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At 73, Patti LaBelle is still having a ball

Susan Whitall
The Detroit News
“Bel Hommage,” singer Patti LaBelle’s first foray into jazz, was released in the summer.

Patti LaBelle is coming to play the MotorCity Casino’s Sound Board on Thursday with a new jazz album — “Bel Hommage,” which has been out on her own GPE Records, since summer.

It’s her first foray into jazz, and she covers such classics as “The Jazz in You,” “Here’s to Life,” “Moody’s Mood for Love” (featuring Motown’s Kem), “Here’s to Life,” and “Don’t Explain.” But LaBelle isn’t taking a break from recording by any means, she has new projects already in motion.

One of her goals is to record a duet with Aretha Franklin.

“I talked to her last week, she congratulated me on the (jazz) album,” LaBelle, 73, said by phone from her Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, home.

As for a Patti/Aretha duet: “We’re talking about it.”

In concert at the Sound Board, LaBelle does the standard “Moanin’ ” in the middle of her set, and closes out with “Here’s to Life,” probably the best cut on “Bel Hommage.”

“Shirley Horn did that. Isn’t that a beautiful song? Most people don’t know about that — one of the greatest songs ever written.”

LaBelle also will have a new holiday album out, which she says is mastered and will be out by the end of the month, and there will be new music from LaBelle, the ’70s group she fronted, with Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx, responsible for such funky hits such as “Lady Marmalade.”

A southwest Philly native, LaBelle started out in a late ’50s-style girl group, The Blue Belles (“I Sold My Heart to the Junkman”). In early October, she and her LaBelle mates, Dash and Hendryx, were inducted into the Philadelphia Walk of Fame. Dash is writing new material for the group.

The Walk of Fame plaques are along Broad Street in Philadelphia.

“It was my second one,” LaBelle said. “I have a Patti LaBelle solo star, now we have the group star, which was long overdue. We’re still going strong as friends, performers and we’re still going to do some music together.”

Patti LaBelle will also have a new holiday album out this year.

As if music isn’t enough, there are those popular Patti LaBelle Sweet Potato Pies available at Wal-Mart, if you get there early.

“They’re still in demand,” LaBelle said. “As of a few weeks ago, we also have the family size, a much bigger pie. And now we have blackberry cobber, cherry cobbler and there’s going to be a lemon bread pudding and about six other cakes.”

That’s in addition to the savory dishes: turkey chili, macaroni and cheese, kale greens, to name a few.

At one point, LaBelle excuses herself to talk to someone, then returns to the phone. That interruption was courtesy of her 2 1/2-year-old granddaughter, Gia Patricia, who now has a sister, 3-week old Layla Rose. Their father is LaBelle’s son, Zuri Edwards.

“They’re here now,” LaBelle said. “She was trying to interrupt my interview.” That would be Gia, who is LaBelle’s mini-me. “She has my split toe, she sings and has eyes like Grandma,” the singer said proudly.

This week’s visit to the Sound Board has LaBelle returning to one of her favorite cities.

“I have so many friends still there,” she said. “Back in the day we toured Detroit a lot. I just love Detroit, I love the rawness of the people, how open-minded and how fun they are, and they’re not afraid to live.”

Some of LaBelle’s stagecraft won’t change, even if it endangers the 73-year-old diva’s fancy gowns and heels. She has been known to get down and funky — literally, down on the stage, where she rolls, shoeless — and that is still in play.

“I still do that, I have to!” LaBelle said with a laugh. Audiences would yell for it, if she didn’t. “Oh, they do. Sometimes it’s later in the show, someone will yell ‘Patti, kick off your shoes! I say, ‘They’re coming soon …’ ”

Susan Whitall is an author and longtime Detroit News contributor. Contact her at susanwhitall.com.

Patti LaBelle

8 p.m. Thursday

Sound Board

MotorCity Casino

2901 Grand River, Detroit

Tickets $58 and up