Patti LaBelle, the “Godmother of Soul,” to perform holiday show at Hancher

Soul legend Patti LaBelle will perform at Hancher Auditorium on Dec. 9. Her visit to Iowa City is especially significant given her historic caliber and resonance in the Black music tradition.


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Patti LaBelle closes the Jacksonville Jazz Festival next Sunday.

Charlotte McManus, Arts Reporter

Patti LaBelle, also known as the “Godmother of Soul,” touts a career — and a life — beyond words. It is impossible to overstate her contribution to the shape of soul and R&B as we know it today.

She is the defining force of Philadelphia Soul, the “embodiment of the aspirations of working-class Black Americans who wanted the good life for themselves in the post-civil rights era,” according to The New York Times. LaBelle is often credited alongside soul and rhythm and blues pioneers Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, and Anita Baker.

LaBelle will perform a holiday show on Friday at Hancher Auditorium. The show will round off a string of festive events like “Christmas with Cantus” and “Mannheim Steamroller Christmas.” Those, however, are annual events — LaBelle’s appearance at the Hancher Auditorium may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Her first hit, “Lady Marmalade,” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2003. Her other hits include include “You Are My Friend,” “If Only You Knew,” and “Somebody Loves You Baby (You Know Who It Is).” Her 1989 album “Be Yourself” gave rise to the familiar jazz standard “If You Asked Me To,” which Celine Dion covered in 1992. LaBelle has been nominated for 13 Grammys and won three.

Rob Cline, Hancher director of marketing and communications, said the staff was ecstatic to bring LaBelle’s voice to the community.

“It was a show we knew would have broad appeal and also appealed to us as people who admire Ms. LaBelle,” Cline said. “It doesn’t get any more legitimate than [LaBelle].”

RELATED: Cantus brings season’s greetings and life lessons to Hancher with holiday concert ‘Christmas with Cantus: Into the Light

Damani Phillips, University of Iowa director of jazz studies and associate professor of African American studies, said LaBelle was one of the quintessential leaders of the rhythm and blues sound through the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Phillips also emphasized LaBelle’s performance’s significance in Iowa City, not just because of her caliber, but also because she is an empowering figure in the Black music industry.

“Up to this point, there has been a belief that the diversity of the kinds of things that they bring to Hancher could use some improvement,” Phillips said. “It’s a rare treat — something that I think, with the changes that are going on at Hancher, will become a little less rare.”

Lastly, Phillips spoke of LaBelle’s profound influence on Black music 60 years after her breakthrough in the music industry.

“Her singing has been such an influence on so many others,” he said, mentioning neo-soul contemporaries Jill Scott and Angie Stone. “The [Black music tradition] is about planting seeds and feeding the next generation. And you’re going to hear Patti LaBelle over and over again.”