‘Duke Ellington School of the Arts presents An Evening with Patti LaBelle’ by Mike Spain

Patti LaBelle performed at The Kennedy Center Concert Hall last night., as part of the Performance Series of Legends to benefit the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. The concert is the school’s biggest fundraiser and the lack of empty seats ensured the benefit’s success. The best part of the evening was that students had a chance to perform at The Kennedy Center with Jamar Jones and Patti LaBelle.

Patti LaBelle. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.
Patti LaBelle. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

Jamar Jones, who is probably better known for his music producing, arranging, and composing skills, showed he was very skilled on the piano as well. Currently he is working on his debut album, and if it sounds anything like the way he played tonight, you will want to buy a copy. Three dancers performed a poem called “17” dedicated to Patti LaBelle, as Jones performed backup music with the school’s orchestra and show choir. The biggest highlight from his set was the piano duet he did with Julian Spires. Julian Spires is an aspiring student, music director and pianist  at the Duke Ellington. The two played on pianos across the stage from one another. It was great to see Julian’s smile as he played with Jones.

Leon Harris from WJLA-TV served as the evening’s Master of Ceremonies. After Jamar Jones’ set of instrumental piano he introduced Rory Pullens, the school’s CEO and Peggy Cooper Cafritz – the co-founder of the school who spoke about the school and then introduced Patti LaBelle.

A few minutes later, Patti LaBelle took to the stage and sang her hit “New Attitude.”  She continued with her first hit “If Only You Knew.” The next song featured an impressive guitar solo by Derrick L. Cummings where he showed a bit of flash playing the guitar behind his back. Reginald L. Paul followed with a great saxophone solo.

“Love, Need, and Want You,” “Somebody Loves You,” and “On My Own” followed as Patti LaBelle kept the hits flowing. Before “On My Own,” she said some kind words about her ex-husband of 36 years, who was in the audience. She sang “When You Talk about Love” just for him.

Next came her popular disco song hit “Lady Marmalade,” which the audience loved. She then invited four guys from the audience to come on stage and sing and dance. This was quite humorous, and the audience responded with lots of laughter.

The evening was truly about the school and the students, so it was fitting Patti LaBelle brought the student musicians back on stage to finish out her set. She performed a beautiful version of “You Are My Friend” and ended her set with a unique take on “Somewhere over the Rainbow.” During her last song she kicked off her shoe and it flew across the stage. As the song ended the audience gave her a warm standing ovation. She came out and did an encore of “I Believe.” The audience gave her another warm ovation. Patti’s whole set was finished under an hour, including her encore.

And although there was a legend in the house, I was most impressed and encouraged by the performance of students from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Kudos to the school and to their talented students – the stars of the future.

Running time: Approximately two hours, including the stage setup between Jamar Jones and Patti LaBelle’s set.


Patti LaBelle performed one-night only on March 25, 2013 at The Kennedy Center Concert Hall – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For more information on future Kennedy Center events, visit their website.


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