Patti LaBelle Had No Idea 'Lady Marmalade' Lyrics Were So Suggestive When She Recorded It (Exclusive)
By Mekishana Pierre
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Patti LaBelle is a living legend, and she knows it, honey! The Godmother of Soul is looking back at her illustrious career with ET and reflecting on her time with the Bluebelles, making the classic tune "Lady Marmalade," pivoting to cooking and more.
Recalling her time with the Bluebelles -- previously known as the Blue Belles and later called LaBelle -- the 77-year-old touched on how the group was groundbreaking during their musical reign. "It was important to represent ourselves as Black, intelligent women, not just a Black singing group with no thoughts," she says. "Like 'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised' and sexual songs that my son was afraid of me doing -- we talked about what was real in life and we weren't afraid."
The goal of it all was to grab viewers' attention, LaBelle reveals, and make them "pay attention."
"The costumes and the hair was to get your attention. And once we got your attention, people realized 'Oh, they're saying something,'" she explains. "So everything was a gimmick because, as Black women, we got to do something to make people look and listen. We were three crazy looking outrageous women... I feel so good that I was in that group, and that I'm still in it."
One of the group's most notable songs is their rendition of Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan's "Lady Maramalade," a song so renowned for its sexual meaning that no one could misunderstand the sultry lyrics. Aside from one of the singers, apparently! LaBelle reveals that she "had no clue what the message was" when her group recorded the song in 1974, citing the French lyrics as the perpetrators of her confusion.
"We went to Bob Crewe's house on our way to Allen Toussaint to record in New Orleans and he gave us the song before we got on the flight," she recalls. "When we heard it at his home it sounded great, but that 'Voulez-vous coucher avec moi,' sounded so piercing and it just stayed in my ear. So, when we went there, I said to Allen that we had to record that one first. After we recorded the song and the song went out and people were loving it, the nuns talked about us and asked, 'why are they talking like hookers?'"
"I didn't know 'Voulez-vous coucher avec moi,' meant 'will you sleep with me tonight,'" she adds. "I had no clue girl! And I was jamming on that! And the nuns... they called us bad names and stuff, but it sold. But it was revolutionary and it was something that people were doing. Women walked the streets since way back in the day and now there's a song about them."
LaBelle jokes that although the nuns were initially a little testy about the song, they came around to it in the end, and obviously, people still love the song. Not only does it continue to be covered -- with one of its most successful covers being the Grammy-winning number-one hit collaboration featuring Christina Aguilera, Pink and Mýa and Lil' Kim in 2001 for the Moulin Rouge! soundtrack -- but it was also inducted to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2003.
LaBelle notes that not only has "Lady Marmalde" become an anthem for women embracing their sexual nature, but it also embraces the reality of sex work. "I can't fault her for that," the singer adds. "You got to live."
The singer reminisces about LaBelle being the pop group to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House, their reign as pioneers of the disco movement -- although she counters that they weren't a disco group, they just happened to be "three women singing fun music" -- and being part of the group that became the first Black female group to grace the cover of Rolling Stone.
But even with her many successes, LaBelle admits that she sometimes forgets how impressive her legacy is. "My friends remind me [of my wins] all the time," she says. "A lot of times people will say [do you know who you are?] to me and I'm saying, 'yeah, I know who I am, but I don’t think I’m all that,' you know? And they have to remind me."
It helps, sometimes, to remember all her many awards wins! The singer has sold more than 50 million records worldwide, been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and the Apollo Theater Hall of Fame, as well as scoring two Grammy wins, seven NAACP Image Awards, two Emmy nominations, 10 Lifetime achievement awards and more. And even though she is appreciative of all of them, she admits that the accolades that stand out to her the most are her Image Awards.
"I got them from us," she explains. "Not that getting them from other folks means less to me. It's just that I appreciate when we appreciate each other."
Another form of award for her has been her pivot to becoming a lifestyle brand, selling food, cookbooks and more. "That to me is a good old Grammy," she says. "Selling that food and people buying it and loving it. And it doesn't break your pocketbook, you know? Everybody can have a great meal with Patti’s products, so that's another kind of Grammy for me. I never thought that selling food would make me this joyful every day."
But never fear, music lovers! LaBelle might be coming out with new delicious products but she'll never stop making music for her fans.
"It's never going to stop coming from me and I’m never going to stop coming for you and everybody else," she promises.