Bettye LaVette's Journey To The National Stage

President Barack Obama and Bettye Lavette

Soul singer Bettye Lavette performed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as part of the pre-inaugural festivities for President Barack Obama. Kevin Kiley hide caption

itoggle caption Kevin Kiley

If you've never heard of Bettye LaVette, the soul singer who belted out "A Change Is Gonna Come" with Jon Bon Jovi at the Inauguration Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial on Jan 18., you may be wondering why.

There's a good reason: After a promising start in the early 1960s, when LaVette had a couple of singles that became R&B hits, things just didn't work out for her. The 1972 album she recorded for Atlantic that was supposed to be her breakthrough wasn't released until 2000 when a French producer licensed it from Atlantic and started her comeback. She released her most recent CD, The Scene Of The Crime, in 2007.

This interview was originally broadcast on Dec. 17, 2007.

Bettye LaVette Is the Comeback Queen

Bettye LaVette recorded her first hit, "My Man — He's a Lovin' Man," at the age of 16. She toured with Ben E. King, Barbara Lynn and Otis Redding. And now she's being crowned the Comeback Queen for her recent albums, I've Got My Own Hell to Raise, which came out in 2005, and her recent The Scene of the Crime.

Bettye LaVette

Bettye Lavette's new album, The Scene of the Crime, has been nominated for a Grammy. Courtesy Anti Records hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Anti Records

LaVette recorded The Scene of the Crime at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., with the Southern rock band Drive-By Truckers and the legendary session musician and songwriter Spooner Oldham. (He played on Wilson Pickett's "Mustang Sally" and Aretha Franklin's "I Never Loved a Man.")

Most of the songs on the record are covers of soul classics that LaVette's husband, a record historian, played around the house, but she wrote the song "Before the Money Came (The Battle of Bettye LaVette)" herself at the prompting of Patterson Hood, guitarist and vocalist for the Drive-By Truckers.

The Scene of the Crime isn't the first record LaVette made at FAME studios; a disc she cut there in 1972 was shelved by Atlantic. Those songs didn't see the light of day until the French label Art and Soul released it in 2000. Called Souvenirs, it reinvigorated LaVette's career and led to her signing with Anti Records in 2003.

Purchase Featured Music

The Scene Of The Crime

Purchase Music

Purchase Featured Music

The Scene Of The Crime
Bettye LaVette

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?




Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.