Patti Labelle Nona Hendryx, and Sarah Dash are back as Labelle!
Patti Labelle, Nona Hendryx, and Sarah Dash, R&B's most original and formidable trio are reuniting via Verve Records to deliver their first full-length studio album in more than 33 years. The new Labelle CD is to be completed in June and on course for a global release this fall. The CD is being produced by a trio of icons equally up to the task: cutting edge funk rocker Lenny Kravitz and longtime Labelle collaborators and 2008 Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame inductees, Gamble & Huff.
Transforming themselves from the classic-style 1960s girl group The Bluebelles into what one writer coined as 'the genre-bending rock supernova' of the 1970s, the innovative trio deftly combined glam rock, soul, funk, pop and gospel into a brash amalgam of breakthrough recordings such as "I Believe I've Finally Made It Home" from their pivotal second album Moonshadow (1972), and the groundbreaking "Lady Marmalade" from Nightbirds (1974)."
Labelle redefined the creative arc of the girl group, celebrating their three distinct personalities by donning outrageous costumes and addressing controversial issues in song and demeanor, shunning the cookie-cutter stereotypes that plagued most female singers of the era. The group (which included Elton John on piano in its earliest incarnation) continually pushed gender boundaries in music of black origin, opening up for rock icons such as The Who and the Rolling Stones as they revolutionized the roles women played in R&B, rock'n'roll, and even fashion.
Braced, as always, by their trademark vocal firepower, the 2008 version of the supergroup still relies on their expansive range, show-stopping sense of theatricality, and as Nona puts it, their innate ability to "pull together as sisters and 'Labelle-ize' the music and the vibe and the spiritual side of what we do like nobody else on the planet."
Concocting an energized blend of uptempo songs and heart-wrenching ballads, the new recording includes the mesmerizing "Candlelight," the driving "System," the scorching "Superlover," and the old school/Gamble & Huff-helmed "Living Without You," resulting in an edgy but fan-pleasing album that once again finds Labelle embarking on a riveting musical narrative.
"The thread that always runs through is that we're sisters and we'll always be sisters," declares Patti. A connection between the three that may have frayed now and then over the years, but always remained unbreakable "The timing for us getting together was perfect," says Nona. "About a year and a half ago we met in the studio to record a tribute to civil rights icon Rosa Parks (the song "Dear Rosa" has yet to be released) and we just felt in our bones it was time to do this." It was Nona who tapped eclectic rocker Lenny Kravitz for initial production duty on the new disc. "We're friends and admirers of each other's work. We talked to him about the idea of us getting together and invited him to a session. He showed up that day at 5:00 and we haven't stopped working since."
Where Kravitz represents the next-generation appeal of the Labelle magic, legendary songwriters/producers Gamble & Huff were part of the Philadelphia/New Jersey nexus that helped launch the careers of the famous trio and give birth to the most popular soul sounds of the 1970s (O'Jays, Teddy Pendergrass, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, and others). In fact, Kenny Gamble and Patti Labelle grew up on the same street in Philadelphia, and Gamble was instrumental in helping to launch Labelle's career.
Such foundational strengths anchor the new album, eliciting the same kind of confidence that enabled Labelle to break the mold back in the 70s, with each member eventually taking flight in inspired solo careers that accentuated their respective gifts. Patti went on to sign with Gamble & Huff's Philadelphia International Records in the early '80s, releasing the seminal album I'm In Love Again that cemented her long and acclaimed solo career. Her subsequent duet with Michael McDonald, "On My Own," soared to #1 on the charts, with scores of hits and an impeccable live reputation rounding out more than two decades of acclaimed releases, television and film appearances, sold-out shows across the globe, and multiple awards, including her April 2008 Humanitarian Award presented in New York by the We Are Family Foundation chaired by Nile Rodgers.
Nona and Sarah (both from Trenton, NJ) have also sustained compelling and highly successful individual careers. Sarah Dash has collaborated with such notable artists as Nile Rodgers and the Rolling Stones, (she even sang back-up on the Steel Wheels tour), and has released several hot records of her own, such as Sinner Man from the disco era. Sarah also drew raves as a celebrated fixture of Keith Richards' solo outfit The Expensive Winos. She too, has written for the stage and is currently penning her autobiography, as well as staying involved in local Trenton community endeavors. Her recent appearance in San Francisco's hit interactive theatre presentation, Teatro Zinzanni, seamlessly blended her commanding performing style with European cirque, opera, and musical theatre.
Nona's songwriting and production ventures have led her to work with everyone from Dusty Springfield to the Talking Heads to Keith Richards, among dozens of other stars. A renowned tastemaker of both the rock and R&B worlds, she's contributed to the Showtime series Sleeper Cell soundtrack, working with Paul Haslinger, produced and written plays, and even launched her own label, Rhythm Bank, enjoying "sitting on the other side of the table for a change."
Labelle's long-awaited return to the studio signifies yet another chapter in the historic legacy of the group. But all three members are quick to assert it's not the final one. There will be a tour. After all, the live component of Labelle has often been cited as their most unforgettable dynamic. "We're going to bring to the fans everything they've been asking for. We haven't lost our edge," assures Nona. "I feel we're better because of everything we've gone through," seconds Sarah. For a group whose roots indeed go all the way back to opening up for icons such as James Brown and Otis Redding, leave it to Patti to wrap it up -- true Labelle style. "I think all you gotta say is 'we're here.' We're like that caged bird. If you love it, you open the door and let it fly because you know it's going to come back stronger. Well, we're back, baby. Anyone that knows Labelle knows we don't know how to hold anything back."