Sunday, May 16, 2010

Peaking at 64

In the spring of 2008, I attended a Houston cultural festival, called iFest (i for International) to see a performance by guitar blues legend Buddy Guy (who was terrific). However, the warm-up act, a one-hit wonder R&B singer named Bettye LaVette, also blew me away. Her phrasing, the way she conveys emotion, is amazing. It turns out that I was not alone in my assessment and that LaVette was just hitting her stride. The past couple years have been very good for Ms. LaVette. Since that show, she has gone on to:

- Win a BMA (Blues Music Award) for Best Contemporary Female Blues Singer
- Perform a show-stopping version of "A Change is Gonna to Come" as a duet with Jon Bon Jovi at the Obama Inauguration Concert

Bettye LaVette, who turned 64 this year, is getting more attention now than she did for most of her career. She recorded her first song in 1962, when she was 16, and has been working as an entertainer ever since. That song, "My Man - He's a Lovin' Man" became a Top Ten R&B Hit. Her next hit, 1965's "Let Me Down Easy," led to a tour with The James Brown Revue.

Watching this video of her performing The Who's "Love Reign O'er Me" at the 2008 Kennedy Center Honors, you can see clearly why she is suddenly receiving the attention she deserves:

When I saw her perform, she mostly performed work from her 2007 album, The Scene of the Crime, telling powerful stories and transforming country songs. On that album she is backed up by the alt-country band, The Drive-By Truckers, a group I will feature in a future blog posting. A special treat is the one song she wrote, her autobiographical "Before the Money Came".

On her website, Ms. LaVette is promoting her new album, Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, which will be released on May 24th. This summer she will be touring with Robert Plant. A line from a review in this week's New York York Times proclaims, " Ms. LaVette, 64, now rivals Aretha Franklin as her generation’s most vital soul singer."


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