Actor Kevin Bacon hosts the February 20, 2001, premier of this episode, entitled, "Patti LaBelle: Surviving with Soul," which Harry Smith narrates, detailing the life and career of Patricia Louise Holte, from her 1944 birth, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, through her many ups and downs, as she becomes Rhythm & Blues and Pop Music star Patti LaBelle.
"Patsy" or "Patti," as her family tenderly addresses the fourth of five children born to Bertha Robinson Holte and railroad worker Henry Holte Sr. (along with Vivian, Barbara, Jackie and Henry "Junior"), often retreats to her room to sing to escape heated domestic arguments. She also finds sanctuary and solace in her basement hiding place until her parents separate, and her mother's new beau discovers the child and repeatedly abuses her.
But when she sings in her church, Patti finally begins "to connect with the world" around her, as she finally discovers appreciation for her fine talents, which she also displays at her school, where she receives recognition for her fine performance of the song, "You'll Never Walk Alone."
In 1962, Patti teams with fellow singers Cindy Birdsong, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash to form "The Bluebelles," to perform upon the Philadelphia-based national television program "Dick Clark's American Bandstand," with their well-received number "I Sold My Heart To The Junkman," which lands the group a recording contract.
Unlike a number of Rhythm & Blues/Pop Music acts of the 1960's, The Bluebelles haven't a studio as Motown to promote their recordings and concert bookings, and so they miss out upon potential opportunities for national recognition even though they display a great deal of talent. But the lovely Patti does receive a new stage name in the process: LaBelle, which is French for "beautiful."
By 1970, many changes occur on the American music scene, and now the Bluebelles must re-invent their act especially after Cindy Birdsong leaves the group to join the Supremes, and so Patti, Nona and Sarah become known as "LaBelle," and launch a number of recordings, and performing in bright costumes and lavish space-age hairstyles, which certainly attract attention.
In 1974, the group LaBelle releases its biggest hit, "Lady Marmalade," which attracts the attention of New York City's Metropolitan Opera House, which books the group, for the three to become the first African-American group to perform at "The Met," and also, simultaneously, the first contemporary pop group to open at "The Met."
In 1975, the group LaBelle becomes the first African-American vocal group to be featured on a cover of "Rolling Stone Magazine."
But Patti's life soon becomes anything but a bowl of carnations, as trouble erupts within the group, which causes Nona to depart, as well as turmoil in Patti's family life, with long terms of separation between her and her husband and son, in addition to the fact that she loses her dear mother and two elder sisters within the span of seven years, and not long afterward loses her father and younger sister, all causing Patti to re-examine her priorities, while she experiences physical decline on top of everything else.
And yet Patti manages to persevere through the difficult challenges which life has to offer, as she decides to strengthen her relationship with son, Zuri, and to care for sister Jackie's orphaned children, Stayce and William, and continuing to share her renowned cooking expertise, while continuing to record and to perform as radiantly as ever.
In addition to her other fine talents, Patti also has also authored her autobiography, "Don't Block the Blessings: Revelations of a Lifetime" (1996), plus a cookbook, "LaBelle Cuisine: Recipes to Sing About" (1999).
Interview Guests for this episode consist of Patti LaBelle (Self), Stayce Holte (Niece), Armstead Edwards (former Husband), Zuri Edwards (Son), Sarah Dash (LaBelle Singer), Eileen Moran Brown (High School Teacher), Norma Gordon (Hairdresser), Zara Chapman Bradley (Childhood Friend), George Peters (Childhood Friend), Chubby Checker (Recording Artist), Luther Vandross (Recording Artist), Arsenio Hall (Entertainer/Friend), James R. "Budd" Ellison (Music Director), Kenny Gamble (Music Producer), Allen Toussaint (Music Producer), Michael Musto ("Village Voice" Reporter), David Wild (Senior Editor, "Rolling Stone"), and Rudy Galvo (Makeup Artist).
Still Photographs include Miss LaBelle and many of her relatives, friends and associates, as parents, Bertha and Henry, sisters, Vivian, Barbara and Jackie, brother, Henry Junior, singers Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Cindy Birdsong, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash, Otis Williams and the Temptations, the Rolling Stones, and Harold D. Robinson.
Archive film footage includes Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx, Sarah Dash, Cindy Birdsong, Diana Ross, U.S. President William J. Clinton, U.S. First Lady Hillary Clinton, plus scenes from Woodstock Festival (1969).
Patti's song performances here include "I Sold My Heart To The Junkman" (with the Bluebelles) (1962), "You'll Never Walk Alone" (with the Bluebelles) (1964), "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" (with the Bluebelles) (1966), "Touch Me All Over" (with LaBelle) (1970), "Lady Marmalade" (with LaBelle) (1974), "If Only You Knew" (1983), "New Attitude" (1985), "I Want to Know What Love Is" (collaboration, "Motown Returns to the Apollo") (1985), "We Are the World" (collaboration, "Live Aid") (1985), "On My Own" (with Michael McDonald) (1986), and "If You Asked Me To" (1989).
Television Clips include a screen glimpse of Patti LaBelle through the years, in scenes from "American Bandstand" (circa 1962), "Motown Returns to the Apollo" (1985), "Live Aid" (1985), plus Patti's singing with Bill and Hillary Clinton at a "Happy Birthday" White House bash (circa 1994), as well as several video clips with her singing.
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