Patti LaBelle has been called the Godmother of Soul, the High Priestess of Good Vibrations and the Queen Of Rock & Soul.
In 1959, when two of the original Ordettes left, Holt and fellow Ordette Sundray Tucker brought in singers Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash, from a recently defunct rival group, the Del Capris. When Tucker's family made Sandra leave the group, she was replaced by hometown friend Cindy Birdsong.
With her mother's blessings, Patti left high school to tour with the Ordettes. The group performed in local nightclubs to honky tonks and truck stops in the Philadelphia area.
During an audition with Newtown Records, the Ordettes almost didn't get a recording contract because Holt, who was the lead singer was considered "too plain, too dark and unattractive" until she sang. Afterwards, a name change was suggested; La Belle which is French for "the beautiful one.”
Signing in 1961, the name of the group was changed to The Blue Belles, named initially after a Newtown subsidiary (Blue Belle Records.) The name was altered to Patti La Belle and Her Blue Belles in 1963 and changed slightly to Patti LaBelle and The Bluebelles two years later.
The Bluebelles' first single, "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman,”was actually recorded by The Starlets and was released as a Bluebelles single due to contract obligations the Starlets had with their own label, Pam Records. Credited to Patti's group, the song peaked at number fifteen on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1962.
Going out on the road, the group became a successful draw earning fame at The Apollo Theater where they became "Apollo Sweethearts.” The group enjoyed a modestly successful recording career, which included top 40 recordings such as their gospel-styled doo-wop renditions of traditional songs such as "You'll Never Walk Alone" and "Danny Boy.”
In 1963, their ballad "Down the Aisle (The Wedding Song)" became a top 40 hit. In 1965, after recording for Newtown and Cameo-Parkway, the group landed a stint at Atlantic Records gaining some modest success recording "Over the Rainbow,” a song LaBelle would record as a soloist over a decade later and which later became a concert staple in LaBelle's shows since.
The group also recorded the modest pop hit, "All or Nothing.” The group also sang background for Wilson Pickett's hit "634-5789 (Soulsville U.S.A.)" while with Atlantic.
In 1967, Cindy Birdsong shocked the group when she left to replace Florence Ballard of The Supremes. The abrupt exit caused friction between the group members and LaBelle wouldn't speak to Birdsong again for nearly 20 years.
During the late 1960s, the Bluebelles toured England where they had a local following. Elton John met LaBelle in the mid-1960s when he and his group Bluesology played background for the Bluebelles during their UK gigs. In 1970, the Bluebelles were dropped from Atlantic.
In September 1974, after two weeks in New Orleans, Labelle released their landmark album, Nightbirds, which successfully mixed glam rock and soul with funk elements. Their biggest hit, "Lady Marmalade,” became their very first number-one hit. In 1975, Labelle became the first black vocal group to land on the cover of Rolling Stone.
LaBelle released her self-titled debut in 1977 on Epic Records, which featured the top twenty R&B dance single, "Joy to Have Your Love."
Other albums such as 1978's Tasty 1979's It's Alright with Me, 1980's Released and 1981's The Spirit's in It, which included her now classic solo cover of her old Bluebelles single, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” also failed to chart successfully. In 1979, she recorded the hit ballad, "The Best is Yet to Come,” The song reached number fourteen on the R&B chart and garnered LaBelle her first solo Grammy Award nomination.
LaBelle didn't start to experience commercial solo success until 1983 when she released her first charted hit album, I'm in Love Again, which featured LaBelle's first #1 R&B and top fifty pop hit with "If Only You Knew" and its top ten R&B follow-up, "Love, Need and Want You.” The album became her first solo release to be certified gold.
In 1984, LaBelle recorded the songs "New Attitude" and "Stir It Up" for the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack. Both songs became mainstays on pop radio with "New Attitude" reaching the pop top 20. During this period, LaBelle began dressing as flamboyantly as she did during the Labelle days.
In 1986, she achieved a U.S. #1 single with "On My Own,” a duet with Michael McDonald. In 1991, LaBelle released the gold-selling Burnin' album, which helped her win her first Grammy Award - tying with vocalist Lisa Fischer for Best R&B Female Vocal Performance. Burnin' featured the top five R&B hits "Somebody Loves You Baby (You Know Who It Is),” "When You've Been Blessed (Feels Like Heaven)" and "Feels Like Another One.”
On September 14, 2010, LaBelle made a return two decades after her last Broadway performance to star in the award-winning musical Fela! about Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. LaBelle replaced Tony Award-nominee Lillias White as Fela's mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, and remained with the production through the end of its run on January 2, 2011.
LaBelle’s 1998 biography, Don't Block the Blessings, remained at the top of The New York Times best-seller list for several weeks.