Music may be food for the soul, but when it comes to Memphis, singer Patti LaBelle isn't thinking metaphorically. "My times in Memphis have always been memorable," says LaBelle, "and one thing about the city is that it has some of the best barbecue in the world. When I visit, I'm always excited to see the people ... and to eat the barbecue!"
The 67-year-old LaBelle is coming to town to eat, talk and sing; on Dec. 8, she'll appear as part of a Q-and-A event at Baptist Memorial Hospital's Garrett Auditorium; on Dec. 9, she'll perform a concert at the Orpheum, presented by Cultural Arts 4 Everyone.
Although she's been a hit-making singer since the early-'60s, in recent years LaBelle has found success as a culinary entrepreneur, penning a series of cookbooks and starting a food line called -- you guessed it -- Lady Marmalade, after her 1975 disco anthem.
"Well, I've been cooking, or pretending to cook -- back when I was a little kid -- almost my whole life," LaBelle says. "I always watched my parents and family in the kitchen, and that inspired my love of cooking, so it's been a longtime passion and what led me to write the cookbooks and develop my line of food products."
LaBelle's line of sauces, seasonings and marinades, as well as her recipes, are delivered with a sense of health consciousness.
A longtime diabetic, LaBelle will talk about her personal battle with the disease and her family's struggles with cancer during the sit-down interview at the Garrett Auditorium (the event will serve as the kickoff to Baptist's 100-year anniversary celebration, which will include a series of speakers and events over the next 12 months).
Attendees will also get to sample food from her new cookbook, the health-minded "The Good Life," during a meet-and-greet. "I always want to share my experience with others and let people know that you can live a healthy lifestyle and still enjoy great food," LaBelle says.
"I think it's important for people to realize that we can't put our health on the back burner. It has to be our top priority. But even when you're living with a condition like diabetes, you have to manage it; don't let it manage you. Then you can (still) enjoy a great quality of life."
Although in recent years her time has been largely devoted to cooking projects, LaBelle is returning her focus to making music. Her last two solo albums have been genre exercises -- 2006's spiritual LP The Gospel According to Patti Labelle and 2007's holiday-themed Miss Patti's Christmas -- and she adds that her forthcoming album will go down another stylistic avenue.
"I'm actually in the studio now recording an album of jazz standards. That'll be my next project," LaBelle says. "I don't like to place myself in just one category. I do R&B music, I do pop, gospel, jazz -- I want to try it all."
Nearly six decades in, LaBelle reflects fondly on her career, from her formative days with the Blue Belles in the early '60s, to the '70s Labelle era to her successful solo run.
"I especially enjoyed the times with Labelle, working and collaborating with the girls. I treasure all those times of us being together, and we won't stop being together," says LaBelle, who reunited with the her Labelle bandmates Nonah Hendryx and Sarah Dash for the 2008 Back to Now album and tour.
Despite having netted a mantel full of Grammys and various lifetime achievement awards, LaBelle says she still has a few goals she'd like to achieve. "I would love a Kennedy Center Honor. It would be amazing and very humbling to have my work recognized in that way. I'd also still like to see one of my recordings go multiplatinum," she says.
"But most importantly, I just hope to be able to continue giving great performances so that people know that they're getting their money's worth when they come see me."
'An Evening with Patti LaBelle'
6:30 p.m. Dec. 8 at Garrett Auditorium at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis, 6027 Walnut Grove. Tickets: $50, available by calling (901) 227-7123. For more information, go to baptistonline.org.
Patti LaBelle in Concert
8 p.m. Dec. 9 at the Orpheum, 203 S. Main. Tickets: $42 to $102; available at all Ticketmaster outlets, ticketmaster.com or (800) 745-3000.