Singer Patti LaBelle has enjoyed unusual longevity as a hit-maker in pop and R&B, beginning in an all-girl singing group called the Ordettes in 1959 but finding her greatest successes decades later.
As a girl, she sang in church and in school productions, and formed the Ordettes with school friends. In 1960, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash (from the Del Capris) joined the act, followed by Cindy Birdsong. The group signed to Newtown Records in 1961 and changed the group's name to Patti LaBelle and Her Bluebelles.
The act scored its first funk hit in 1962 with “I Sold My Heart to the Junkman,” but controversy erupted over charges that another group was actually on the recording. In 1963, the LaBelle and her Bluebelles released “Down the Aisle (The Wedding Song),” which became a top-40 hit without controversy.
By 1965, they were signed to Atlantic, and released a popular rendition of “Over the Rainbow” (from “The Wizard of Oz”). Cindy Birdsong quit the group in 1967 to join the Supremes (replacing Florence Ballard). The group was dropped from Atlantic and changed its name to Labelle.
The group Labelle began to change its image with a self-titled debut in 1971 for Warner Bros., opening for major rock acts like the Rolling Stones and the Who on the road. And in 1973, Labelle went glam and began appearing in flamboyant hair and silver, space-age costumes.
In 1974, the act released its most successful album, “Nightbirds,” produced for Epic by Allen Toussaint in New Orleans (with backup from the Meters). It included the seductive funk single “Lady Marmalade,” an international hit that reached the top of the U.S. pop chart.
The group broke up in 1977 after 16 years together. Patti LaBelle began her solo career to modest success, releasing a self-titled solo debut that year. The single “It's a Joy to Have Your Love” was a top-20 R&B hit. She joined Al Green in a 1982 Broadway revival of “Your Arms Too Short to Box with God: A Soaring Celebration in Song and Dance,” a biblical musical.
The singer finally saw success to match her popular '70s work in the mid-1980s, beginning with the 1983 gold-selling album “I'm in Love Again,” including the singles “If Only You Knew” (No. 1 R&B) and “Love, Need and Want You” (a song later sampled by OutKast for its “Ghetto Musick”).
She soon scored the pop hits “New Attitude” and “Stir It Up,” both recorded for the Grammy-winning soundtrack for the 1984 film “Beverly Hills Cop,” starring Eddie Murphy. She performed at Live Aid in 1985. LaBelle scored her first No. 1 pop hit with “On My Own,” a duet with Michael McDonald (of the Doobie Brothers). It appeared on her first No. 1, platinum-selling solo album, “Winner in You.”
She followed that album in 1989 with “Be Yourself” to lesser sales, though Prince wrote and produced the track “Yo Mister,” reaching No. 6 on the R&B chart.
In 1991, the group Labelle reunited for the song "Release Yourself," from LaBelle's 1991 solo album “Burnin',” which included several other R&B hits. They reunited again for the 1995 dance track “Turn It Out.”
In 2001, a new hit version of Lady Marmalade was recorded for the film “Moulin Rouge!” by Christina Aguilera, Mya, Lil' Kim and Pink. At the Grammy Awards the following year, Patti LaBelle made a surprise appearance during their performance of the song.
LaBelle released a gospel album in 2006, and two years later recorded a full album reunion with the group Labelle. She also established a food company that marketed sauces and other food products under the name Lady Marmalade.