Over the tenure of her unmatched career, Patti LaBelle has been many things. From church choir girl to space-age funk queen to the reining mother figure of r&b, LaBelle has grown to become one of the most important figures in her field. Often called a living legend, she is a powerful singer and dramatic songwriter who can boast one of the broadest bases of fans in the world.
Born Patricia Holt, "Patti" got her start in a Baptist choir in her hometown of Philadelphia. She and friend Cindy Birdsong formed the Ordettes in 1960, and in the following year added Nona Hendryx and Sara Dash to become the Blue Belles. By 1962 she'd seen her first glimpse at stardom after scoring a Top 20 hit with "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman." In 1965, Labelle and her group — now known as Patti LaBelle and the Blue Belles — turned the standard "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" into a hit; to this day, LaBelle's version of the song remains a staple in her live show and is mythical for its ability to prompt goose bumps and tears.
Eventually becoming a trio, the newly named LaBelle had become a funky, more rock-oriented band revered for stage theatrics and sexually charged, revolutionary costumes. In 1974, LaBelle become the first group to perform at the Met in New York; there, they debuted another song forever synonymous with the Patti LaBelle cult: "Lady Marmalade."
In 1977, she left the group and released a self-titled album. Aside from that album's still-popular hit, "You Are My Friend," she had minor successes until the early 1980s, when her career shot upward. She scored a #1 with "If Only You Knew" and the fan favorite, "Love, Need & Want You." By the time her song "New Attitude" peaked at #7 on the pop charts in 1985, LaBelle had become an icon not just for her forceful, guttural soprano, but also for her wild hairdos and fabulous stage antics. During her performances, all true Patti LaBelle fans hold their breath until the moment when the diva will kick off her shoes and roll around on stage while faultlessly holding her notes.
She released four more albums in the 1990s, even earning a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame by way of a petition from her fans. In 2003, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
In recent years, the artist has diversified her realm of talents. Her cookbooks fly off shelves, she's done acting for television and film and she's signed on to a second season of a reality TV show. She's become an unintended spokesperson for diabetes prevention and care, and an unwavering supporter in the fight against AIDS. Her last album, 2004's Timeless Journey , debuted at #16 and went Gold.