Born Patricia Louise Holte in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on May 24, 1944, Patti LaBelle was already showcasing her gospel-length vocals by the time she was a teenager. After winning a high school singing competition, LaBelle formed her first girl group, the Ordettes, with fellow classmates in 1960.
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Later changing their name to Patti LaBelle and the Blue Belles, the group broke the Top 40 with songs “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” “Down the Aisle (The Wedding Song),” and “I Sold My Heart to the Junkman” in the 1960s. By the 1970s, the group changed their name to LaBelle—a new surname given to Patti by a former label owner—and released their only No. 1 hit, the sexually charged “Lady Marmalade.”
The song had a second life in 2001 when it was covered by Christina Aguilera, P!nk, Lil’ Kim, and Mýa for the soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann’s musical drama, Moulin Rouge! and hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for a second time since it was first released in 1974.
Throughout the years, LaBelle collaborated with everyone from Gladys Knight, Prince, and Burt Bacharach, among other artists. In 1982, she sang the Grammy-nominated “The Best is Yet to Come” with the late jazz saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. and later recorded three duets with the late singer and producer, Bobby Womack, for his 1984 album Poet II, which included their R&B hit “Love Has Finally Come at Last.”
From the 1980s through the 2010s, LaBelle has also jumped in and out of acting, appearing on The Cosby Show spinoff A Different World and American Horror Story: Freak Show, as well as a more recent appearance competing on Dancing with the Stars in 2015 at the age of 70.
Commemorating her more than 60 years as an artist, here are 10 hit songs pulled from Patti LaBelle’s lengthy solo career.
1. “You Are My Friend” (1978)
Written by Patti LaBelle, Armstead Edwards, James “Budd” Ellison
The very first single she released as a solo artist is still one of Patti LaBelle’s signature songs. “You Are My Friend” was the second single off her 1978 self-titled debut, which she co-wrote with her then-husband Armstead Edwards for their son Zuri.
You are my friend
I never knew it ’til then
My friend, my friend
You hold my hand
You might not say a word
But I see your tears when I show my pain
2. “If Only You Knew” (1983)
Written by Cynthia Biggs. Dexter Wansel, Kenneth Gamble
Released as the first single off Patti LaBelle’s sixth solo album, I’m in Love Again, “If Only You Knew” spent four weeks at No. 1 on the R&B chart in 1983. Though it only hit No. 46 on the Hot 100, the song was LaBelle’s first to crack into the pop charts and is another one of her signature songs.
I dream of moments we share
But you’re not there
I’m living in a fantasy
‘Cause you don’t even suspect
Could probably care less
About the changes I’ve been going through
3. “Love, Need and Want You” (1983)
Written by Walter Sigler and Kenneth Gamble
“Love, Need and Want You” gave LaBelle another R&B hit when it peaked at No. 10, following the success of “If You Only Knew.” The second single off I’m in Love Again, the song has been sampled in songs by Ciara, Outkast, Kelly Rowland, and a number of other artists over the years.
I’ve got this burning desire
My soul’s on fire
You can count on me
4. “New Attitude” (1984)
Written by Jon Gilutin, Bunny Hull, Sharon Robinson
“New Attitude” was recorded by LaBelle for the soundtrack to the 1984 action comedy Beverly Hills Cop, starring Eddie Murphy. On regular rotation at most dance clubs in ’84, “New Attitude” catapulted the singer right to No. 1 on the Hot Dance Music chart and pushed LaBelle higher up in the pop category. The single also peaked at No. 3 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and was LaBelle’s first big hit as a solo artist.
I was running into overload
That was extreme
I took it so high so low so long
There was no where to go like a bad dream
5. “Stir It Up” (1984)
Written by Dan Sembello, Allee Willis
The Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack also featured another hit performed by LaBelle, “Stir It Up,” which reached No. 5 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and won the Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media in 1986. In 2005, LaBelle re-recorded the song with Joss Stone for the soundtrack to the Disney animated film Chicken Little.
I can´t sit here while I go nowhere
Chase my dreams through the polluted air
Walking on a wire, running out of time
There´s no room in this ol´ heart of mine
Bill collectors waiting down the hall
Neighbors scream and crack the bedroom wall
Nerves jump off the pavement, passion hits the street
Angels cookin´ in the city heat
World´s too crazy, I can´t take no more
I won´t stay here locked behind the door
6. “On My Own” (1985)
Written by Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager
Originally recorded by Dionne Warwick for her 1985 album, Friends, “On My Own” was turned into a duet for Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald. Released on LaBelle’s eighth album, Winner in You, “On My Own” went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 within three weeks and became the most successful single for both artists. The video for the R&B ballad featured LaBelle and McDonald on opposite coasts singing about getting a divorce, even though they weren’t married.
Now I know what loving you cost
Now we’re up to talking divorce and we weren’t even married…
On my own… once again… now…
One more time… by… myself
No one said it was easy
No-no-no ooh no
But it once was so easy
7. “If You Asked Me To” (1989)
Written by Diane Warren
Released on LaBelle’s ninth album, Be Yourself, “If You Asked Me To” was also featured in the 1989 James Bond movie Licence to Kill, starring Timothy Dalton as 007. In 1992, Celine Dion covered the song on her self-titled album, and “If You Asked Me To” reached No. 4 on the hot 100 charts. Written by Diane Warren, the soulful ballad tells the story of a woman willing to forgive a lover.
Somehow ever since I’ve been around you
Can’t go back to being on my own
Can’t help feeling, darlin’, since I’ve found you
That I’ve found my home
That I’m finally home
I said I’d never let nobody get too close to me, darlin’
I said I needed, needed to be free
8. “Yo Mister” (1989)
Written and produced by Prince
After Chaka Khan released her cover of Prince‘s “I Feel For You” in 1984, Prince had his sights set on working with another R&B singer— LaBelle—and had already had “Yo Mister” written a year and a half before she would record it. When the time came, Prince’s collaborator, Sheila E, connected the two artists. LaBelle went to his studio at Paisley Park in 1988 and recorded “Yo Mister” and another Prince-penned track off Be Yourself, “Love 89,” which he co-wrote with Sheena Easton.
Released on her ninth album Be Yourself, which hit the R&B chart at No. 6, the song also features Prince on backing vocals and playing various instruments on the track. The song follows the story of a young woman led astray and her relationship with her father.
“He [Prince] treated me like he was my son [and] I was his mother,” remembered LaBelle during an interview with Andy Cohen in 2020. “He just treated me like his mother, and then when he did the Arsenio Hall Show, he said he wouldn’t do it unless I came with him. So I came, sat on the couch, I didn’t say a word. He had this great feeling for me, and I feel so proud and blessed.”
But she needs you right now mister
She ain’t got long to live
It’s easy to say, I love you?
But it’s harder to forgive
Yo, mister how’s your daughter?
9. “Somebody Loves You Baby (You Know Who It Is)” (1991)
Written by Bunny Sigler, Eugene “Lambchops” Curry
Off her 1991 album, Burnin,’ which also features duets with Michael Bolton and Gladys Knight, as well as “Release Yourself,” a track that reunited her with her former LaBelle partners Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash, “Somebody Loves You Baby (You Know Who It Is),” a song about a love bordering on infatuation, hit No. 1 on the R&B chart. For the video, LaBelle is filmed performing at the Apollo Theater in New York City.
I’m under your spell
I don’t want to break free
You can make a slave out of me
I worship you and nobody else
I pledge my love to you forever
10. “The Right Kinda Lover” (1994)
Written by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis
Written by the songwriting duo of James Samuel “Jimmy Jam” Harris III and Terry Steven Lewis (both inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2022), “The Right Kinda Lover” was the first single off LaBelle’s 12th album, Gems. Just like “Stir It Up” and “New Attitude,” which appeared in Beverly Hills Cop a decade earlier, the uptempo “The Right Kinda Lover” appeared on the soundtrack of the third installment of the film with Eddie Murphy.
Every night when I get down on my knees to pray
I thank the Lord for sending Mister Right my way
This kind of love had to come from Heaven down
I ain’t never gonna let him go
Because I need this kind of man around
Photo: Paul Morigi / Getty Images