Patti LaBelle opens up to Oprah magazine about her career resurgence at 76, her relationships with Gladys Knight and Nina Simone, her 2020 holiday plans, why she hates being called a diva and more.
On her 2020 holiday plans: She’ll be celebrating in a 13-person bubble: “Because I am an OG, nobody wants to come around me with anything suspect, so we’re not taking chances. Still she’s cooking for friends outside her circle, who’ll pick up their dinner plates at her front gate. “I said, ‘You can eat, but you can’t come in.’” She’s planning to make a virtual appearance during Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen’s CNN New Year’s Eve broadcast—but the stricter precautions in place for filming won’t stop her from having a good time. “I’m going to have fun, I’m going to have ‘California Love’ playing, and dance by myself, because I love to dance,” she says. “California Love” by Tupac Shakur is LaBelle’s favorite song. “People think certain songs are not age-appropriate for a 76-year-old woman,” she says. “‘California Love’ is appropriate for me, and I am 76.”
On auditioning for The Color Purple and Ghost: “Okay, so, listen, I went to an audition for Ghost, got stuck in the Lincoln Tunnel. When I got there, it was too late, because Whoopi had gotten the part that I was going to read for,” she says. “And then, The Color Purple, I was afraid to play Shug Avery. I was afraid of acting, period. And I talked to Steven Spielberg and said, ‘I just can’t pull off this part.’ I knew I couldn’t. Then again, maybe I could have, but I didn’t give myself the chance.”
On her unique relationship with mentor Nina Simone: “She’d say, ‘Did you find me a man yet, girl?’ I’d say, ‘No, honey, I can’t find no man for you,’” LaBelle laughs before discussing how tender their relationship was. “When she was going through her bad times, she let me see her breast. She said, ‘Nobody can see this,’ because she had them removed. She let me see her head, because her hair was gone. She just felt so comfortable with me,” Labelle recalls of Simone’s battle with breast cancer. But then she perks up again at the memory of doing a show at Carnegie Hall, when a handler delivered a paper cup of wine to her dressing room. Simone was incensed. “Honey, she turned that place out! She told me: ‘Don’t you ever drink out of anything except crystal, darling. Just crystal for you, Patti!’ I said, ‘Okay, girl. Take that paper cup back, boo.’ They took the paper cup back and brought me the best glass in the house. Nina said, ‘That’s who you are. You’re a star.’”
On rumors of a rivalry between her and Gladys Knight: “[Verzuz] was a day that me and Gladys got married. That’s my best friend. It was like we were a real couple of OGs in the house. There’s no competition with me and Gladys,” she explains. “It’s like we’re family. There’s never anything for us to talk negatively about each other. Now, we might talk about somebody behind their back, but I’ll fight anybody who says anything bad about Gladys. There’s never been ‘You sing better than I’ or ‘I sing better than you,’ and I think that has a lot to deal with getting a good friend in this industry, because it’s always peer pressure. It’s always somebody trying to outdo you. And, with us, we don’t roll like that.”
Patti on her alter ego, Priscilla: “She is a mess,” she laughs. “I am a Gemini, I have so many personalities. I never know when she’s going to show up and show out, and a lot of times, she shows out—and then, the next day, I feel bad for the person who had to deal with Priscilla, because she’s a witch with a capital B, and I can’t help it.”
On her favorite people to cook for, including Mick Jagger & Whoopi Goldberg: “I’ve cooked for Mick Jagger, I’ve cooked for Arsenio [Hall], I’ve cooked for Richard Pryor. I’ve cooked for Whoopi Goldberg, who hates green vegetables,” she says. And then, with a bit of playful mischief: “The only thing green she wants is money.”
On the recent controversy around her republican nephew, Byl Holte: “Guess what? I didn’t choose my family. I choose my friends,” she says. “I love Billy. He has a Republican mind. And, guess what? I don’t. But do I hate him for having the mind that he has? No, I can’t.”
[Photo Credit: Whitney Thomas for Oprah Magazine]
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