me and 1980's Released, LaBelle also turned to acting, co-starring in a 1982 Broadway revival of Your Arms Too Short to Box with God.
Upon moving to the Philadelphia International label for three albums, LaBelle scored a number one R&B hit with "If You Only Knew," from 1983's I'm in Love Again. Two years later, she reached the pop Top 20 with her Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack contribution "New Attitude." Her subsequent MCA debut, 1986's The Winner in You, went platinum on the strength of the Burt Bacharach-penned "On My Own," a duet with Michael McDonald, while the follow-up, 1989's Be Yourself, featured a pair of cuts written by Prince. LaBelle recorded a little less frequently during the '90s, though all three of the studio albums released during the decade went either gold or platinum and peaked in the R&B Top Ten. Burnin', the first of the three, earned a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female. During this period, LaBelle also published her autobiography, Don't Block the Blessings: Revelations of a Lifetime, and released two live sets. The latter one, 1998's double-length Live! One Night Only, won a Grammy for Best Traditional R&B Performance.
After LaBelle released her final work for MCA, 2000's When a Woman Loves, she briefly associated with Def Soul, where she issued 2004's Timeless Journey and 2005's all-covers Classic Moments. She switched labels and gears for The Gospel According to Patti LaBelle, a Universal-distributed Bungalo recording that topped Billboard's gospel chart in 2006. Save for some archival recordings, little was heard from LaBelle, though she frequently toured and landed occasional acting roles. Bel Hommage, a set of jazz standards supported by Sony, arrived in 2017. ~ Jason Ankeny