Bettye LaVette Biography
Born in Muskegon, Michigan in 1946, Betty Haskin became Bettye LaVette after she recorded her first record, "My Man – He’s a Lovin’ Man" which was recorded for Lupine but eventually released on Atlantic Records. It was a smash r & b hit and set the groundwork of things to come. Miss LaVette began her odyssey with a tour that included two legends that she admired, Clyde McPhatter and Ben E. King. Also on that tour was singer, Barbara Lynn and newcomer, Otis Redding. Bettye also toured once with James Brown.
Bettye recorded for numerous labels upon leaving Atlantic including Karen, Epic and Calla on which was recorded the haunting, "Let Me Down Easy," which has become a solid soul classic and established Miss LaVette as a mainstay in soul music. To promote the record, Bettye made several TV appearances, including the popular music show, Shindig! When Kenny Rogers heard her recording of "The Condition My Condition Is In," he was so impressed that he recorded the tune. Additionally, he recommended Bettye to his brother, Leland, president of Silver Fox Records who signed LaVette to record for him. The result was the "adult themed" "He Made A Woman Out of Me" which was banned on many radio stations. But for those who heard the record, they took it to their hearts and made it chart hit for LaVette. Returning to Atlantic’s subsidiary, Atco in the early 1970’s, Bettye recorded her first album, "Child of the ‘70’s" which promised to give her the major success, which still eluded her at this point. The problems, which arose surrounding the recordings, caused the album to be shelved until the year 2001, but one song, "Your Turn to Cry" from the sessions was released and garnered critical acclaim.
It is not well known, but "Hey, Love" was first recorded by Bettye and that fellow Detroiter and friend, Stevie Wonder, wrote the song for her. Miss LaVette continued recording and touring throughout the ‘70’s, but took a break when she was offered a starring role in the Broadway production of "Bubbling Brown Sugar" opposite Cab Calloway. As a result, she remained with the New York and touring companies for a whopping, seven years. One record that she made during this period which spawned disco, was "Doin’ The Best that I Can" for West End Records, her only venture into that genre. Surprisingly, unbeknownst to Bettye, the record became a top seller and was popular in discos worldwide.
Bettye LaVette signed with Motown Records in 1982 and recorded a much-praised album, "Tell Me A Lie." It was produced by Steve Buckingham and produced one chart hit, "Right in the Middle of Falling in Love". Miss LaVette appeared with Smokey Robinson on Soul Train to promote the album and was reunited with old friend, Don Cornelius. Meanwhile, Charley Records, out of England released a compilation album, "Nearer to You" which contained many of Bettye’s early recordings.
Appearing in clubs again, Bettye also graced blues and jazz festivals and triumphantly shook up the college scene when she gave a soul shattering performance at New York’s revered, Columbia University. She also was honored to be included in David Freeland’s hit book, "Ladies of Soul" in which she talked freely about her background and the ups and downs of show business life.
In 2000, during her European tour, she recorded "live" in Holland. The eventual Munich Records CD was titled "Let Me Down Easy – In Concert" prompting critic Andrew Hamilton to write "Her soulful alto deserves bottling, it’s like Mavis Staples, but sharper and grittier." Ray Ellis, in Juke Blues Magazine said, "Let Me Down Easy – In Concert" is torturous soul at its most raw and almost frightening in its intensity." Likewise, when "Child of the 70’s" was released as "Souvenirs," it was met with unanimous praise prompting Blues & Soul Magazine to write, "’Souvenirs’ is an understated, deep soul epic with chilling lyrical imagery of melted snow and graveyards. It defines indefinable soul music."
Whether singing at the Porretta Music Festival in Italy, The Meridian Hotel in Paris, Winter Garden in England or headling the Chicago Blues Festival (2002), Bettye LaVette gives 100%, and a performance that will remain with the audience for years to come.