Patti LaBelle may be 74, but her legs stopped aging at 35. She didn't mind showing them off during her performance at the Dell Music Center Thursday evening, when she sang a slew of her hits dating to the 1970s. She was there exactly a week after the death of Aretha Franklin, giving the show a feeling of nostalgia and reverence.
The evening began with a romantic set by Philly jazz singer Laurin Talese, who lulled the audience into a relaxed state with her rendition of the Ella Fitzgerald standard "Cry Me a River." She was followed by Grammy-winning jazz singer Gregory Porter. His warm, velvety voice complemented the slight breeze. Crickets in the surrounding trees accompanied the jazz that prepped the audience for headliner LaBelle.
On a stage with a cadre of musicians, a chaise, and white piano adorned with an assortment of high-heel pumps and a vase of flowers, LaBelle appeared in a mint, brocaded dress with a high-low hem paired with royal purple suede pumps. She greeted her hometown audience with her arms stretched as wide as her smile and went right into an upbeat tune that she danced along to, proving she still has the showmanship to accompany her big vocals.
"Good evening, Philadelphia," she said. "There's a lot on our hearts tonight, and you know what I'm talking about," she said regarding the loss of her longtime friend and colleague, Aretha Franklin. In between songs, LaBelle took a moment to express grief and honor Frankin's impact on her life and remind the audience that life is fleeting. She said Franklin's family told her in December they knew the Queen of Soul didn't have long to live. She said Franklin planned her own memorial service and her family told her "the first person on her list to sing would be Patti LaBelle."
But Labelle won't be able to attend Franklin's memorial service on Aug. 31, so the family asked her to record "You Are My Friend" to be included in the proceedings. Visibly emotional, her voice trembled as she sang out the first line of the song. Images of Franklin and other public figures, from Nelson Mandela to Mariah Carey, were projected on screens on each side of the stage. Because spirits were so high, LaBelle amended the song order and cued the band to play "When You've Been Blessed."
Carrying on with the show, she dazzled fans with a costume change that featured a sassy, also mint, fringed dress. She wowed with the magic of "If Only You Knew," and rose to its climax by nailing the peak note. Later, she found herself in such high spirits she kicked off her pumps — a signature move that dates back decades. Near the end of her set, she tore into a rousing rendition of "Lady Marmalade" and danced with a few fans.
Her endurance was impressive, considering the show lasted nearly two hours. She reminded the audience that she would be taking her time throughout the night. At one point, a fan yelled out, "Little Girls," and LaBelle asked the band to play it as she sang along.