LaBelle are famous for ‘Lady Marmalade’ but there is so much more to Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash than that one great party track, including this soulful tribute to pleasure and desire
LaBelle are possibly best known for their twice-over hit ‘Lady Marmalade‘ but there is so much more to the work of Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash than this end-of-night anthem. For starters, they were the first African American pop group to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House (1974) and the first to feature on the cover of Rolling Stone (1975). LaBelle, Hendryx and Dash were donning fabulous theatrical space-age outfits decades before Gaga and their art-rock aesthetic combined with disco, R&B and glam-rock to create something exciting and groundbreaking.
The group were originally named The Bluebelles (followed by Patti and The Bluebelles) and initially included Sundray Tucker, who was replaced by Cindy Birdsong (who, in turn, left to join The Supremes in 1961). Success came later, in 1971, after member Sarah Dash wrote to Vicki Wickham, the producer of Ready Steady Go!, and told her they needed management. Wickham went on to encourage what was already there and the group became LaBelle.
Reflecting on the political content of LaBelle songs such as ‘Shades of Difference‘ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again‘, Professor Mark Anthony Neal has said (in an article in The New Black Magazine) that LaBelle were “redefining what black women and women in general could sing about.”
Another boundary-pushing song in LaBelle’s back catalogue is the Hendryx-penned ‘Going Down makes Me Shiver‘, with its arguably obvious allusion towards oral sex. (This was released in 1976, remember!) It could be directed at a lover of any gender and is a soulful tribute to desire and pleasure.
‘Going Down’ is from LaBelle’s sixth album Chameleon. The group made a comeback album in 2008 and continued the politically conscious angle of tracks like ‘Shades of Difference’ and ‘Won’t be Fooled Again’ with a song about Rosa Parks. Long live LaBelle!