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11 Things Patti LaBelle Suggests Doing Now

The singer, actress and cookbook author shares advice that has led to her success and happiness

Patti Labelle
Tom Corbett

Take a Chance

My church choir director, Mrs. Chapman, heard me singing background and said, “You have a great voice. You should be a lead singer.” I said, “No way. I’m not going to stand up in front of this congregation and sing by myself.” But then I did a duet with her son and got my first “Hallelujah!” and first standing ovation in church.

Pay Your Dues

When I started out, we were traveling in a station wagon from Philadelphia to Los Angeles and eating sardines, or putting a hot dog on a light bulb at the Apollo Theater between shows to keep it warm. Paying dues shows who you really are. You shouldn’t be given things right away just because you have a great voice.

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Ride Through the Hate

During the Jim Crow era, we were going through things the white artists did not go through, and it made us stronger. You can’t get angry about it. Black folks always just have to fight harder.

If It’s in You, Let It Out

Never block your blessings by holding in when you perform. You have to let out everything that’s in yourself, so people can find out who you are. Sometimes other singers say, “We don’t want to do a finale with Patti, because she’s so loud.” Yes, I’m loud. And I love it!

Tell the Truth

I’m onstage for 90 minutes, talking to the audience about everything. I’m honest, and people appreciate that. Sometimes I get down on the floor and sing. By the end of the show, I have whites and Blacks, gays and straights all hugging. They find something that brings out a little spark that may have stayed hidden if they hadn’t come to my concert.

“I’m still very shy, but if you put a light on the stage and give me a mic, I come right out. You should never hide your light.”

—Patti LaBelle, 78

Studio Portrait
(Left to right) Labelle members Sarah Dash, Nona Hendryx and Patti LaBelle
RB/Redferns/Getty Images

Don’t Worry About the Words

When my band, Labelle, released “Lady Marmalade” in 1974, I didn’t know it was about a hooker until a group of nuns criticized the song. I don’t know if it’s egotistical to say this, but no one song changed my life. I changed my life.

Mourn but Keep Moving

I always wonder why I’m 78 and still here, and my three sisters all died in their 40s. God left me here for a reason. I had to go on.

Live Quietly Offstage …

I don’t smoke, party, do drugs or drink liquor. I think that has something to do with why I can still hit those high notes. But I’m not gonna lie, I don’t exercise, except for walking my puppy, Mr. Cuddles. He’s 14 years old.

Patti Labelle
Tom Corbett

… But Not Too Quietly

I stay up until 4 in the morning, sometimes later. I watch TV, or I cook and clean. If I see a spider web, I start cleaning the house. I can go to sleep at 5 and wake up at 7. And I like to play cards. It makes my friends so mad when I rub it in their faces and say, “Give me the money!” They think I’m a card witch!

Feed Someone

My mother, my father and my aunt cooked all the time, so I had great teachers. It makes me happy to see someone taste my pie for the first time and say, “Patti, can I have another one?” That turns me all the way up!

You Can Have It All

When my sister Jackie died, my husband and I adopted her two children. There were two boys who lived across the street, and when their mother died, we adopted them also. And I have my natural son, Zuri. I always wanted a picket fence, a husband and kids. Taking care of them never stopped my performing, and my performing never stopped my taking care of them.