Like one of her singles, for the majority of her career, Bettye LaVette had a series of “almosts.” Today she’s regarded as one of the finest soul survivors, seeing her career finally take orbit and gain respect at the turn of the Century. Today we celebrate her 70th Birthday in conjunction with nearly 55 years of performance.
Born Betty Haskins and raised in Detroit, always a rebel, not quite as refined or regal in the making as her peers that would go on to join Motown or labels in bigger cities, she found herself under the wing of female soul pioneer Johnnie Mae Matthews. By 1962, her “My Man – He’s a Lovin’ Man” found its way to being leased by Atlantic Records and Bettye had herself a Top 10 R&B hit. Unfortunately when her next single went nowhere, she found herself dropped from big time Atlantic. The force of her talents was undeniable, and a deal with Calla Records soon came to replace it by early 1965.
“Let Me Down Easy” has been long regarded as a record in a genre all it’s own. Haunting, wise, accepting and desperate all at once, it’s almost a surprise that it did gain a footing with audiences in 1965. Granted, too blindingly intense to cross over to the Pop Charts despite a performance on Shindig that has sadly vanished from the internet cemented its legacy as one of the best under-represented moments in Soul Music during that year. Of course, Bettye would continue to churn out classics, but “Let Me Down Easy” still stands as a jewel in her crown of artistic successes. May she continue to be vibrant and delight audiences from here on out.