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Rosa Parks Inspires Labelle Reunion

04:04 AM Friday 1/16/09 | |

Since Labelle called it quits in 1976, there have been calls for Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash to put the group back together but, for one reason or another, a full reunion never happened.

Just before Labelle headed out on its first full tour in 30 years, Hendryx told Pollstar it was Civil Rights Movement icon Rosa Parks who finally reunited the trio.

“We’d always talked about doing it and it just never seemed to be the right time in terms of our individual lives, especially with Patti’s career,” Hendryx said. “It took coming together to do a recording for a film that I was scoring. I was able to get Patti and Sarah for that.”

Just before the regrouped Labelle was to head into the studio to begin work on the film project, Hendryx found a song she had been working on with some writers in Holland. The track was a tribute called “Dear Rosa” and the singer was composing lyrics for it. Parks died while the work was in progress.

Working with LaBelle and Dash again gave Hendryx an idea.

“I asked Patti and Sarah about recording it at the same time we were working on the film score and they said yes,” she explained. “One thing just kind of led to another. We really felt like, ‘Wow, we could do this. Do it while we’re all still alive – and relatively healthy.’ And that’s how it all began.”

Download “Dear Rosa” (Right click and choose “Save link as” or “Save target as”)

The ladies kicked off their reunion trek in style at New York City’s famed Apollo Theatre in December. And although the initial run of shows is in fewer than a dozen cities – New York City; Chicago; Atlantic City, N.J.; Los Angeles; Oakland, Calif.; Washington, D.C.; Atlanta; Miami and Detroit – fans can expect to see Labelle out on the road for a while.

“It’s down to everybody’s schedule,” Hendryx said. “You know there are different things going on with each one of us. And Patti does have a very heavy schedule because she has a lot of things that she’s doing. But we’ll continue probably over the next year and a half, maybe two years to take different time periods and do shows.”

Labelle’s backing musicians are members of Hendryx’s and LaBelle’s longtime touring bands.

But before they could hit the road, all three members felt that new material was a must.

“We did the album because to get back together and do a tour, we didn’t want to just go back try to recapture what we did 30 years ago. Because that was impossible.”

And was working together again after all these years like riding a bicycle or had the passing years changed the group’s dynamic?

“It was a bit of both. It was different because we’re different and we were working in a different way. We normally only worked with one producer, but we ended up working with three producers. So that was very different. And we weren’t all just holed up somewhere making a record. We were all off doing different things and coming back and forth and rearranging.

“You know, the actual in-the-studio part of it, that was pretty much just going in with musicians and cutting. That felt kind of the same.”

Labelle warmed up for its first tour in more than three decades with what Hendryx called “a very truncated show” at a party for Out Magazine in November.

“That was great,” she said. “That was the first live thing – we’d been doing television and some in-studio radio short bits and building up, but the Apollo is the first full concert.”

  • Labelle

    Nona Hendryx, Patti LaBelle and Sarah Dash.
    November 17, 2008

    (Kwaku Alston)


Fans who are expecting the things besides music that go along with a live Labelle show – the gravity-defying hair, the wild makeup and the out-of-this-world costumes – won’t be disappointed, but they should be ready for a few changes.

“We can’t do some of the things that we did before, because this is a different world that we live in,” Hendryx explained. “Back then, we did things that were outrageously expensive, but weren’t expensive because people were just having fun making things and doing things. Now it’s like, ‘OK, that’ll be $10,000 for that headdress.” And you just can’t do that because it’s just not really economically sound.

“So what we’re going to do is to bring some of that to the stage. But it’s really about the singing, the songs and the energy and how we perform.”

Although most people are familiar with Patti LaBelle’s career in the last 30 years, Hendryx has also been extremely busy, writing and producing for a multitude of other artists in addition to performing. So when it came time for Labelle to hit the studio, how did she know what songs to bring?

“There are certain songs that are Labelle songs. And there are those that are not,” Hendryx said. “They’re either Nona songs or, if I write for somebody else, I write for that spirit or that entity. Labelle songs are very specific in that they’re pretty much written with Patti’s voice in my head.”

While fans are thrilled with a new Labelle album and tour, Hendryx hasn’t released a solo project since 1992’s You Have To Cry Sometime, an album of duets with Billy Vera.

Is a new one on the horizon now that she’s gotten fired up by the Labelle reunion?

“I’ve been planning one for like 10 years,” she said. “And it’s still coming. I’m working on it.”

Even with all the songwriting and collaboration she’s done over the years, Hendryx said there are still lots of people she’d like the chance to work with.

“I’ve always wanted to work with Missy Eliott. I’d love to work with Gnarls Barkley. I think they’re pretty eclectic. I’ve also always wanted to work with Dr. Dre. There are lots of people whose work I admire.”


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