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Bettye LaVette, soul survivor, still tough as nails

Bettye LaVette


"Would I become an old lady, begging for dollars while singing some two-bit blues in a tired voice I could no longer control? I hated that thought, but I had it. I couldn't lose it. I was getting scared."

We know Bettye LaVette as the dramatic soul singer who arrives triumphantly at Toronto's Winter Garden Theatre next week. But for many years she was a semi-star long forgotten. The Detroit artist released her first single in 1962 – the hyphenated R&B hit My Man - He's a Lovin' Man – but was floundering by the 1970s. The above passage, from her new memoir, speaks to her mindset at the time.

Her worst fears were not realized, and although her comeback was solidified with 2005's I've Got My Own Hell To Raise, she had already begun her road back with with 2003's A Woman Like Me, which is the same title as her autobiography.

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What kind of woman is she? A proud, tough-as-nails one who prevailed, against high odds, in an industry controlled (and exploited) by men.

What kind of author is she? A refreshingly candid one who tells of a long-ago night with her friend, the legendary singer Bobby (Blue) Bland."We were in bed after a long night of blowing coke," she recounts. "We blew so much that both of us forgot about sex."

She's also one who describes Diana Ross as a "stuck-up [diva] with a small voice and big ambition." Ms. LaVette relays a scene of Ms. Ross's comeuppance with delight. It is on page 82, and it ends with Ms. Ross in her undergarments, beaten down by the jealous wife of Motown songwriter Brian Holland.

Ms. LaVette's latest album is Thankful N' Thoughtful, a covers collections which celebrates her 50 years in show business and answers the question as to her place at age 66. It includes a version of Patty Griffin's Time Will Do The Talking; clearly that is the case.

Bettye LaVette, Nov. 1, 8 p.m. $36 to $56. Winter Garden Theatre, 189 Yonge St., Toronto. or 1-855-985-5000.

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