There are not enough words to describe the lasting impact, brilliance, and ingenuity of the "Godmother of Soul," Patti LaBelle. A musical pioneer for Black women in entertainment for more than six decades is an undoubted testament to her indelible footprint in the industry and beyond. From dominating the Billboard charts to the New York Times bestselling list for her mouthwatering recipes in LaBelle Cuisine: Recipes to Sing About, the Grammy-Award-winning artist has long cemented her icon status and continues to do so while showing no signs of slowing down.
21Ninety caught up with the legendary singer to talk about mental health, career longevity, her new partnership with Old Spice, the power of her artistry, and when it's all said and done, the legacy she hopes to leave behind.
Dontaira Terrell: What prompted your involvement with Old Spice?
Patti LaBelle: My father used Old Spice, so right away, I said, "I have to do it." It's something that's been in my family. Sometimes people do commercials and don't know anything about it, nor do they feel any kind of love for the product. This product has been loved for many years. So for me to be a part of it with Deon [Cole] and Gabby [Dennis], I feel blessed.
DT: What are you most excited about for audiences to see with your involvement with this campaign?
PL: I'm excited for them to see it and know that it's still phenomenal and say, "Okay, Patti's wearing it. And it's something that she would use." I hope they see that it's a very honest commercial for me. Old Spice has been in my family. So I'm that girl. I'm that Old Spice girl!
DT: And that's a beautiful tribute to your father as well. You are keeping his legacy alive.
PL: He would love this if he was living, my goodness!
DT: This year has been stressful and tremendous. So what have you done to protect your mental health?
PL: I make sure I stay around positive people. People who will tell me I'm doing something wrong if I am. Also, people to enhance me and people to tell me the truth. Like I said, if it's something bad I did, tell me so I won't do it again. As far as my mental health, I'm blessed with my brain and my mind to keep me focused and not to allow anything in this industry to drive me crazy. I always take the high road, and I'm blessed with my mental health because I have a lot of friends who are not, and I pray for them every day.
DT: When it's all said and done, what do you want your art to say about you?
PL. To say that I was an honest performer, I never believed in props and all that kind of stuff such as dancers and lights. I believed in doing a show from the heart—just a plain old basic show with a mic and a band.
DT: Being in the industry for such a long time, what would you say was or has been the most challenging part of your musical journey so far?
PL: My God, in the beginning, it was challenging because I was, of course, a Black woman doing what I do, but never being accepted as quickly as my white friends. And doing songs like, "If You Asked Me To," and then Celine Dion will do it, and hers will go triple platinum, mine never left the building, the same arrangement.
It's just that you see when some folks do certain things, depending on the color of the skin, it'll go big, or it'll go little. So I've been dealing with going little but never losing my enthusiasm and never not thinking that I wasn't as good. I'm happy I went through the negative and the ugly because now I appreciate the beauty and all the good. So it was a balancing act.
DT: I think I'm learning that in my career, too, in terms of taking the good with the bad and just appreciating the journey, seeing the beauty in all of it.
PL: You have to. Hit the high road, girl!
DT: Always! And do you ever sit back and recognize the impact you've had on the musical landscape?
PL: I sometimes don't realize it. A lot of times, people have to remind me. Just yesterday, somebody was saying, "You don't know how loved you are by so many people. True love." And I never knew that I would get this much respect and love from my peers and people. So I'm happily surprised.
DT: Happily surprised? Ms. Patti LaBelle?
PL: I'm a doubter of myself sometimes. I never know how people see me as this great thing, because I don't see myself as this great thing. I see myself as a blessed thing. They go over the top sometimes, and I say, "You really feel that way?" But it makes me feel great.
DT: When people hear or reference Patti LaBelle, the first words that come to mind are living legend. So I'm curious, what do the words living legend mean to you?
PL: A compliment, the highest compliment. A lot of my peers are gone, and I'm still living, so if somebody can call you a living legend, it is another blessing by the grace of God that I'm here, and I'm hearing all this great stuff of being a living legend. And so I say thank you.
DT: I want to talk about your cookbook LaBelle Cuisine: Recipes to Sing About, but we're going to have a little fun with it. If you could host a dinner party with only five people currently living or who have passed away, who would be on the guest list?
PL: Oh girl, I have a million! Of course, Barack and Michelle Obama, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, and Nina Simone.
DT: And only highlighting your favorite dishes from your cookbook, what would be on the menu for the evening?
PL: Oh, of course, it would be the eight cheese macaroni, the branzino, any kind of sauteed fish, pasta with a lot of garlic, and a lot of Habanero peppers with turkey sausage or turkey meatballs. Girl, there are so many! Kale greens, I'm known for those. They're awesome how I make them: my sweet potato pie, my cobblers, my everything. I will never stop cooking.
DT: Lastly, to set the mood, what would be the title track for the evening?
PL: The title track for the evening would be "Ain't No Way" by Aretha Franklin. That's one of my favorite songs.