Gemini Roll Call continues today with one of the most versatile singers from the sign of the twins. For 55 years, Patti LaBelle has morphed from mere Girl Group lead singer to legend. Not only a singer, she’s an author, advocate and actor that shows no signs of slowing down as she turns 71 today.
Throughout The Sixties, however, her, Sarah Dash, Nona Hendryx and Cindy Birdsong crafted a stellar reputation as one of the finest girl groups on the road in search for a breakthrough hit. The controversy over their name being plastered on The Starlets “I Sold My Heart To The Junkman” didn’t help their start, but they did manage to carve out a few chart efforts for themselves between 1963-65 on various Philadelphia labels.
At the end of 1965, Jerry Wexler, fully impressed by their pedigree, signed them to a 5 year deal with Atlantic records. Wexler himself said that he thought too hard about trying to turn LaBelle and the Bluebelles into Atlantic’s answer to The Supremes. There’s a huge heap of irony there as Cindy Birdsong went on to be a Supreme in the Summer of ’67. I’m not too sure that Wexler’s assessment of The Bluebelles discography at Atlantic is accurate though; I’ve always found it to be trying out different styles; most of which fit, but none being too consistent.
Today, we’re offering up their powerhouse “Whisper to a Scream” themed demand that was their first single release for the label. The Motown connection continues as tune composers Pam Sawyer and Lori Burton would go onto be staff writers at the Detroit label. However, the shimmering string laden beat ballad that this underrated tune represents has no resemblance to the contemporary Motown sound of 1965; perhaps then for the worst and now for all the unique better. Also, it’s such a fine showcase of Patti’s full range and the soaring, supersonic harmonies of The Bluebelles.
Happy Birthday Patti LaBelle, may you continue to kick your shoes off on stage for many years to come.