Patti LaBelle's parents divorced when she was a child and the singer was raised by her mom, Bertha.
A hard childhood sometimes becomes a motivation for people to break out of their past and carve out a better future for themselves. Just like simple folks, celebrities too had complicated lives and the pain can be everlasting despite the fame and success.
Patti LaBelle, born Patricia Holte on May 24, 1944, grew up in the Eastwick neighborhood in southwest Philadelphia, which is mostly a Black working-class community, as per New York Times. She was born to Henry and Bertha Holte, who had three children before she came along and had one more afterward. The family of seven had a humble life but it was a happy one - until it wasn't.
In her memoir, Don’t Block the Blessings, LaBelle describes her father as a loving railroad man who also performed at a nightclub sometimes. He would braid her hair, make breakfast for the family, and sang like Nat King Cole. Her mother, Bertha, worked in the food service, before becoming a stay at home mom. Henry and Bertha's relationship soured eventually and he started being abusive. The couple divorced and while her mom raised her single-handedly, LaBelle's parents did date other people.
The If You Asked Me To singer revealed that her mother's boyfriend had once sexually abused her. She didn't know how to cope with it at first and found solace in the music of Nina Simone, Gloria Lynne, Dakota Staton, and James Moody. Her only brother and eldest sibling, Thomas, had introduced her to that music and it became her "escape hatch."
It "gave me something to believe when I thought I had lost my faith," she said. What began with pain in her heart helped her express herself and she soon began singing with "the broom as a microphone." From there she leveled up to singing with the church choir at Beulah Baptist Church. Her choir director, Harriet Chapman, had told LaBelle to do a solo.
"'Oh, no, Patsy, you have to come in front and do the lead,’” LaBelle recalled her saying. Performing that solo helped her understand that she was talented. She said that the whole congregation stood up saying, "Hallelujah!"
In 1960, she began her singing career and has not looked back. She married her longtime friend and future manager Armstead Edwards, in 1969, and they had a son Zuri in 1973. LaBelle and Edwards also adopted four more children, including Stayce and William, LaBelle’s niece and nephew, the children of her sister Jackie, who died in 1989, and Stanley and Dodd, her neighbor’s children as their mom had died.
However, she didn't stop following her passion because of marriage or motherhood. She had started her career as part of the Ordettes in 1959, who were renamed the Bluebelles in 1961, as per Biography. Despite their early success, the group broke up eventually and she decided to go solo in 1977. She gained critical acclaim but gained a Grammy Award nomination with The Best is Yet to Come.
She won her first Grammy in 1991 with the song Burnin', which hit gold status. She kept working tirelessly through the decade and won her second Grammy with Live! One Night Only in 1998. Throughout her career, she also worked as an actress and took up a new challenge when she joined Dancing With the Stars as a contestant. She also released many books, including her memoir.
Unfortunately, her marriage did not survive, and Edwards and she parted ways in 2000. "We realized that we couldn’t live together anymore. We liked each other from a distance," she said, as per CountryLiving.
"When you feel that, somebody gotta go," she added. Even as they separated, things were amicable between them. "I never hated him. He never hated me, We just couldn’t live together—not because of physical fights or anything. We never fought, thank God, in 32 years. We got along even when we didn’t get along! But then we realized that we had to leave each other," she said.