Bow down to the godmother of soul: Patti LaBelle. In her more than 50-year singing career, she’s proved to be more than just a good voice. In addition to garnering Grammys, LaBelle has acted on stage and screen, found her rhythm on Dancing with the Stars, and even hosted her own Cooking Channel show, Patti LaBelle’s Place. On February 3, she will put her original talent on display as part of the Kravis Center’s annual gala. The performance is open to the public and tickets start at $35. PBI.com chatted with LaBelle about her two main passions: singing and cooking.
PBI.com: What’s your earliest memory of singing?
LaBelle: It would have been with the Beulah Baptist Church choir when I was, I don’t even know how old—old enough not to be shy anymore. Before I went to the choir, I would sing around the house with a broom, pretending it was a microphone, and I always sounded decent to myself. When I joined the choir, the choir director made me sing lead instead of singing in the chorus with the background. She said, “You have a lead voice, darlin’. You must go out there and show your voice.”
How has your stage presence evolved over the years?
I’m still a very shy lady. I’m 71 and I could sing in front of a huge crowd, but it’s very hard for me still to speak in front of a huge crowd.
What makes you feel comfortable in that position?
Well, I know for a fact I can sing. I’m not so sure about my speaking abilities at times—sometimes I might say a little too much.
What are your favorite songs to perform?
I love a lot of them, but I guess the ones that I must sing every night would be “Lady Marmalade” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” But if I sing those songs seven times a week, every time it’s going to be different. You can never say, “She’s going to sing it this way or that way.” I’m never going to do what you expect.
What advice would you give to aspiring singers?
To really, really believe in yourself. When someone tells you no, there’s a big yes in you. Continue to strive for greatness. Never give less than 100 percent whenever you’re giving, in any craft. In anything you desire to do, believe in yourself 100 percent. I’ve been doing it for 52 years and I still believe in myself.
What do you love about cooking?
It’s very cathartic. I love cooking everything: baking, Italian food, soul food. I’m very creative in the kitchen. Every day, I cook. I made breakfast this morning; I’m going to make dinner later. I am just a cooking lady. I cook as well as I sing.
What’s your experience been like making your Cooking Channel show?
It’s very in your face. You better be right. You don’t get a second chance to make a pie. Hopefully all of your ingredients are right. I’m not a measurer and I don’t measure anything so when it’s done, I pray it tastes great because I have that one time to make it right.
How do your cooking habits change while on tour?
On tour, I take my own pots and pans and I cook in my room. We usually have a suite with a kitchen, and the kitchen does not have the right pots for Patti. So I take my Patti pots on the road with me and I cook for the band and crew in my suite. I can avoid room service like that also.
What are some crowd pleasers?
I don’t do it on the road but macaroni and cheese with shrimp and lobster. I can’t do it because usually there’s no oven in the hotel suite but for Thanksgiving I made that for everybody and they all came and enjoyed. On the road, I’ll do kale. We’ll go to Whole Foods and I’ll get like 12 bunches of kale and clean them and then I cook them in my big plug-in pot. I use onion and grape-seed oil and chicken broth, and sometimes turkey legs to season and sometimes no meat at all. And then I’ll do a branzino with tomatoes and scallions—and that’s so quick and so easy and so clean.