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 talked-about live shows on the concert circuit.
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