Bettye LaVette has been singing since she was a baby. Literally. As she describes, "my mother said she used to talk baby talk to me, to try and make me talk like a baby."
The soul and blues singer grew up in small town Michigan, where her parents had a jukebox in the living room to keep their guests entertained. In the segregrated America of the 1940s, if you were black you could not go to a bar; instead, you went to houses like the LaVette's, where you could drink corn liquor and listen to music.
LaVette spent her teen years in Detroit, the home of Motown. Singing wasn't a big deal, as she recounts: "In 1962 in Detroit, it wasn't a big thing to do. It's almost something you did because all your friends were doing it."
With this musical upbringing, it's not hard to see where some of her playlist choices came from. Here are LaVette's picks for some seriously soulful songs from female artists.
1. "Move On Up a Little Higher," Mahalia Jackson (Mahalia Jackson's Greatest Hits)
2. "It Hurts to Be in Love," Annie Laurie (Rhythem & Blues 1952-1959)
LaVette reminisces that this was one of the tunes on her parents' jukebox. "I loved that tune, she says. "I was, say, 18 months old, but I knew whole songs because the jukebox was playing all the time. So that was possibly the first rhythm and blues song I ever heard.”
3. "I Had a Talk With My Man," Mitty Collier (Talking With Her Man: The Chess Singles 1961-1968)
As LaVette describes, "it’s very much like 'When a Man Loves a Woman.' I think it’s a definitive R&B tune. When you go to a party at an R&B aficionado’s (house), he will always pull this out to prove just how deep into R&B he is, so that’s where you would hear that mostly.”
4. "That's How Heartaches Are Made," Baby Washington (The Sue Records Story: The Sound of Soul)
“Baby Washington, just the year before I started singing, so about 1960, she was really big," says LaVette. "She was the only one that didn’t have a real smooth voice and I always listened for women like that because I was always embarrassed that I was the only one that sounded like Louis Armstrong and everyone else sounded like Dionne Warwick.”
5. "Bobby is His Name," Etta James (The Chess Box)
6. "Is That All There Is?" Peggy Lee (The Singles Collection)
7. "Skylark," Aretha Franklin (The Queen is Waiting: the Columbia Years 1960-1965)
8. "Midnight Train to Georgia," Gladys Knight & the Pips (Imagination)
ListenListen to Bettye LaVette talking with Radio 2 Shift's Tom Allen about her playlist.
LaVette will be playing various jazz, blues and folk festivals across the country, including the Toronto Jazz Festival on June 23, the Ottawa Blues Festival on July 13 and the Calgary Folk Festival on July 27 and 28.
Her new album and book, A Woman Like Me, will be available in September. Check back for more from our interview with Lavette in the coming weeks.
Rear-view Mirror: Gladys Knight & the Pips' 'Midnight Train to Georgia'
Remembering Etta James
R&B history moment: Aretha Franklin’s watershed song
Robert Glasper’s ‘what inspires me’ playlist
on Jun 17, 2012