Sarah Dash - vocals; Nona Hendryx - vocals; Patti LaBelle - vocals; Eddie Martinez - lead guitar; Jeffrey Shannon- drums, percussion; Carmen Rojas - bass; Rev Edward Batts - guitar; Tony Thompson - drums; Bud Ellison - piano, musical director; James Brooker - organ, synth
Introduced by Frankie Crocker, famed NY R&B disc jockey, this show opens a window into a time where traditional rhythm & blues was transforming into the same experimentation that rock had been undergoing for nearly a decade. The instrumental intro by this vocal trio's excellent backing band gives a good indication of what was going on musically with artists like LaBelle. Picking up on a trend started by George Clinton's Parliament/Funkadelic, LaBelle had made the transition from '60s girl-group to a highly experimental act, embracing soul, rock, blues, funk, Latin, and in its earliest stages, disco.
Although future diva Patti LaBelle led the group in name, vocally and visually being front and center, it was actually group member and future avant garde singer/songwriter Nona Hendryx who was the creative brains behind the trio. Hendryx, who would adapt Greenwich Village's experimental arts community as her own, had come into a budding career as a songwriter and had brought much of the original material to the trio's last five albums. In the same way Pete Townshend wrote for lead vocalist Roger Daltrey in The Who, Hendryx became the group's chief writer, styling songs about relationships, social change, and the cosmos for the powerful delivery of Patti LaBelle.
The group formed in 1962, when two other Philadelphia girl groups merged into the Bluebelles to record the Top 20 regional hit, "Sold My Heart To The Junkman." Patricia Holt (who changed her last name to LaBelle), Cindy Birdsong, Nona Hendryx, and Sarah Dash soon became Patti LaBelle & The Bluebelles. They worked through 1967 and a mostly hit-less deal on Atlantic Records. They did, however, find chart success with an R&B version of "Over The Rainbow," and cut the first version of "Groovy Kind Of Love"—later a hit for Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders and later still for Phil Collins. In the summer of 1967, Birdsong left to replace Florence Ballard in Diana Ross & The Supremes, and by 1970, the trio became simply LaBelle.
It would be nearly five years and three albums later when they recorded the classic Nightbirds LP with New Orleans-based producer Allen Toussaint, and the #1 hit single, "Lady Marmalade." The trio re-invented itself with gawdy, feather-based glitter costumes and became one of the most talk-about live shows on the circuit.
This performance was captured at the Beacon Theatre in October of 1975. When Phoenix in 1975 and Chameleon in 1976 failed to score further big hits, the trio split. Patti LaBelle went on to have a huge career with songs like "New Attitude" and "On My Own." Sarah Dash failed to have solo success, but spent years on the road as a backing vocalist for The Rolling Stones. Nona Hendryx would adopt the LaBelle backing band and re-emerge with her own rock-based act in 1977. She had some success with the initial version of "Winning," (later a hit for Santana), but failed to have a big solo breakthrough. She went on to work with Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club, and other alternative rock acts. This two-hour performance is a testament to a powerful, funky girl-group that was on the brink of change.