Shot at the Racquet Club of Philadelphia. Photograph by Jonathan Pushnik. People start to whisper.
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Can we sit there instead? He looks frazzled.
I like to be where the action is. There was the altar of Beulah Baptist Church in West Philadelphia, where a year-old Patti earned her first standing ovation. When they recognize me, I feel blessed. But lately, Patti LaBelle is also being recognized for something else — her culinary chops. Yes, you can find the Godmother of Soul at Walmart. Patti LaBelle still has something to prove. PAT- TI. It was , a few weeks before Thanksgiving. Patti LaBelle had just launched her line of pies, exclusive to Walmart, a couple months before. It had been relatively successful — as successful as a line of pies can be in a store not particularly known for its bakery.
But God provides, she says, and, well, God just happened to provide her with James Wright, a guy in a bejeweled baseball cap who has a powerhouse voice, a larger-than-life personality, and a fierce YouTube following. Wright, who lives in L. The video catapulted Wright to semi-semi-stardom he made the talk-show rounds and nabbed a role on a reality TV show , but, more importantly for Patti, it triggered a feeding frenzy: According to a Walmart spokesperson, in the 72 hours after the video aired, the company sold about one pie every second.
Per pie. At her house. For Thanksgiving dinner. Like, oh my God. Photograph courtesy of the Cooking Channel. And there was the egg sandwich, which is probably the one thing that Patti LaBelle regrets. Her youngest sister, Jackie, was sick — brain cancer; all three of her sisters died of cancer before age 44 — and she called Patti to ask for an egg sandwich. That will always follow me. Everything else, though, Ms. And I am. Not many people would come to South Philly back then, but you did, and we had a great time. Patti is delighted at hearing this forgotten story from her childhood.
I went with Kenny and Lawrence. Later, I ask her if she remembers that night in South Philly. One of her stories is of growing up in a middle-class home on Washington Avenue. Patti was the third of the four girls, born in to a train factory worker and a homemaker who divorced when she was young.
She was inspired to sing by her father, a part-time lounge singer who crooned melodies as he walked around the house and worked in the garage. Patti sang classics into a broom in her bedroom, sometimes serenading the family pets, and she probably would have been content with this small, rather oblivious audience had her mother not forced her to join the choir at the local Baptist church.
And she probably would have been content with singing in the chorus, too, had the choir director, Harriett Chapman, not plucked her from the ranks and forced her to sing lead. Kenny Gamble remembers sitting on stoops, hiding the beer. Word travels fast, especially in Philly, and soon people from outside the neighborhood recognized how good she was. In , Patti formed a group, the Ordettes, with high-school classmates. About a year later, the Ordettes shed three of the original members, replacing them with a trio of girls from Trenton and Camden: Nona Hendryx, Sarah Dash and Cindy Birdsong.
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