Bettye LaVette (born Betty Jo Haskins, January 29, 1946) is an American soul singer-songwriter who made her first record at sixteen, but achieved only intermittent fame until 2005, when her album I've Got My Own Hell to Raise was released to widespread critical acclaim, and was named on many critics' "Best of 2005" lists. Her next album, The Scene of the Crime, debuted at number one on Billboard's Top Blues Albums chart and was nominated for Best Contemporary Blues Album at the 2008 Grammy Awards.
|Birth name||Betty Jo Haskins|
|Born||January 29, 1946|
Muskegon, Michigan, United States
|Genres||Soul, Blues, R&B, Funk, Rock, Country, Americana, Gospel|
|Labels||Atlantic, Calla, Silver Fox, Atco, Motown, Epic, Charly, Munich, Blues Express, ANTI-, Verve|
Life and career
LaVette was born in Muskegon, Michigan, and raised in Detroit. Unlike many of her contemporaries, she did not begin singing in the church, but in her parents' living room, singing R&B and country and western music. She was signed by Johnnie Mae Matthews, a local record producer. In 1962, aged sixteen, she recorded a single, "My Man — He's a Lovin' Man", with Matthews: the disc was credited to Betty LaVett, the surname being "borrowed" from Sherma Lavette Anderson, the singer's friend who had introduced her to Matthews Picked up by Atlantic Records, LaVette's disc became a major R&B hit over the fall and winter of 1963–63 – eventually reaching the R&B Top Ten – resulting in LaVette touring with such Atlantic Records R&B hitmakers as Clyde McPhatter, Ben E. King, Barbara Lynn, and rising star Otis Redding.
After two overlooked single releases in respectively 1963 and 1964, LaVette in 1965 returned to the R&B charts with "Let Me Down Easy" on Calla Records, her first release to be credited to Betty LaVette: the spelling of the singer's first name as Bettye would date from her 1977 Bubbling Brown Sugar gig. Though only a peripheral success with an R&B chart peak of No. 48, "Let Me Down Easy" afforded LaVette sufficient cachet to briefly tour with The James Brown Revue. After recording several singles for local Detroit labels, LaVette signed to the Silver Fox label in 1969. She cut a handful of tracks, including two Top 40 R&B hits: "He Made A Woman Out Of Me" and "Do Your Duty". The Memphis studio musicians on these recordings have since become known as The Dixie Flyers. In 1972, she signed once again with Atlantic/Atco. She was sent to Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama to record what was to be her first album. Titled Child of the Seventies, it was produced by Brad Shapiro and featured the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, now known as The Swampers, but Atco chose not to issue the album.
The mid-1970s saw a brief stint and two 45s with Epic, and in 1978 LaVette released the disco smash on West End Records "Doin' The Best That I Can". In 1982, she was signed by her hometown label, Motown, and sent to Nashville to record. The resulting LP (her first album actually issued), titled Tell Me A Lie, was produced by Steve Buckingham. The first single, "Right In The Middle (Of Falling In Love)", hit the R&B Top 40. She briefly gave up recording for a six-year run in the Broadway smash Bubbling Brown Sugar, appearing alongside Honi Coles and Cab Calloway.
After LaVette had played her own personal mono recordings of Child of the Seventies for Gilles Petard, a French soul music collector, he sought the master recordings at Atlantic, whose personnel had previously thought they had been lost in a fire some years back. In 1999, he finally discovered the masters and then licensed the album from Atlantic and released it in 2000 as Souvenirs on his Art and Soul label. At the same time, Let Me Down Easy – Live in Concert was issued by the Dutch Munich label. Both albums sparked a renewed interest in LaVette and in 2003, A Woman Like Me (produced by Dennis Walker) was released. The CD won the 2004 W. C. Handy Award for "Comeback Blues Album of the Year". In an interview, LaVette identified A Woman Like Me as the first album in the second phase of her career and said her 2012 autobiography was named after the album.
After being signed to The Rosebud Agency for live bookings, Rosebud president Mike Kappus brought her to the attention of Anti- Records president, Andy Kaulkin. Upon seeing LaVette perform, Kaulkin signed her to a three-record deal. For the first project, he paired her with Joe Henry, and suggested an album of songs written entirely by women. The resulting CD, I've Got My Own Hell to Raise, was on many critics' "Best of 2005" lists. The title is taken from the lyrics of Fiona Apple's 1996 hit "Sleep to Dream", which is covered on the album. (Other notable songwriters on the album were Aimee Mann, Sinéad O'Connor, Lucinda Williams, Joan Armatrading, and Dolly Parton.) The album was released by ANTI- Records and produced by Joe Henry.
In 2006, capitalizing on the success of I've Got My Own Hell To Raise and the reviews of her live shows, Child of the Seventies was reissued by Rhino Handmade with some previously unreleased tracks. The album was met with critical acclaim. Varèse Sarabande then issued Take Another Little Piece of My Heart, a CD containing all of the songs that she cut for Silver Fox and SSS International in 1969 and 1970. The CD included three unreleased tracks, as well as two duets with Hank Ballard.
In 2006, LaVette received a "Pioneer Award" from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation.
Her 2007 album, The Scene of the Crime, was mostly recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, with alt rockers Drive-By Truckers. The Scene of the Crime was nominated for a Grammy Award for "Best Contemporary Blues Album" and landed on numerous "Best of 2007" lists. LaVette talked about her experiences at Muscle Shoals Sound and FAME in an interview conducted by Edd Hurt in September 2007. Drive-By Truckers frontman Patterson Hood produced the album together with LaVette. The album also features one song co-written by LaVette and Patterson Hood.
In 2008, she received a Blues Music Award for "Best Contemporary Female Blues Singer". Also in 2008, Reel Music re-issued on CD her Motown LP, Tell Me A Lie. The album contained the original cover design that was not used when the LP was released.
In December 2008 at the Kennedy Center Honors, LaVette sang her version of 1973's "Love, Reign o'er Me" in tribute to Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who, who were among the year's honorees. The performance was widely considered one of the event's highlights.
On January 18, 2009, at the We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial she performed a duet of Sam Cooke's 1964 song "A Change Is Gonna Come" with Jon Bon Jovi. In April 2009, she shared the stage with Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr at Radio City Music Hall for the David Lynch Foundation's "Change Begins Within" benefit concert promoting teaching Transcendental Meditation to children in inner city schools. In 2009 Sundazed released on CD the album Do Your Duty, which consisted of her eleven solo tracks cut for Silver Fox and SSS International. In June 2009 a six-song EP, Change Is Gonna Come Sessions, was released as a download only.
In 2010, LaVette released Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, which included unique arrangements and performances of classic songs by artists including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, and Pink Floyd. Included is the complete unedited version of her Kennedy Center Honors performance of The Who's "Love, Reign O'er Me". The CD was critically acclaimed and nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album. She has appeared on National Public Radio's Mountain Stage, World Cafe, All Things Considered and Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!. She has appeared in a Mississippi Public Broadcasting series, Blues Divas, and is in a film of the same name, both produced by Robert Mugge. She has also appeared on Late Night with David Letterman, Conan, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Austin City Limits, The Today Show, Good Morning America, and Live from the Artists Den. LaVette also joined the 9th 10th and 11th annual Independent Music Awards judging panel to assist independent musicians' careers.
LaVette contributed a cover of "Most of the Time" for the album Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International. On December 31, 2012, she appeared in the UK on BBC Two's Jools Holland Annual Hootenanny. In 2013 and 2014, LaVette was nominated for a Blues Music Award in the 'Contemporary Blues Female Artist' category.
In 2016, LaVette won a Blues Music Award as the Soul Blues Female Artist of the Year.
On March 6, 2017, she took part in a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall celebrating the music of Aretha Franklin, whom she has known since 1962. Lavette performed a rendition of Franklin's song "Ain't No Way", which she mentioned was written by Franklin to her older sister.
In 2017, LaVette appeared in the award-winning documentary film The American Epic Sessions. The film featured an interview between director Bernard MacMahon and LaVette in which they discussed her "heartfelt recollections of being pushed away from early blues as "Uncle Tomish" in the '60s." Following the interview, LaVette recorded "Nobody's Dirt Business", a song by early blues musician Frank Stokes, direct-to-disc on the first electrical sound recording system from the 1920s. A soundtrack for the film, entitled Music from The American Epic Sessions, also featured a second song she recorded for the film, "When I Woke Up This Morning", which L. Kent Wolgamott in the Lincoln Journal Star praised as "among its highlights."
Her 2018 album Things Have Changed, an album of all Bob Dylan songs, was nominated for Best Americana Album and the song "Don't Fall Apart On Me Tonight" was nominated for Best Traditional R&B Performance at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards.
In May 2020, LaVette garnered another Blues Music Award in the 'Soul Blues Female Artist of the Year' category. The same year, LaVette was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. On August 28, 2020, she released a new studio album, Blackbirds, which is an album of songs by women from the 1950s who were the "bridge she came across on".
LaVette is married to Kevin Kiley, a recorded music and antiques dealer who is also a singer and musician. They live in West Orange, New Jersey.
|Tell Me a Lie||1982
|Not Gonna Happen Twice||1990||Motor CIty||Import CD|
|A Woman Like Me||2003||Blues Express||CD|
|I've Got My Own Hell to Raise||2005||ANTI-||CD
|The Scene of the Crime||2007||ANTI-||CD, LP|
|A Change is Gonna Come Sessions||2009||ANTI-||digital download-only EP|
|Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook||2010||ANTI-||CD|
|Thankful N' Thoughtful||2012||ANTI-||CD, LP|
|Worthy||2015||Cherry Red||CD, Download, Streaming|
|Things Have Changed||2018||Verve||CD, LP, Download, Streaming|
|Blackbirds||2020||Verve||CD, LP, Download, Streaming|
|Nearer to You: The SSS Recordings||1990||Charly|
|The Very Best of the Motor City Recordings||1996||Motor City||Reissued as Danger, Heartbreak, Dead Ahead – The Best Of|
|Bluesoul Belles: The Complete Cala, Port and Roulette Recordings||1999
|with Carol Fran|
|Souvenirs||2000||Art & Soul||Original previously unreleased Atco LP from 1973|
|Let Me Down Easy in Concert||2000||Munich Records|
|Take Another Little Piece of My Heart: The Classic Late '60s Memphis Recordings with The Dixie Flyers||2006||Varese Sarabande||Duplicates tracks from Nearer to You|
|Child of the Seventies: The Complete Atlantic/Atco Recordings||2006||Rhino Handmade|
|Do Your Duty: The Complete Silver Fox/SSS Recordings||2006
|Duplicates tracks from Nearer to You|
|"Real Real Gone"||2003||Vanthology: A Tribute to Van Morrison||Various Artists||Evidence|
|"Night Time Is the Right Time"
|2005||Get in the Groove – Live||Various artists||Norton|
|"What's Happening Brother"||2006||What's Going On||The Dirty Dozen Brass Band||Shoutfactory|
|"Streets of Philadelphia"||2007||Song of America||Various Artists||Thirty Tigers|
|"Nobody's Dirty Business"
"When I Woke Up This Morning"
|2017||Music from The American Epic Sessions: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack||Various artists||Lo-Max, Columbia, Third Man|
|"My Man – He's a Lovin' Man" / "Shut Your Mouth"||1962||Atlantic||2160||No. 7 R&B|
|"You'll Never Change" / "Here I Am"||1963||Atlantic||2198|
|"Witchcraft in the Air" / "You Killed the Love"||1963||LuPine||123|
|"(Happiness Will Cost You) One Thin Dime"||1964||Scepter||unreleased|
|"Let Me Down Easy" / "What I Don't Know (Won't Hurt Me)"||1965||Calla||102||No. 20 R&B|
|"I Feel Good All Over" / "Only Your Love Can Save Me"||1965||Calla||104|
|"Cry Me a River"||1965||Calla||unreleased|
|She Don't Love You Like I Love You"||1965||Calla||unreleased|
|"I'm Just a Fool for You" / "Stand Up Like a Man"||1966||Calla||106|
|"I'm Holding On" / "Tears in Vain"||1966||Big Wheel||1969|
|"Almost" / "Love Makes the World Go Round"||1968||Karen||1540|
|"Get Away" / "What Condition My Condition Is In"||1968||Karen||1544|
|"A Little Help from My Friends" / "Hey Love"||1969||Karen||1545|
|"Let Me Down Easy" / "Ticket to the Moon"||1969||Karen||1548|
|"He Made a Woman Out of Me" / "Nearer to You"||1969||Silver Fox||17||No. 25 R&B|
|"Do Your Duty" / Love's Made a Fool Out of Me"||1970||Silver Fox||21||No. 38 R&B|
|"Games People Play" / "My Train's Comin' In"||1970||Silver Fox||24|
|"Piece of My Heart" / "At the Mercy of a Man"||1970||SSS International||839|
|"He Made a Woman Out of Me" / "My Train's Coming In"||1970||SSS International||933|
|"Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go" (with Hank Ballard)||1970||SSS International||946|
|"Hello, Sunshine" (with Hank Ballard)||c. 1970||SSS International||unreleased|
|"I'm in Love"||1970||Silver Fox||unreleased|
|"We Got to Slip Around"||c. 1970||SSS International||unreleased|
|"Easier to Say (Than Do)"||c. 1970||SSS International||unreleased|
|"Never My Love" / "Stormy"||1971||TCA||001|
|"Heart of Gold" / "You'll Wake Up Wiser"||1972||Atco||6891|
|"Your Turn to Cry" / "Soul Tambourine"||1973||Atco||6913|
|"Thank You for Loving Me" / "You Made a Believer Out of Me"||1975||Epic||50143||No. 94 R&B|
|"Behind Closed Doors" / "You're a Man of Words, I'm a Woman of Action"||1975||Epic||50177|
|"Doin' the Best I Can Pt. 1" / "Doin' the Best I Can Pt. 2"||1978||West End||1213|
|"Right in the Middle (Of Falling in Love)" / "You've Seen One You've Seen 'em All"||1982||Motown||1532||No. 35 R&B|
|"I Can't Stop" / "Either Way We Lose"||1982||Motown||1614||No. 35 R&B|
|"Trance Dance Pt. 1" / "Trance Dance Pt. 2"||1984||Street King|
|"Not Gonna Happen Twice"||1990||Motor City||UK only|
|"Damn Your Eyes" / "Out Cold"||1997||Bar None||Cassette only|
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- quoted in an interview on the Americana Music Show, episode 124, published January 28, 2013.
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- [dead link]
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- La Gorce, Tammy. "MUSIC; No Longer the Best Soul Singer Nobody Knows", The New York Times, February 19, 2006. Retrieved April 16, 2008. "After trying to find joy everywhere from Memphis to New York City, Ms. LaVette, a ragged-voiced veteran soul singer, fades out with the pronouncement: So I went to West Orange."
- LaVette, Bettye; David Ritz (2012). A Woman Like Me. New York: Blue Rider Press. Retrieved February 13, 2013.