Patti LaBelle will accept an award at the Apollo Theater’s 75th-anniversary benefit June 8, but she’s not singing. Which is a good thing, since the last time she sang there, on May 7, things didn’t go so well. “I’m having a senior moment,” she told the audience while belting “Lady Marmalade” with two electric fans aimed at her face (“The menopause gets you. You want to stick your head in a freezer sometimes,” she said, noting that she’d been suffering for fourteen years), and she was hoarse, having sung the national anthem in the rain for the Newark Bears. Voice problems and hot flashes aside, LaBelle, 65, loves the Apollo, where she had her start with the Bluebelles, a girl group, back in 1961. “I call it the garden for black talent. You grow in that garden, and it either makes you or breaks you,” she said. “I remember when we were not making very much money, we’d buy hot dogs and keep them on the lightbulbs all day. And gentlemen would come by selling clothes that were ‘hot’—$500 dresses for 25 bucks or whatever.” (Her bandmate, Sarah Dash, recalled, “One time this man had stolen all left shoes, and he’s sitting there going, ‘I know I can get a pair somewhere!’ ”). Back then, LaBelle was something of a card shark, beating every member of the Temptations. “She was the best!” said bandmate Nona Hendryx. “She always took everybody’s money.”
LaBelle’s Hot Times at the Apollo
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