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Patti LaBelle on music, LGBT rights and more
Legendary singer talks about visiting Lil’ Kim in prison

by Lawrence Ferber

‘I’m not surprised at anything the man would say. When he speaks I sometimes can’t hear. He’s the president and he has the right to say what he wants to, but sometimes it’s not right.’ — Patti LaBelle on George W. Bush.
Patti LaBelle doesn’t mind repeating herself — and not just when it comes to recording an album’s worth of pop and rock covers on last year’s “Classic Moments.” The two-time Grammy winner behind hits like “Lady Marmalade” and “If You Asked Me To” has been happy to speak out for gay civil rights over the years, and today she’s doing it again during a telephone interview. Set to release a new album of inspiration tunes, “The Gospel According to Patti LaBelle,” this Fall, the 62-year-old diva is as feisty as ever and hitting the road.

LaBelle is also appearing in late August’s “Idlewild” (Outkast’s much-delayed first film) as a nightclub singer, and currently filming a role as a cancer patient in a Lifetime movie.

Q. What made you decide to do the gospel thing?
A. I’ve been doing it for the last 15 years in my mind. It was something I needed to do that I always couldn’t for some reason or another. My music director, who died of cancer some months ago, we started it together. He helped me decide that it’s now or never. And all the proceeds are going to cancer research.

Q. How was recording this album a different experience than last year’s “Classic Moments?”
A. Going in the studio is the same experience. Doing different songs, of course, you have to feel differently about each song you record. These songs are like gospel-gospel, they’re inspirational and just beautiful songs. I co-wrote some of them and some are [covers].

Q. What will you perform during this round of concert engagements?
A. Just Patti, doing whatever songs I think can stick in the one-and-a-half hours. I wish they allowed me three hours so I can do most of the songs that the fans want to hear.

Q. Did you attend your friend Elton John’s wedding?
A. He invited me but I couldn’t go. I heard it was beautiful. They said “you have to come to the wedding” and I said “I will” and they sent me the invitation, but that day was taken so I couldn’t go. I know it was beautiful. Elton does nothing but beautiful things. He’s the queen of good.

Q. How do you feel about the current state of black soul music out there?
A. There’s not much. There are some people who are trying, like Leela James and Christina Aguilera, but there are not many artists who are truly singing.

Q. What about India.Arie?
A. Yes, she’s singing very thought-provoking songs.

Q. Keyshia Cole and Beyoncé?
A. I think [Keyshia]’s real street and doesn’t hide it. She is who she is and I like that. I think [Beyoncé]’s very talented and beautiful and she can do so many things. She’ll be around for a while.

Q. Fantasia Barrino?
A. I love Fantasia Barrino. I always call her Baby Patti. And she tells me whenever she sees me to please call her and help her with her things. There are some things I do want to talk to her about.

Q. And how do you feel about this year’s “American Idol” contestant Mandisa, who could have been on the fast track to diva-dom but went and said that being gay is wrong.
A. Honey, [gays] are the ones who make you and stay with you! Girl, you better recognize! Are you serious? How stupid can these people be? How stupid can hearts be when people discriminate, period. It’s just an awful thing and then to say something like that when the gays are going to make or break your ass? Excuse me?

Q. Let’s talk about Lil’ Kim — do you think she was good to momma in prison?
A. I don’t think she was good to momma — I think momma was good to her. I guess she did her time well. I did go to see her when she was in. It was kind of scary. I thought I would be really nervous, but I was fine once I saw her. We sat together and we laughed and we sang and we had fun.

Q. Did she have any crazy prison stories to share?
A. No, she didn’t, but they did make her a cake, when her album was released, with marshmallows and apples and jelly beans, whatever they had, and they cooked it in the microwave. She said she was learning how to cook with the microwave, so that’s good. I’m very happy that she’s out.

Q. It’s good you’re doing a gospel album now because, as usual, God is being bandied about as a weapon by the right wing against gays, same-sex marriage.
A. It’s an inspirational album and I don’t think God discriminates. I know he doesn’t, but there was a time in my church when a minister discriminated against me. Every Sunday he said I was singing for the devil, therefore I would not go to church as much after that and there are so many phonies who use the church as a shield to hide their anger and their deception and their phoniness and their perpetrating and their doing everything in the name of God. Those people are the kind I try not to be around.

Q. Were you surprised to hear President Bush support, yet again, a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage?
A. I’m not surprised at anything the man would say. When he speaks I sometimes can’t hear. He’s the president and he has the right to say what he wants to, but sometimes it’s not right.

Q. What is the most important political issue on your mind today?
A. The world situation is so bad I just wish there was more peace, I wish the Katrina tragedy was handled better. One of my friends who sang with me [on the inspirational album] was a Katrina victim. There is not much justice in the world. I just wish there was more peace.

info: www.pattilabelle.com

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