After the September doldrums that resulted from my totaling a new car in late August, October got off to a great start by accepting an invitation from my son and his girlfriend to join them at a Bettye LaVette concert this past Saturday night.
I had probably read about her in connection with her appearances at Obama's pre-inaugural concert and the 2008 Kennedy Center Honors (the annual event honoring five leaders in the performing arts). Otherwise I knew nothing about her, and had never seen her perform. Was I in for a surprise!
First a Bit of Background on Bettye
Ms. LaVette was born January 29, 1946, so she's 65 now. (Keep that in mind when you watch how she struts around the stage!)
She recorded her first single when she was 16, and it later became a Top Ten R&B hit. That success was the start of a 49-year career that would be marked by a hit single or album every 10 years or so, after which she would be "rediscovered" for a few weeks, and then return to singing in small clubs. Jazz aficionados described her as “the best ‘old’ undiscovered R&B singer in the United States."
Her career finally took off in 2005 when her CD I've Got My Own Hell to Raise made many critics' "Best of 2005" lists. Virtually every year since then she's had a best-selling album and/or received an award as a top blues singer. She continues touring and performing in venues from the Kennedy Center to small theaters like DC's Atlas, where I was lucky enough to see her last Saturday.
Give Her a Listen
2008 Kennedy Center Honors
If you look her up on YouTube, you'll see that her most-watched performance is her appearance at the 2008 Kennedy Centers, where she delivered this rendition of The Who's Love, Reign O'er Me in tribute to Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend of The Who, who were among the year's honorees. Her performance was one of the evening's highlights.
This is followed on her YouTube "most watched" list by other performances in big venues like the Kennedy Center. But IMHO, she's at her best in smaller venues with a hand-held mike that permits her to move about the stage and interact with her superb back-up combo.
I've never seen a performer turn her body into a musical instrument the way Bettye does! It's as though the music just takes over her body.
Bettye At Her Best
If you search YouTube using both "Bettye LaVette" and "Highline Ballroom," you'll see her perform some of the same numbers I saw last Saturday and in a smaller venue that appears to be much like DC's Atlas Theater.
Here are two samples:
Why Does Love Have To Be So Sad?
This is a good example of how terrific her back-up instrumentalists are and how well she interacts with them.
Salt of the Earth
Maybe the Wall Street protesters might want to make this their anthem.
Thank you, Bettye, for not just lifting my spirits, but for sending them soaring!