Patti LaBelle gifts Hancher audience with dazzling vocals for holiday tour

On Dec. 9, Patti LaBelle performed at Hancher Auditorium for her holiday tour, gifting audiences with dazzling vocals and joyful music that inspired hope and gratitude.


Matt Born/StarNews Photo / USA TODAY NETWORK

Patti LaBelle closes the Jacksonville Jazz Festival next Sunday.

Stella Shipman, Arts Reporter

Sweeping across the stage in a stunning red dress and sparkling jewelry, her bedazzled microphone catching the light as she brought it to her lips, Patti LaBelle was an effervescent vision of vocal brilliance.

On Friday, Dec. 9, award-winning, world-renowned singer Patti LaBelle left audiences in awe after performing at Hancher Auditorium as part of her holiday tour. 

At 78 years young, as Labelle would say, she has done it all, launching into stardom as lead vocalist for Patti LaBelle & the Bluebells, and later writing six recipe books; appearing in numerous film and television programs; founding record label GPE Records; and advocating for several non-profit initiatives. 

With more than 60 years of an incredible artistic career under her belt, LaBelle’s concert at Hancher was highly anticipated by audience members — both those who had the privilege of seeing her perform live before, and others who were seeing her live for the first time. 

The showcase began with a series of projected clips from LaBelle’s performances over the course of her career. DJ Aktiv set the energetic tone for the show with a medley of Patti LaBelle classics, introducing each of her eras to the enthusiasm of the audience. 

As the opening played, the band began trickling onto the stage in the dark to take their positions. When LaBelle made her grand centerstage entrance, the audience roared, but as she began to sing, everyone fell quiet. 

The effortlessness with which LaBelle produced rich vocals heavy with soul and vibrato was a testament to her evergreen talents. Just when it seemed like she could soar no higher on the octave, she managed to ascend again. 

When she wasn’t singing, LaBelle was interacting with the crowd, cracking jokes or telling conversational stories behind certain songs. Halfway through the performance, she left the stage and toured the lower aisles of the audience, much to the excitement of nearby fans. 

She collected white poinsettias from a fresh bouquet and asked audience member Bob Mollman to deliver them to a couple of fans who were using wheelchairs. She tossed the rest of her poinsettias to audience members in the front row or to the musicians on stage with her, until the whole theater was filled with a flowery perfume.

LaBelle’s set moved fluidly from beginning to end with only brief pauses for Labelle to speak and take a break. She performed a variety of jazz, hip-hop, soul, R&B, and gospel music spanning decades. 

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She also afforded herself the recognition she deserved for certain songs adapted by other popular artists, her iconic catchphrase being “Don’t get it twisted — I did it first.”

Mollman, who attended the concert with his wife and a group of friends, believed that the adaptations of LaBelle’s songs by other artists just goes to show how her music often tells a story that other people listen to.

“[Her songs] have a lot of meaning to a lot of different people,” Mollman said.

For Iowa City audience member Vaaleda Reid, LaBelle’s music holds meaning in the way that she walked down the aisle to it on her wedding day, specifically to the song “Love, Need, and Want Me.” 

According to Reid, she had never seen LaBelle in concert, but as a long-time fan of the singer, she absolutely loved it and thinks LaBelle’s music can reach a wide audience.

“It’s old school and still hip and young people can listen to it, too,” said Reid.

Throughout the concert, LaBelle was just as intimate with her band as she was with her audience, treating the musicians on stage with her like a family. The band featured backup vocalists and instrumentalists on keyboards, drums, guitar, bass, saxophone, trumpet, and trombone. 

Several musicians showcased their own talents in solos, for which LaBelle showered them with support and poinsettias. 

The audience found themselves on their feet on multiple occasions, clapping along to the music or swaying in a groove to the rhythm. When LaBelle stepped aside to rest or excited about her costume change into a sleek green suit, DJ Aktiv and the band kept the energy high. 

Overall, the showcase charged the atmosphere of the Hancher theater with happiness and joy, offering a promising start to the holiday season. It also reassured people of better times ahead as we move out of the pandemic and try to return to the way life was before.

Royceann Porter, a member of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, was also in attendance with her husband.

“I was happy to see them throw that church song in there,” Porter said. “They threw some gospel in there, which is wonderful, because it’s at a time when we’re going through a pandemic — we need to hear that. You need to hear that, so that was wonderful.”