LaBelle will be receiving the Sylvester Community Pillar award from the organization in honor of her decades of work on behalf of AIDS organizations.
When Patti LaBelle calls you “honey” in the soulful, seen-it-all voice well known
to generations of fans, you are suddenly swept up in a cloud of diva essence so powerful you momentarily lose your senses. The Grammy Award-winning singer of hits including “Lady Marmalade” and “New Attitude” speaks with all the gravitas
her 76 years and six decades in show business command. But when she recalls a dear and departed friend, something in her voice shifts, suddenly framing the legend in a more human scale.
She’s talking about another musical legend, the late San
Francisco pop star Sylvester, who was also a longtime fan of the Blue Belles and LaBelle frontwoman.
On Saturday, Nov. 7, LaBelle will be performing online as part of the “Mighty Real Gala” (named for the Sylvester song) benefitting PRC,
a San Francisco nonprofit serving people affected by HIV/AIDS, substance abuse and mental health issues. LaBelle will also be receiving the Sylvester Community Pillar award from the organization in honor of her decades of work on behalf of the LGBTQ community:
Sylvester left most of his estate and 80% of his royalties to the organization.
Datebook spoke to LaBelle about her relationship with Sylvester, as well as the major issues of 2020, from COVID-19 and social activism to the election. (Hint: She wants
you to vote.
Q: How are you surviving 2020?
A: I’m doing well, although you don’t feel so great after you hear certain verdicts about certain issues that are in our faces (LaBelle refers to the Breonna Taylor grand jury). The COVID,
I’m dealing with. I’ve actually been at home for seven months, not going out. I’m doing well, living my life, honey, the best way I can.
Q: Have you added your voice to the Black Lives Matter movement?
A: My voice is always
in that discussion. It’s like, you know, ask me, “Do I love my child?” Of course I’m involved, we all are, and I’m always saying to everyone who’s disgusted, make sure you vote! That’s our savior right there, voting.
If we vote, we can change our lives.
Q: What does Kamala Harris being on the Democratic ticket as the first African American female vice presidential candidate mean to you?
A: It’s personal: I’m a Black woman, and we don’t usually
get chances or choices to be something as great as vice president of the United States of America. Any black woman or girl looking at Kamala Harris will say, “She did it, and I can do it too.”
Q: How does it feel getting the Sylvester Community
Pillar award from PRC? Did you have a friendship with Sylvester?
A: It’s an honor. I loved him before I heard him do (LaBelle’s song) “You Are My Friend.” I just love Sylvester, and I was lucky enough to be in the Bay Area when
he was in his last days. I went to his home, I sat on his bed, we talked, I cooked for him and we just had a great conversation. It feels so great getting this honor because he was like one of my children, for real.
Q: I heard Sylvester gave you a small
A: Yes, he sure did. I still have that purse, but he gave me more than the purse, he gave me him. He was such an endearing person and a person who felt that his plight, being a gay man, might not be recognized in his time. I just said to
him, “Just stay who you are. You can’t change, that’s for sure.” … We lost a lot when we lost him.
Q: Didn’t the two of you sing “You Are My Friend” together at the Warfield? Who did the harmony?
A: We sure did. That was one of those moments, one of those big moments. We were just happy to be singing it together. So, you know, knowing me, I was singing all over the place, lead and background.
Q: You were an early supporter of HIV and AIDS
organizations as well as the gay community. Did you receive any backlash?
A: Never, and if I had, I would have looked at people like, “Are you serious?” It’s from my heart who I love. I’ve always loved my gay following. I think
my gay following helps to keep me kind, and they’re always there for me.
Q: Do you have any idea what makes a Patti LaBelle or a Judy Garland or a Diana Ross into a gay icon? Why do you think the community has a tradition of elevating female artists
A: I do believe it has something to do with our drag of choice. The LaBelle period and Patti were all about (being) outrageous dressers and our hearts were open to everybody. I really never knew exactly why gay fans gravitated to me or
Diana or Judy Garland. Maybe it’s “Over the Rainbow,” but Diana never sang “Over the Rainbow.” I’m just happy that they’re in my corner.
Q: What do you tell people who are struggling this year?
A: I look
at all of the things that are happening in our world, and we’re knowing why it’s really happening because we have someone in the White House who is putting out negative energy, you know, from the screen to their faces to their ears to their minds.
As long as you believe in protesting properly and no riots and no looting or whatever, continue to do that. But the main thing you have to do really is vote. I think that will ease a lot of our pain once we vote and we know who’s going to take the place
of someone else and it’ll be a better place for all of us. So I’m just saying, keep your heads up and really know this too shall pass. It has to pass, but you have to vote. Vote, vote, vote.