Patti LaBelle Celebrates Holidays with New Album Legendary songstress Patti LaBelle has a new Christmas album in stores, Miss Patti's Christmas. The Grammy Award-winning musician opens up about her legendary career, her latest work and why, after 45 years in the business, she just wants respect.

Patti LaBelle Celebrates Holidays with New Album

Patti LaBelle Celebrates Holidays with New Album

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Legendary songstress Patti LaBelle has a new Christmas album in stores, Miss Patti's Christmas. The Grammy Award-winning musician opens up about her legendary career, her latest work and why, after 45 years in the business, she just wants respect.

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I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

And now it's time for Wisdom Watch, our conversation with leaders who've gone before us, people with experience and knowledge - not just smart, but wise and sexy.

(Soundbite of song, "Lady Marmalade")

Ms. PATTI LABELLE (Singer): (Singing) Voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir? Voulez vous coucher avec moi? Voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir? Voulez vous coucher avec moi?

MARTIN: Today, we talk to a woman whose name stirs the hearts of music lovers everywhere: Ms. Patti LaBelle. The Grammy Award-winner has a new CD, "Miss Patti's Christmas."

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group: (Singing) This year…

Ms. LABELLE: (Singing) Yeah, yeah.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Spread all the Christmas cheer.

Ms. LABELLE: (Singing) Come on, come on, come on.

MARTIN: And as her fans know, Ms. Patti isn't just defined by her singing. She's an author, advocate, actress and entrepreneur. She recently released a new line of sauces and relishes, The Good Life. She just will not slow down, but she stopped long enough to talk with us from her home in Philadelphia.

Welcome, Ms. LaBelle. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Ms. LABELLE: Thank you very much. I'm happy to be talking to you.

MARTIN: Well, thank you. "Miss Patti's Christmas" is your first Christmas album in nearly 20 years. What made you decide to do it? Were you feeling Christmasy?

Ms. LABELLE: No. It was about reassigning with Def Jam. And L.A. Reid said, Patti, what if we just do a Christmas album, like, within the next two weeks?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Two weeks?

Ms. LABELLE: And I did it within - like, five days, I did an album. I did a CD of 10 songs, because we had to rush it to get it out, you know, by October. And so that was my first CD in 20 - well, I did two Christmas albums a long time ago. But - and 20 years was the last one, and this is the new one. And when I listen to it, it doesn't really remind me of all Christmas. It reminds me of music that you can play through the year.

MARTIN: These folks are cracking the whip. Why didn't you tell these guys - you just - tell where these guys where to go? You know, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis can't be bossing you around.

Ms. LABELLE: No. But, you know what? I didn't mind being bossed around, because I love working with - you know, it's another guy also, his name is Big Jim, and Jimmy and Terry. And they're just awesome people to work with, so when Terry tells me to jump, I will ask him how high. Now, most other people, they will not get that respect.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Well, there are some nice collaborations on this album. First, as we said, you worked with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and there was a third gentleman you mentioned. There's a song - there's a nice song I wanted to mention that you did with the Soul Seekers. I'm going to play little bit of that. It's called "Oh What a Wonderful Child."

(Soundbite of song, "Jesus Oh What a Wonderful Child")

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Oh, Jesus. Jesus. Oh, what a wonderful child.

Ms. LABELLE: (Singing) What a wonderful child.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Jesus. Jesus. Jesus so lowly - lowly, meek and mild.

MARTIN: All right. How did you decide who you want to work with? You've been so - you've had some very nice pairings over the years: Michael McDonald, Ronald Isley, Yolanda Adams. How do you decide who you're going to work with?

Ms. LABELLE: I've been lucky to have - wanting to work with people who wanted to work with me. That's all it is. Everybody who I would ask, you know, well, Wynonna Judd and all my friends and Cindy Lauper, whenever I want to do a song with somebody that I love and respect - CeCe Winans and all those wonderful women, and Mary J. Blige - I'll ask them, and they'll say yes. That's how it happens. With me, anyway.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I was going to say, you think I could try that? I don't know if it would…

Ms. LABELLE: Now, can you sing?

MARTIN: No. That would be no.

Ms. LABELLE: Never mind. No. I won't sing with you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LABELLE: I'll let you to be my background.


(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "Jesus, Oh What a Wonderful Child")

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Jesus. Lord Jesus.

Ms. LABELLE: (Singing) Jesus.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Sweet Jesus.

Ms. LABELLE: (Singing) Sweet Lord.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Lord Jesus, Sweet Jesus. Lord Jesus.

MARTIN: This album has a mix of classic Christmas covers. It also has new material, such as "Holidays Mean More to Me." And I know you said you put it together very quickly. I just wondered how you found a material like that, it seems so well suited to your voice.

Ms. LABELLE: Well, when Terry was asked to produce, they started working as soon as they were asked. And that was about two weeks, and they wrote four songs. And the songs that they wrote - "Christmas Means More to Me," is my favorite one. No, that's not my favorite one.


Ms. LABELLE: You know what my favorite one is?


Ms. LABELLE: The one before that one. I think it's called…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LABELLE: You could tell I don't know my album. I think it's called - no, it's presents. I don't need a present from you, just your presence is good enough for me.

MARTIN: Okay. Let's play a little bit of it.

Ms. LABELLE: Yeah.

MARTIN: Let's play a little of it…

Ms. LABELLE: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: …and you can talk about it.

(Soundbite of song, "Holidays Mean More To Me")

Ms. LABELLE: You know how people overmaterialize Christmas with wanting gifts and all that stuff, and it's such a greedy day? And the song, like, I don't need gifts. I don't need a Christmas tree. All I need is you and me.

(Soundbite of song "Holidays Mean More To Me")

Ms. LABELLE: (Singing) There ain't pressure. Yes, I know it's Christmas eve, and we don't need to have a tree. Don't rush to give me a present, your presence is enough for me. Stay at home as we have been…

And if we could have world peace, that would be a great Christmas present for everybody, instead of looking for a package in a box with a ribbon to open.

(Soundbite of song "Holidays Mean More To Me")

Ms. LABELLE: (Singing) Holidays make you care enough to give me gifts. I don't need that stuff. Baby, what I have, you can't wrap it up. 'Cause as long as I know I have your love, it's a merry Christmas

Yeah, I think we'd become greedy Americans. And I sing these songs, and I mean the songs I sing, but I always have to put this message out for me. This is my feelings - only my feelings - how I think it's just overrated. Christmas is so overrated.

MARTIN: Really?

Ms. LABELLE: Yeah.

MARTIN: But then you've got - but your Christmas album is going to be in somebody's stocking.

Ms. LABELLE: Well, you know, that's cute. If they want to buy that, that's fine. But with me, I'm not one to go out and buy gifts for people.

MARTIN: You don't?

Ms. LABELLE: I just don't - no, I give them Christmas every day. You know, every day of the year, you're getting a gift from Patti. If it's a hug or if it's a coat that I have that you need, if I see someone who's freezing, I'll give them a coat. I just give every day. It's just like Christmas is the 25th of December, but it should be in our hearts every day of the year.

MARTIN: Have you always felt that way, or is that something you've come too later in life?

Ms. LABELLE: No, I always felt that way. I used to get gifts from people, you know, and I still do. I would rather them give it to, you know, something to bring the soldiers home, or give it to the people in Darfur. Or, you know, just do something special with your money.

MARTIN: Well, what would - is there anything anybody could give you at this stage of your life that would make you feel special and appreciated?

Ms. LABELLE: The only thing I really want from people is their respect. You know, I've been working for 45 years. I know that I'm never going to be like, oh, you know, a super, super, super, major star who sells 10 billion records or 10 million records or anything like that. My important thing that I get from people is their respect and their love. And, like, they come to my concerts without having a hit record - because I'm not the girl with a hit record. I'm the girl who gives you a great show. As long as I continue to get that respect from people, you know, that's the gift you can give me.

MARTIN: But how you can say that you're not a major star? I mean, people - my God, I mean, talent shows all over the country, people are trying to channel your "Over The Rainbow".

Ms. LABELLE: No, of course, and that's a good thing. But, I mean, I'm not one of those girls who, you know, like a Britney Spears or even Paris Hilton, how these little girls just come up with nothing and they get everything, okay? I know I'm awesome. I know this. But I know that I have not been dealt with fair. I'm 63 years old - or 63 years young, but I don't get, you know, what I deserve. And I know that, but I've learned to live with this.

I'm settled, because I have a roof. I have things that aren't really that important, but I have my life. You see, I woke up this morning, and with my sisters, like, losing family members to diabetes and cancer and losing my three sisters before they turned 43 of cancer, I mean, gosh, I'm blessed. So those other little things like Grammys and all that stuff don't mean a thing to me anymore.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I was going to ask you this…

Ms. LABELLE: Because I know I please a lot of people.

MARTIN: Yeah, because you haven't had the easiest couple of years. You talked about this in your book, "Don't Block the Blessings," about losing your sisters and a close friend. You lost a collaborator last year to cancer.

Ms. LABELLE: Yeah, my musical director Bud Ellison, who was the reason for me finally recording my "Gospel According To Patti LaBelle" CD. He said let's do it before I die. He said, honey, you're not going to die. And he died about six months after that, but we were able to let him hear three of the gospel songs, so that was a blessing.

MARTIN: Is it hard to maintain the passion for performing when you lose people so close to you?

Ms. LABELLE: No way. When I lose a person, I go out there and I sing for them, honey. I sing for my three sisters, my mother, father and Bud Ellison. I sing for them every night, you know. I keep their candles lit.

(Soundbite of song, "You Are My Friend")

Ms. LABELLE: (Singing) You are my friend. I never knew it till then. My friend, my friend.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, I'm Michel Martin, and you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm talking with Ms. Patti LaBelle about her new projects, including her new Christmas CD, "Miss Patti's Christmas."

I wanted to talk to you about that. You talked about going out there and giving your all. You are known for putting your stamp on a song, just taking it and just making it something new. How do you that?

Ms. LABELLE: You know what? I was working with this choir, because there's a show coming on December 17th called "Clash of the Choirs" on NBC, and I'm against, oh God, Nick Lachey, Michael Bolton, Kelly Rowland - what's that child's name? Blake Sheldon. Oh, yeah.

MARTIN: The "American Idol" crew.

Ms. LABELLE: Yeah, yeah. And so we all have to get a choir from our cities. My choir from Philadelphia, I hope we go there and slam it, honey. And they just, you know, I have to win. And then, in doing that, I sing a song for them in the way I would sing a song. And they said, God, you made that your own. I said it is my own.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LABELLE: And whenever I sing a song, I don't care who recorded it before me, I'm going to make it mine. I might not do it as well as the other person, but it's going to be a Patti LaBelle version.

MARTIN: How do you that, though? I mean, is it from…

Ms. LABELLE: I just do it. I just do it.

MARTIN: …something in hear on your head?

Ms. LABELLE: Now, I just love to sing. I mean - and I don't half sing. I'm not stingy. I give you everything I have, everything. And that's the only way to sing. and I told my choir, that's the only way we're going to win, if we give it all we got. No punks in Patti's choir.

MARTIN: But how do you keep that up, though? That energy level?

Ms. LABELLE: I just do. I'm just an energetic woman, you know, diabetes and all - menopause, I'm still kicking. I'm still moving. You know, I can do this. And my hot sauce has a lot to do with it.

MARTIN: Yeah, okay, oh, well, we could talk about your hot sauce in…

Ms. LABELLE: I eat hot sauce all the time, and it keeps me energized…

MARTIN: You still carry it in your purse? I heard you're carry it in your purse. You carry it…

Ms. LABELLE: I do carry it in my purse, and I have my own - it's called the Good Life brand. My hot sauces and relishes and jalapenos and Hot Flash - I have one called Hot Flash. You know, women who are going through menopause, they can relate to this one. You should see me now, well, I have on these (unintelligible) pajamas and somebody's robe, and I'm just looking a hot mess, but I'm flashing. So as I'm doing this interview, I'm flashing.

MARTIN: You're having personal summer?

Ms. LABELLE: Yeah, my own personal summer. Yes. But the hot sauce, they're awesome, everybody. And then I'm going to have a few more things out, like pots and pants and Patti's pots, Patti's aprons, Patti's sheets, pillow cases. I'm going to be the black Martha Stewart.

MARTIN: All right. Yeah, but…

Ms. LABELLE: Okay. And she's my girlfriend.

MARTIN: …you talked about being diabetic, though. And as I mentioned, you've been very public about the fact that you have diabetes, that you've talked about of being diabetic and having diabetes. You've been a spokesperson for the American Diabetes Association. Is it hard to maintain your grueling schedule while maintaining your health appropriately?

Ms. LABELLE: It's hard for me to maintain my intake of medicine and taking it on time with my lifestyle. I take six shots of insulin a day and pills and pills and pills at a certain time. I won't take anything for the flashes, but I take everything for diabetes. But I have diabetes, diabetes don't got me. And the reason I was so afraid when I was diagnosed is because my mother at 58 had her legs amputated, and she died in her late 60s. So it's scary, but you know what you have to do. You have to continue to check your blood sugars, and you have to continue to not eat fried foods. I just had to leave them alone, you know. And you just have to take care of yourself, and it's easy to do if you want to live.

MARTIN: Well, yeah, but you throw off a lot more energy than most people do in the course of the day. I mean, I've seen you rolling around on the stage…

Ms. LABELLE: I'm still rolling around, honey.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LABELLE: I'm still rolling around. Yeah.

MARTIN: Like it's nothing. You know, some people would have a hard time getting back up after that, but here's Ms. Patti rolling around and singing and stuff like that.

Ms. LABELLE: Yeah.

MARTIN: I'm still - I want to go back to something you said earlier. You said that what you most want now at this stage of your life is respect. Do you not feel the respect? I mean, I feel the adoration from your fans. I mean, I see that people, they just want to touch you.

Ms. LABELLE: What I mean is respect from the record industry, from the recording industry. That's what I mean. I get true respect from the public.

MARTIN: Well, what do you think that's about? You think it's about age? You think it's about being black? You think it's about gender? What do you think it's about?

Ms. LABELLE: I think it's all three of the things you just said. Age, black and I'm a woman, okay? And it's hard sometimes to get the respect from the industry. You know, and I'm still pumping it out like, you know, the Beyonce girls and the - all of my little friends, Christina Aguilera, so I don't understand it. Why are people so discriminatory? I don't understand that, but that's the way it is. But guess what? It can't stop Ms. Patti.

MARTIN: I'm sorry, Ms. Patti's doing her thing.

Ms. LABELLE: Mmm-hmm.

MARTIN: Got her new album.

Ms. LABELLE: Yes, darling.

MARTIN: What's next for you?

Ms. LABELLE: I'm doing a new album, another album on Def Jam, just a regular Patti Labelle album. And I have a DVD coming out, a cooking DVD to show you all how easy it is to cook. I have a new cookbook coming out. That's in March of next year. Right now, I have a wig line that I'm working on that comes out in February: Patti LaBelle fabulous hair.


Ms. LABELLE: I'm planning on two tours - a tour with Dionne Warwick and Gladys Knight, "Sisters in the Name of love" at the end of next year.


Ms. LABELLE: And then a tour with Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx. We plan to tour with Lenny Kravitz, because he's working on our new album now.

MARTIN: Well, so you're working on all genre.

Ms. LABELLE: Everything.

MARTIN: I did want to ask about that. You know, you did the gospel tour last year, and I wondered - and you grew up singing gospel. And did you ever feel or do you ever feel torn between genre? Because, you know, some folks always feel that people with a gift should sing spiritual music all the time, and they feel that you shouldn't waste your gift, as it were, on secular music. And then you got your secular fans who may not want to hear, you know, the gospel stuff. So what do you - yeah.

Ms. LABELLE: Well, my opinion on that is whatever you want to think, think it. I'm going to sing anything I want to sing. I'm going to sing gospel when I want to. I'm going to sing secular when I want to. I'm going to just do - I'm going to sing country Western when I want to. I'm just going to sing. God has blessed me with a talent to sing any song. And if anybody judges me on that, then they need to see Jesus.

MARTIN: All right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LABELLE: They need Jesus. Stop judging. That's a problem with the world. They're always find something to pick on somebody, you know, or find fault in what they do. Let a person be themselves. I'm Patti LaBelle. Nobody can change that.

MARTIN: You sure?

Ms. LABELLE: I'm going to do whatever I want. And if I get, you know, crucified for it, then so be it. I can hang. Just don't mess with me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: All right.

Ms. LABELLE: Let me be me.

MARTIN: Duly noted. Duly noted.

Ms. LABELLE: Yes. Okay.

MARTIN: Ms. Patti LaBelle. Her new CD is called "Miss Patti's Christmas." Miss Patti, what song would you like us to say goodbye on?

Ms. LABELLE: "It's Going To Be A Merry Christmas."

MARTIN: "It's Going To Be A Merry Christmas."


MARTIN: Okay. Here we go. The multiple award-winning singer, author, actress and all-around everywoman, Patti LaBelle, joined us from her home in Philadelphia.

Ms. LABELLE: Dr. Patti LaBelle.

MARTIN: Dr. Patti LaBelle. You can find the links to Patti LaBelle and all of her offings at our Web site:

Ms. Patti LaBelle, thank you. Merry Christmas to you.

Ms. LABELLE: Thank you, darling. Have a happy holiday.

(Soundbite of song, "It's Going To Be A Merry Christmas")

Ms. LABELLE: (Singing) It's gonna be, it's gonna be a merry Christmas. You and me, it's gonna be, it's gonna be a merry Christmas, oh, merry, merry Christmas. We don't need…

MARTIN: This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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