Review: Patti LaBelle at The Music Center at Strathmore

After more than 50 years in the music business, Patti LaBelle can still pack a house. The fans came out full force to enjoy an evening of old R&B favorites sung by a funky diva who sings from the heart. Performing two sold-out shows at The Music Center at Strathmore, Patti LaBelle is a musical treasure whose appeal transcends time. And if she wanted to, the beloved “Ms. Patti” could surely be on the music scene for another 50.

Patti LaBelle. Photo courtesy of The Music Center at Strathmore.
Patti LaBelle. Photo courtesy of The Music Center at Strathmore.

Strathmore brought a legendary great to its stage in presenting Patti LaBelle. Crowned the ‘Godmother of Soul’ many years ago and ranked by Rolling Stone as one of the 100 Greatest Singers of all time, Grammy Award-winning LaBelle has never rested on her laurels. She continues to sing, write books, act on stage, film and TV, and bring her culinary talents to the marketplace. And did you know that Ms. Patti put the copyright on sweet potato pie? She’s also been recognized for her humanitarian work and has received many awards for helping children through organizations such as Big Sisters and supporting educational initiatives of the United Negro College Fund and others.

No wonder that Patti LaBelle opened the show with “New Attitude,” her signature song as LaBelle adds new excitement to songs we’ve heard many times over the years. And when she turns up the heat on oldies like “Somebody Loves You Baby” and “Right Kinda Lover,” the memories return; you get your groove back; and it’s as if you are hearing Patti’s chart-topping R&B for the very first time.

The audience was completely in sync with the mood and every moment as Patti sang fifteen well-known favorites such as “If You Asked Me To” and “On My Own”. “Love, Need and Want You” was romantically dreamy and a grace note that gave way to a particularly emotional moment of Patti’s infectious energy.

LaBelle’s dramatic soprano is strong as ever and at 72 years of age, she still has the breath control and three-octave range to hold an audience on edge as she hits those high notes and holds them for what seems like an eternity. Patti LaBelle has her own favorite musical artists, however, and she’s paired with them over the years. She reminisced about her duet with Teddi Pendergrass on “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” which they sang decades ago right here in Constitution Hall. And Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgetting” was the perfect spotlight for solos from her funky 7-piece band that included acoustic piano, electric keyboard and organ, lead and bass guitars, percussion with bongos, drums, and a knockout trio of backup singers who can each hold their own on any stage.

LaBelle has no problem sharing the spotlight and each of the trio showcased their rafter-raising voices in rousing solos that were at times black-bottom bluesy, can-I-get-a witness Gospel or just plain smooth and mellow. Patti LaBelle’s backup is the bomb. “Stay with Me,” Sam Smith’s contemporary hit, received Patti’s magical touch but funkier than the Brit’s. It melded into concert-turned-revival complete with recitation of the 23rd Psalm to a pulsing beat.

And no Patti LaBelle concert is complete without “Lady Marmalade.” Can you believe that she’s been singing this song since 1975 when it hit #1 on Billboard? This thumping classic still sounds good and the audience still goes wild. Patti created some fun by inviting four guys from the audience to join her own stage for “Lady Marmalade.” This fearless foursome had no qualms about making complete fools of themselves, which they did, singing, dancing and willingly doing “anything for Ms. Patti!”

One of the most beautiful songs of all time, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was a heavenly experience that closed a fabulous show. LaBelle’s piercing resonance transported you to another realm that was truly beyond by just the hush of her voice. Such is true artistry. For encore, Patti LaBelle sang an emotion-packed “You Are My Friend” as a slide show of popular celebrities’ photos In Memoriam, including pictures of close family members who have passed away, lit the background.

Patti LaBelle puts the grace in the word gracious. Sitting atop a side-stage white Baby Grand perches several pairs of Patti’s hip, high fashion stilettos. It’s the perfect optic to image the elegant but down-to-earth LaBelle. This songstress has the chops and the charisma to bring a crowd to its feet on the first song and to keep them there until the standing ovation.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

Patti LaBelle performed June 30-July 1, 2016 at The Music Center at Strathmore – 10701 Rockville Pike, in North Bethesda, MD. For future Strathmore events, go their performance calendar.

Patti LaBelle’s website.


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