'The Gospel According to Patti LaBelle'

Over a 40-year career, Patti LaBelle's sound has ranged from girl-group pop to space age-funk and soulful ballads. Today, LaBelle releases her first gospel CD, The Gospel According to Patti LaBelle.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

And now we go from a spiritual workout to an inspiring new sound. Patti LaBelle is a vocal powerhouse. Over a 40-year music career, her sound has ranged from girl-group pop to space age-funk and soulful ballads. Today, LaBelle releases her first gospel CD, “The Gospel According To Patti LaBelle.”

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. PATTI LABELLE (Singer): (Singing) People get ready. Get ready. Don't be -

CHIDEYA: NPR's Tony Cox recently sat down with Patti LaBelle to talk about her career and why it took so long to record a gospel album.

TONY COX: “The Gospel According To Patti LaBelle,” why this record right now?

Ms. LABELLE: Because I've been promising my friends, who happen to be fans, every year, I would say oh, that Gospel is coming out next year. Oh, the Gospel is coming out next year. Then that year passed and another year, another year. I kept not lying to them but praying that my record labels would give me the chance to put out this gospel CD that I needed to put out.

But, you know, record labels when you're a secular artist, they say well you know, that's something that can wait. Well, it can never wait for me because I was born gospel, so I always wanted to do it. But when your hands are tied, what do you do? You wait for 10 years and the 10 years is up now. So, I finally did it. So I called it “The Gospel According To Patti LaBelle” because I don't know what I might sing. So I've always had a lot of gospel influence music in my life.

COX: You know as I listened to that CD, one thing struck me. It's contemporary gospel, and I didn't find any traditional gospel songs. Was that - tell me why that was?

Ms. LABELLE: Well, one, “Walk Around Heaven.”

(Soundbite of song, “Walk Around Heaven”)

Ms. LABELLE: (Singing) My mother, she'll be waiting. My father, my priest has just to do. You'll get together and walk around heaven, again.

Simon McKinney and I, we will be on the phone and he's the one who produced a lot of the songs. Something would happen and I would say oh, gosh, I just love him so. And not talking about God or anything we said that can be “I Just Love Him So.” God. And then with the one, “Did You Pray Today?” I just say a lot of things like, did you pray today?

(Soundbite of song “Did You Pray Today?”)

Ms. LABELLE: (Singing) Did you pray today? Did you pray today? Did you pray today?

A lot of people walk around pretending that they're children of God and they're hiding behind the cloth and the pulpit and the - there are sometimes more devils in the church. And I come from a world, the R&B world, where there were thugs, gangsters, crooks, pimps, all kind of people that I had to deal with everyday. But I knew they were crooks, pimps, dealers and everything else.

In the church, everybody is a saint because they are hiding behind God and they're really as big a devil as the ones that they talked about everyday. So, I called it “The Gospel According To Patti LaBelle,” because I had a minister back in the day who said that I was singing for the devil. What kind of man is this? But every Sunday he would take my green dollar and never give it back for me to give back to the devil. He kept it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

How phony can you get? And I'm not saying this about everybody in church and I'm not saying this about every hip-hop artist and everyone - at least with the hip-hop artist, you know, they come to be gangsters. They came from a gangster lifestyle. They're not hiding it. A lot of people in the church, they hide who they really are because they say I'm a Christian and I go to church every Sunday. Well, I don't go to church every Sunday. After what that minister did to me. I don't believe a lot of people.

COX: Do you pray?

Ms. LABELLE: Every day. I get down on my knees, if I can, if they're not hurting, and I thank God for every blessing that I had last night.

COX: Do you think that this recording is also a way for you to give thanks for the successes you've had in the music industry?

Ms. LABELLE: I've always giving thanks. And I tell the audience before every show, the first thing I say is don't judge me because I'm not coming home to gospel. I've been gospel all my life. See, in my shows, I always had two or three gospel songs in my secular shows. And I was blessed with the secular stick to go out there and make money and do things for people because of my secular career, which is 45 years.

And there are a lot of people in certain places and certain areas and oh, she didn't do so well on her secular world so she's coming home to gospel. Those people need to stop and think because I'm not coming home to anything. I've been here. I just don't believe in going to church because of what my minister did to me. Everybody can sit back and point fingers. And I say to you at the beginning of the show, don't judge me because you don't know me, and you don't know my hardships. You don't know what I've been through in this business.

COX: How concerned are you about how successful it may or may not be or is it something that you have done, really, to fulfill your own inner self?

Ms. LABELLE: Oh, that's such a good question. I really hope this sells billions because all the proceeds go to cancer. Because we have to find a cure, and if I can help…

(Singing) …somebody has to pass along.

Then my living shall not be in vain. If it helps one person, I'm doing it for that reason.

COX: As you look over your career, you've had highs and lows and you talked about things that have troubled you in recent times. But is there something that stands out in the career of Patti LaBelle that you said oh, you know, that was the moment? That was why I did this.

Ms. LABELLE: I can't think of any because I'm consistent. I just do things because I can. I can sing. So I just sing to sing. If it's going to benefit me, in the end, okay. If it's going to benefit someone who's going through cancer and needs a cure, my little bit of money that I will donate.

I hope it will further their lives. I continue because my sisters and my mother and my father are looking down on me and saying you better go girl and you better not let anybody, let anything stop you because the only person that can stop me is me. Because if I let all these negative things that happened to me pull me down like this, I'll be a failure. And failure is not my middle name.

COX: This is wonderful. Patti, thank you so much.

Ms. LABELLE: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. LABELLE: (Singing) Nobody owe me hurt, can tell you what you're worth.

CHIDEYA: That was NPR's Tony Cox with legendary singer Patti LaBelle. Her new CD, “The Gospel According to Patti LaBelle,” hit stores today.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. LABELLE: (Singing) Everyone I do. (Unintelligible). Release those old illusions. Stop wasting time.

CHIDEYA: That's our show for today and thanks for sharing your time with us. To listen to the show, visit NPR.org. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. LABELLE: (Singing) Never stop believing in yourself. Hold on to your seat of the answers that preach. You pretend that we're free -

CHIDEYA: I'm Farai Chideya. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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