In 2019, Philadelphia named a street after hometown girl Patti LaBelle — but that’s only fair. She’s a legend! Since the disco classic “Lady Marmalade” taught everyone to speak naughty French in 1974, Patti has sold 50 million records in the soul, gospel, pop and R&B genres. And at 77, the Grammy-winning performer with the powerhouse soprano voice is still going strong. “As long as I’m walking, talking and still in great mind, I have no reason to want to retire. I love to sing!” she tells Closer.
Patti is working on new music, but that’s not all. The singer and celebrated home cook recently released a 20th anniversary edition of her cookbook, LaBelle Cuisine: Recipes to Sing About. The title is not just idle bragging: In 2015, Patti’s homemade sweet potato pies went viral and folks were paying as much as $60 to get their hands on one! Today, Walmart sells a whole line of Patti’s Good Life desserts and one-dish meals. The star also recently lent her talents to a very funny commercial for Old Spice’s “Men Have Skin Too” campaign. “I’m so happy I was asked,” she admits, “because my father, uncle, brother — every man in my family was an Old Spice man.”
Was there ever a doubt in your mind that you were destined to become a performer?
“There was a lot of doubt in my mind because I was such a shy girl! I didn’t have any friends; my friends were cats, butterflies and lightning bugs. My mother had to pay me to go to the park and play with other kids because I was very laid-back. I’m still kind of shy!”
We never would have guessed that!
“I didn’t think [about becoming a singer] back in the day, but I’m glad it happened. With my music, food line, a new commercial for Old Spice and all this stuff — I never thought I would be 77 years old and still be relevant!”
What was the hardest thing you had to overcome to get where you are?
“Well, I’m Black, so that’s an obstacle. My white counterparts would get triple platinum, and I might get wood. I always knew that I had to work triple hard to be known or to have somebody play my music so everybody could hear it. That was rough, but now, I’m easing on down the road!”
Have you always been brave? You competed on both Dancing With the Stars and The Masked Singer, which must have been scary!
“I can’t say there was anything scary that I’ve ever done that I was afraid to try. They wanted me to do Dancing With the Stars. At 71, I finally said yes. I said the only thing I could do is fall, and then I’ll get right back up! Dust yourself off and try again. Then came The Masked Singer. I was scared of being in that costume because you could hardly breathe and hardly walk! But I said, ‘Why not?’ I have not been afraid of anything so far!”
Thinking back over your life, what are some of your favorite memories?
“The memory of having my son was amazing. I was the oldest lady in the maternity ward! The girls were teenagers, and I was 29. I said, ‘Lord, will I ever walk again?’ It was a scary moment, giving birth, but such a wonderful outcome!”
And now your son, Zuri, is your manager! Is it hard to work so closely with family?
“Sometimes he hurts me because he’s so honest and we fight — but that’s healthy. At the end of the day, I realize he gives me the best advice ever. He is so honest, and he is never going to lead me wrong because that’s my baby.”
What’s some of the best advice other people have given you?
“Back in the day, we did a Carnegie Hall show with Sting, Elton John and a few other people. We were at rehearsal, and someone brought me water in a plastic cup. Nina Simone turned to me and said, ‘No, Darling. You never drink from plastic, always crystal.’ [Laughs] Since then, I have everything in a crystal glass. She was a wonderful woman with a lot of advice!”
Which songs do you never get tired of performing?
“I never get tired of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’ I also never get tired of ‘Lady Marmalade.’
Which young singers really impress you?
“Jennifer Hudson. She is doing it now with the Aretha [Franklin] movie. I love Pink. Billie Eilish.”
You have a new commercial for Old Spice Moisturize with Shea Butter body wash!
“It was great fun doing that commercial. It’s the first time I’m promoting a men’s product, but there are some products from Old Spice that I can use, too. It smells great, and it works.”
Do you ever think about retiring?
“Why would people lie and say they want to retire? Never would I want to retire!”
What do you do to stay so energetic?
“I get up every morning and thank God that I woke up. Just before the pandemic, I got a treadmill. At 77, I need to keep as active as possible. Then I do my regular thing: I have my coffee and I walk my dog. He’s a little shih tzu, Mr. Cuddles. I walk him for about three blocks and then I come back and put my feet in the water.”
Oh, that sounds nice!
“I can’t swim, so the pool sits empty all the time, but I like to put my feet in and kick my legs and think about what I’m going to cook. On Monday, I make my menu for the whole week. I’m always thinking about cooking!”
How often do you cook?
“I cook every day! I love being in the kitchen. It’s very cathartic to me. I’m thinking about songs and shows and costumes. It frees my mind.”
How would you like to be remembered?
“I would love to be remembered for my music. I would also love to be remembered as a decent person, period. I like that.”