Saturday, October 25, 2014


Sarah Dash, Nona Hendryx, Sundray Tucker and Patricia Holt were Philly high-school teens who came together to form the singing group, The Ordettes in 1959. Tucker had to drop out due to failing grades and was replaced by Cindy Birdsong. The group was renamed The Blue Belles and became a popular live act but were unable to find the same success as recording artists.

Due to a pending lawsuit over the name "The Blue Belles", their management decided to have lead singer, Holt change her name to "Patti LaBelle" and the group was now known as Patti LaBelle and the Blue Belles. The ladies stood out from the other girl-groups of the era as their sound was grittier and more gospel-based although that still didn't help them sell many records.

After Birdsong left to replace Florence Ballard in The Supremes in 1967, things went downhill for this struggling act. The Blue Belles were dropped from their record label, then from their management and soon had difficulties finding work.

The fortunes of this now-trio was about to change thanks to their new manager, Vicki Wickham. First, she had the ladies spend some time in London to immerse themselves in the rock scene there and encouraged them to incorporated these songs into their performance. Wickham also wanted them to wear flashy, glam-rock inspired stage costumes and change their name to simply "LaBelle". They were reluctant, fearful of alienating their fans but decided to take a chance. LaBelle started to get noticed; they recorded and toured with Laura Nyro and opened for the Rolling Stones during part of their U.S. tour but still could not get a hit record.

"Nightbirds" was their fourth album on their third record label as LaBelle and they were teamed-up with New Orleans musician, Allen Toussaint to produce. This proved to be a magical collaboration as the first single, "Lady Marmalade" was a major global smash. This racy song, about a New Orleans prostitute, topped the U.S. pop chart in 1974 and would later be inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2003.

My tune is the follow-up single, "What Can I Do For You?". While this wasn't nearly as popular as the lead, I think its an amazing song. This plea for love and tolerance is elevated by the soaring harmonious voices of these exquisite singers.

LaBelle went their separate ways in 1977 and each pursued a solo career with varied success. Then, thirty-one years later, Patti LaBelle, Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx reunited as LaBelle and released an album, "Back To Now" in 2008.

Listen and enjoy my tune of the day:

"What Can I Do For You?" - LaBelle (1974)

As a bonus, here is LaBelle performing "Lady Marmalade" live on Soul Train:


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