Bettye LaVette

An R&B diva with a sharp, distinctive vocal style that balances passion, ferocity, and confidence, Bettye LaVette experienced early success before spending years as a cult figure among fans of vintage soul (especially in Europe and the U.K.), only to find a new and appreciative audience in the 2000s. LaVette was born in Muskegon, Michigan on January 29, 1946. She was raised primarily across the state in Detroit, and at 16 she cut her first sides for the local Lupine label, with a test pressing of the disc making its way to Atlantic Records. After signing with Atlantic, she scored an R&B Top Ten hit out of the box with her debut single, "My Man -- He's a Loving Man," only to fail to reach the same commercial heights again. After one more Atlantic release, 1963's "You'll Never Change," LaVette moved back to Lupine for her third record, "Witchcraft in the Air." After a stint as a featured vocalist with the Don Gardner & Dee Dee Ford Revue, she recorded the long-unreleased "One Thin Dime" for Scepter before resurfacing on Calla with the 1965 lost classic "Let Me Down Easy," her only other record to crack the R&B Top 20. Two more Calla efforts -- the fine "Only Your Love Can Save Me" and "I'm Just a Fool for You" -- preceded a shift to Big Wheel, where after just one single, "I'm Holding On," LaVette again moved along, this time to the Karen imprint for "Hey Love." Following stays at Silver Fox ("He Made a Woman Out of Me," "Do Your Duty"), SSS International ("Take Another Piece of My Heart"), and her own TCA imprint ("Never My Love"), LaVette returned to Atlantic, signing to their Atco division for 1972's Neil Young cover "Heart of Gold." An LP, Child of the Seventies, was also recorded at Muscle Shoals Studios, but Atco opted against its release after the failure of the single "Your Turn to Cry" (the album was reissued, complete with bonus tracks, in limited copies by Rhino in 2006). After joining the touring company of the Broadway musical Bubbling Brown Sugar, LaVette briefly signed to West End for a disco effort, 1978's "Doin' the Best I Can." She did not record again until 1982, landing at Motown and rechristening herself "Bettye." However, despite a heavy promotional push, neither the LP Tell Me a Lie nor the single "Right in the Middle (Of Falling in Love)" proved her long-awaited chart breakthrough, and outside of a handful of recordings for Motor City during the '90s, she focused primarily on live appearances in the years to follow. The 2000s found her in the recording studio more frequently with new albums A Woman Like Me being released by the Blues Express label in 2003 followed by I've Got My Own Hell to Raise in 2005 on the Anti label. In 2006, Take Another Little Piece of My Heart, a collection of Silver Fox singles as well as other material, all of which had been recorded in Memphis between 1969 and 1970, came out on Varèse Sarabande. The Scene of the Crime appeared on Anti in 2007. LaVette next tackled classic songs by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, and the Who, among others, on 2010's Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, which she co-produced with Rob Mathes and Michael Stevens. LaVette celebrated her 50th year as a performer in 2012 by releasing Thankful 'n' Thoughtful, covering songs by the Black Keys, Sly Stone, Tom Waits, Neil Young, and Bob Dylan, among others, and also issued her autobiography, A Woman Like Me. LaVette reunited with producer Joe Henry, who had been behind the controls for The Scene of the Crime, for 2015's Worthy, her first album for the British Cherry Red label. LaVette next signed with Verve Records, which released 2018's Things Have Changed. The album found LaVette interpreting 12 songs by Bob Dylan; Steve Jordan produced the sessions, and Keith Richards played guitar on the track "Political World." ~ Jason Ankeny

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