The storied legacy of the legendary three-time Grammy Award-winning singer/actress/entrepreneur Patti LaBelle has proven to be an ongoing journey of highs, lows and constant evolution. And while she continues her memorable appearances on series like HBO’s “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” she’s busy performing across the country in her latest concert presentation, An Evening of Soul: Patti LaBelle and Friends, featuring R&B icons Stephanie Mills, El DeBarge and Freddie Jackson.
“My favorite songs to perform in Chicago are ‘If Only You Knew,’ ‘Over the Rainbow,’ ‘What Can I Do for You,’ so many. Just all of those and about 50 more. Chicago, I love you and I’m going to give you the best show ever,” said LaBelle in a recent phone interview.
Making a set list from her extensive album catalog is a tough task, LaBelle admitted. The artist is celebrating the 40th anniversary of “It’s Alright with Me,” the 30th anniversary of “Be Yourself” and the 25th anniversary of “Gems.” .
“It’s hard. It’s very hard [because] there’s a 90-minute set list that sometimes goes into two hours because there’s so many songs that the audience will yell out. And if my band knows them, we’re going to go right into it for few seconds. But it’s hard preparing a set list because when you’re in certain cities, you have to feel what some cities might like. It’s not easy because I want to do them all, but I can’t,” she said.
While LaBelle and her ensemble of legends continue to tour the country, she still holds dearly to her fondest memories of the late actress Diahann Carroll, with whom she co-starred on the ’90s sitcom “A Different World” as the mothers of Dwayne Wayne and Whitley Gilbert [Kadeem Hardison and Jasmine Guy], respectively.
“Oh my God, when we did the turkey scene from ‘A Different World’! She was very high-class and I was ghetto, low-class or whatever. She wanted certain things in her turkey, and I wanted certain things in my turkey so we — I think we cooked the turkey. I watched it a couple of weeks ago and she was a wonderful woman, period. She’s just — she was everything,” LaBelle recalled fondly.
She also recalled the two growing their chemistry “like real girlfriends” over time, knowing each other since the early days of their intersecting careers.
“We knew each other for a while before we did that scene and we cared for each other and respected each other and she was such a loyal and wonderful person,” LaBelle said.
LaBelle recently attended the grand opening of director and businessman Tyler Perry’s new location for Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta a historical moment in the industry, LaBelle said.
“That was the top of everything I witnessed from a black man, and from a man period,” La Belle said. “It was like from a car to heaven. That’s where he used to live, in a car, and now he owns everything and he’s a phenomenal giver and he deserves everything he got. When I was there, I was in awe. It was the most beautiful function that I’ve been to.”
The “Somebody Loves You Baby” singer is also appearing in a new holiday movie, “A Family Christmas Gift,” co-starring Holly Robinson-Peete and airing next month on the Hallmark Channel.
“I’m trying to get [Robinson-Peete’s character] to come back to where I live and where her family lives. It’s a sweet story, it’s beautiful, and she finds love. And she comes back and she’s safe, bottom line. Period.”
Mark Braboy is a local freelance writer.