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9 Quick Questions for Patti LaBelle

‘The Godmother of Soul’ is still going strong

spinner image patti labelle against purple ombre background
Photo Collage: MOA Staff; (Source: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET)

Grammy-winning R&B legend Patti LaBelle, 79, isn’t slowing down any time soon. She’s touring the U.S. through April and is selling out shows, and her Patti’s Good Life food brand is a big seller as well — with a reported $20 million in revenue last year. “The Godmother of Soul” tells AARP what inspired her to start the brand, what it feels like to step on stage and what adjustments she’s made since her 1995 diabetes diagnosis.

Any big plans in the works for your 80th?

Just to celebrate like it’s 1999 when I turn 80.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

To believe in yourself. Whenever someone tells you “no,” you know that there’s a great “yes” in you, because you know you’re doing great work. So really believe in yourself, and don’t listen to the naysayers, because most of them don’t want you to make it. Listen to yourself, and believe what you have is a great product.

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Any “bucket list” items on your list?

No, I don’t. No bucket list. I’m not a traveler. I couldn’t care less about going on vacations and stuff like that. I’m very happy at home. I’m very boring. I’m not adventurous at all.

What do you like to do at home?

I love to cook. I watch TV and clean. I love to clean. Cleaning baseboards and windowsills — things that create dirt and dust that a lot of people don’t see, but I see it. When I see it, I go crazy. If it’s 3 in the morning, I know that I have to go and do something to that baseboard in the kitchen. And so I get up and I do it. I’m very, very anal about cleaning and organizing. So that’s what I do. I organize, I clean, and I cook. And I have fun watching TV and walking my dog.

What kind of dog?

A shih tzu. He’s 12 years old — Mr. Cuddles. He has his own bed, but of course, he wants to be with mommy. So I have an extra bed on my bed for him. [When I’m touring] he goes to a friend who lives in L.A. He goes to Hollywood with the stars, and he has fun there, because there are a lot of dogs for him to play with. I never take him with me. Once — I think it was a play that I was doing — and we had him backstage, and he almost ran on stage. So I said, “That’s your last trip backstage.” Once he heard me singing, he knows my voice, and he tried to come for me.

How does it feel to still be onstage selling out packed houses?

I feel like an O.G. — an original gangster. Like somebody who’s still giving out great music and a great show. And by word of mouth, people hear that Patti LaBelle shows are decent, and so they spend their hard-earned money for a ticket, and that makes me cry sometimes to see a full house. I never take anything for granted. I’m blessed because my energy never goes down. I’m feeling great. I have to continue to keep feeling this. I’ve been feeling this way for many, many years. Of course, as you get older, it gets a little less, but it never stops.

spinner image patti labelle on stage holding microphone in left hand; right arm straight out to side; drum set behind her on right side of photo
LaBelle is still touring and selling out shows across the U.S.
Paras Griffin/Getty Images

What changes did you make after your type 2 diabetes diagnoses?

I changed my way of eating, changed my way of cooking, and realized it tastes as good as it did before when I was using bad ingredients. … I’m learning to live better. I’m trying to live longer by changing my diet. I hope when anybody is diagnosed with something that’s not so great, you change your way of eating, living, and just know that it’s going to be as good as it was.

It must be challenging to keep up healthy habits on the road. Any tips for travelers?

As much as I can, I cook on the road. I take my pots and pans on the road, and we find a farmers market.

Speaking of cooking, what inspired you to launch Patti’s Good Life?

I just wanted it to be a successful cooking line with quality — and not talking about quantity — but quality food, affordable food. I really wanted to do my own thing, but I admired Martha Stewart. I’ve done her show a lot of times, but I just wanted it to be a Patti production — not following anyone or doing anything that anyone else had done. It’s a blessing that it all worked out.

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