Aretha Franklin Dies

Patti LaBelle on First Jazz Album & Taking Chances: 'I Don't Have Any Reason to Chill'

Derek Blanks
Patti LaBelle

“I was always afraid of jazz music.”

That’s a telling comment, especially coming from Patti LaBelle. The Grammy Award winner and Grammy Hall of Fame member is well-known for being able to sing rings around all kinds of songs, including her soaring take on The Wizard of Oz gem “Over the Rainbow.”

But over 18 months, LaBelle conquered that fear. And now fans can hear her unique vocal stylings on Bel Hommage, the singer’s first jazz album out now -- as well as her first studio album in more than 10 years. Among the classics featured on the 13-track set are “The Jazz in You,” “Here’s to Life,” “Moody’s Mood for Love” (featuring Kem), “Don’t Explain” and “Wild Is the Wind,” previously covered by such standard-bearers as James Moody, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, Dinah Washington and Nancy Wilson.

Listen to “The Jazz in You” below:

“I didn’t want to sabotage their priceless music nor did I want to be embarrassed,” LaBelle tells Billboard of her reaction when the project was first suggested. “But here I am taking chances after 70. First on Dancing With the Stars [in 2015], which blew me up. Then recording this music blew me up again. Now I know for sure that you can’t be afraid to explore.”

LaBelle, who turns 73 on May 24, is busy exploring other ventures as well. Bel Hommage doubles as the debut release on the singer’s own GPE Records, named after her two-year-old granddaughter Gia Patricia Edwards. LaBelle says she wants to roll out several more releases, including gospel-, holiday- and kiddie-themed projects.

That’s in addition to her ongoing entrepreneurial endeavors. LaBelle recently issued her fourth cookbook -- and sixth book overall -- in late April, Desserts LaBelle, which focuses on her favorite recipes for cakes, cookies, puddings and her famous sweet potato pie. She’s also cooking up new items for the Patti’s Good Life food line that’s carried by Walmart stores. And her Cooking Channel show Patti LaBelle’s Place will return this year for a third season. “I just love making food for other people,” she says.

Before launching a run of small clubs accompanied by a trio in support of Bel Hommage, LaBelle will spend the summer performing more than 20 concerts (“I also cook my face off on the road,” she adds). Upcoming dates include the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (May 7), San Diego (June 7), New York City Pride (June 23) and Chicago (July 4). Fans can also catch her on CBS This Morning (May 10) and The View (May 11). The singer say

“I’ll never stop touring, girlfriend,” says LaBelle with a laugh. “Unless my feet get broke and I can’t dance. And even then, I’ll still come out in a wheelchair. I don’t have any reason to chill because I love what I do.”