When I consider the Gay Icons, I always consider Patti LaBelle.
Born Patricia Louise Holte-Edwards in Philadelphia on this very day, Labelle was a member The Bluebelles, regulars on the bill at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. In the early 1960s, just one of several popular girl-groups, The Bluebelles had success doing covers of chestnuts like You’ll Never Walk Alone and Somewhere Over The Rainbow. In 1967, the aptly named Cindy Birdsong left the group to join Diana Ross as one of The Supremes, leaving the other Bluebelles to pull it together.
In 1970, with sales lagging, The Bluebelles were dropped from their label. The girls: LaBelle, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash changed the name of the group to Labelle and their look reflected the 1970s glam-rock fashion and they pushed the limits with their songs.
The first single off their album, Nightbirds (1974) was about a special lady down in old New Orleans. Lady Marmalade became LaBelle’s first Number One hit in 12 years. They become the first pop act to play at the Metropolitan Opera House and the first black vocal group to be featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
At the close of the 1970s, Patti LaBelle went it alone. She scored a Number One hit with the lovely On My Own, ironically, sung as a duet (with Michael MacDonald). The 1980s were LaBelle’s decade with hits songs like New Attitude (1984) and Stir It Up (1985).
LaBelle, the girl-group, reunited in 2008 for a top-selling album and a world tour. Patti LaBelle was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009.
She has survived 55 years in the music industry while never losing support from her friends in the LGBTQ community. Plus, she is very much loved by drag queens everywhere. LaBelle:
“That’s why I think I’m still in this business because my gay following keeps me going. I’m every gay man’s mother, come and sit on mama’s lap! It ain’t no sugarmama stuff either… we just really connect. Maybe because I looked like a drag queen back in the day and I still can go there if I want.
Gay people, they can keep you in style. You better have a queen up there in that closet, honey. Trust me: It’s not that only gay people have style. I’m straight and I have style. I can dress myself, but it’s good to have a queen with a great eye. Most straight men can’t do hair, they can’t do makeup and they can’t be a stylist. I don’t know if there are any lesbian stylists, but it’s usually men who want to emulate a woman.
I know some of my gay friends, they make their faces up and they put on drag. Like RuPaul. You can’t find a woman that looks as good as RuPaul… not many! So they practice what they preach. That’s why, honey, if you say a straight man is coming to do my hair or my face…leave them home! When I wore those outrageous hairstyles, I guess they said: ‘She’s really out’. I’m not a gay woman; I’m just a woman who really loves people.“
LaBelle is an accomplished writer, with a tasty memoir, Don’t Block The Blessings (1997), and three cookbooks aimed at people who suffer from Diabetes: LaBelle Cuisine: Recipes To Sing About (1998) Patti Labelle’s Lite Cuisine (2004) and Recipes For The Good Life (2008).
She has 14 Grammy Award nominations with three wins, and has sold over 60 million records.
Today also marks the birthday of musical legend Bob Dylan, who is decidedly not gay, or in any way a Gay Icon, but a favorite at my house. So I have paired them together today, LaBelle doing Dylan: