Don’t be fooled by the hackneyed title of this biography. In Don’t Block the Blessings: Revelations of a Lifetime, singer Patti LaBelle emerges as a woman of substance with plenty to say about her shaky ascent to fame, her struggle as a working mother, and — as the survivor of three sisters felled by cancer in their 40s — her overwhelming fear of death.
LaBelle, née Patsy Holte, first found her voice singing in a Baptist choir, then made her name as a member of the ’60s girl group the Blue-Belles. At the group’s first audition, Holte was dubbed ”too dark and too plain” to sell records, but after the record company president heard her sing, writes LaBelle, ”he saw ‘green’ [and] got over his problem with ‘black.”’ Reborn as disco divas, the trio (renamed Labelle) scored a hit in 1974 with ”Lady Marmalade.” LaBelle later went solo, launching an R&B career and winning a 1992 Grammy for her album Burnin’.
Although she calls her flamboyant stage persona a ”gig wig” she wears to conceal self-doubt, LaBelle is anything but timid. She brawled with her sisters well into adulthood and once threatened to cut Al Green’s throat because he disagreed with her decision to miss a performance to visit a dying sister. But LaBelle’s passions run deep as well as hot: She describes husband Armstead Edwards as a loving, selfless academic who tended their son, Zuri, while she worked. And she’s still sentimental about the Blue-Belles, with whom she first toured in a station wagon, braving Southern bigots and opening for James Brown.
With the help of coauthor Laura B. Randolph, a senior editor at Ebony, LaBelle writes candidly about her distaste for disco, her mistreatment of her sisters, and even her race-conscious nose job. Although it’s sprinkled with the platitudes that typically afflict star biographies, Blessings is an emotionally expansive, warts-and-all memoir by an unrepentant exhibitionist. A-