Remember Patti pies?
When the sweet potato pies made by Patti LaBelle first hit store shelves back in 2015, Walmart couldn't keep them in stock. Scalpers had them on eBay for up to $12,000.
Since then, the Philly-based songstress has built on what she calls the "Patti pie phenomenon" by adding down-home favorites such as fruit cobblers, caramel cake and banana pudding. Mercy! These days, LaBelle's sweet potato pies are easy to find. One even made its way onto my dessert buffet on Easter Sunday. I could have baked my own but hers are so good, I didn't bother.
"Everywhere I go people say, 'I had your pie' or 'I had your cobbler.' It puts a smile on my face. It just makes me happy," LaBelle told me last week during a phone interview.
Those pies are what led to her latest venture - another cookbook due out next week called "Desserts LaBelle: Soulful Sweets to Sing About" (Hachette Book Group, 2017). Along with a recipe for her trademark sweet potato pie, it includes backstories explaining LaBelle's personal connection to "Somebody Loves You, Baby, Hummingbird Cake" and "Cousin Patricia's Pass-It-On Party Cake."
You've got to give it to her. LaBelle loves keeping people's sweet tooth fed - not that she indulges hers all that much.
"They're for everyone but I'm a diabetic," she pointed out. "It's for you. It's for the people. I'm pleasing everybody who loves desserts."
Since I already had her on the phone, we chatted about other things going on in her life such as next month's release of her first album in eight years. She admitted that she had been nervous about doing "Bel Hommage" because jazz is a whole new genre for her.
"It was something that I was afraid to do," said LaBelle who learned to appreciate the homegrown art form as a youngster by listening to her brother's James Moody and Nina Simone records. "When my ex-husband (Armstead Edwards) brought this idea to me, I said, 'No, I could never do it the way they do it.' I should have never said that because whenever I do any music ... if it's another artist's, I never do it like they do it. That would make it boring."
She enjoyed singing classics such as "Peel Me a Grape" and "Here's to Life" and jazz because "It's not redundant. Some are maybe two to three minutes. It's just like to the point and then you're finished. I said, 'yes' to doing them and when I heard it mixed when it was finished, I said, 'Oh I'm so happy I did this. I'm very happy.' "
"I guess the jazz ... was in me all along. I was just afraid to try it out, to take a chance," LaBelle told me.
It's admirable how she was willing to take a chance and do something new at an age when most folks are content to sit back.
Her advice: "Don't ever stop yourself from doing something that you think you can't do. Just do it."
Push on even when you're a little nervous about it. That's what LaBelle did. The universe is sweeter for it.
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