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Bettye LaVette (born Betty Haskins on January 29, 1946) is an American soul singer-songwriter who recorded her first record at sixteen, but achieved only intermittent fame until 2005, with her album, I've Got My Own Hell to Raise. Her eclectic musical style combines elements of soul, blues, rock and roll, funk, gospel, and country music, which has prevented her from being easily marketed.
Life and career
She next hit the charts with “Let Me Down Easy” on Calla in 1965. It is considered by many to be one of the greatest soul recordings of all time. This led to a brief stint with The James Brown Revue.
After recording several 45 rpm singles for local Detroit labels, in 1969 Bettye signed to the Silver Fox label. 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 full length album. Titled Child of the Seventies, it was produced by Brad Shapiro and featured the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, now known as The Swampers. A publicity tour was booked, but at the last minute Bettye was called and told that they had cancelled the project, and asked for a return of the airplane tickets. She was never given an explanation and the devastation stayed with her for years to come. One single from the sessions. "Your Turn To Cry", was released, however, and ranks high on the lists of many deep soul collectors.
The mid 70s saw a brief stint and two 45s with Epic, and in 1978 she released the disco smash “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, 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 both 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 requested to look for 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 Grammy Award winner Dennis Walker) was released. The CD won the 2004 W. C. Handy Award for “Comeback Blues Album of the Year”.
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 Bettye perform, Kaulkin signed her
to a three record deal. For the first project, he paired her with Grammy Award winning producer 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
In 2006, she received a well-deserved “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. On it, she transforms country and rock songs written by Willie Nelson, Elton John, and Don Henley, among others, into devastating mini-dramas. The title of the disc references the now infamous Child of the Seventies LP. The Scene of the Crime was nominated for a Grammy Award for “Best Contemporary Blues Album” and landed on numerous “Best of 2007” lists. She recorded Child of the Seventies not at FAME but at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, which ceased operation in 2005. LaVette talks about her experiences at Muscle Shoals Sound and FAME in an interview conducted by Edd Hurt in September 2007.Rock/alt-country outfit Drive-By Truckers served as the back-up band for the album. Drive-By Truckers frontman, Patterson Hood, produced the album alongside LaVette. The album also features one song co-written by LaVette and Patterson Hood.
In 2008, she received a BMA (Blues Music Award) for “Best
Contemporary Female Blues Singer”. 2008 also saw Reel Music re-issue on
CD her Motown LP, Tell Me A Lie. The CD contains the original cover
design that was not used when the album was released.
On January 18, 2009, she performed a duet at the We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial on 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 & 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.
2009 saw Sundazed release the album on CD, Do Your Duty, which consists of her 11 solo tracks cut for Silver Fox and SSS International.
In June 2009 a 6 song EP, Change Is Gonna Come Sessions, was released as a download only on iTunes, Amazon, Zune, and Rhapsody.
In 2010, LaVette released Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, which included unique arrangements and performances of classic songs by The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Animals, Pink Floyd, and more. Included is a studio version of her show-stopping Kennedy Center Honors performance of the The Who's "Love Reign O'er Me." Once again, she has received critical acclaim for this release.
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 Award winning film maker, Robert Mugge. She has also appeared on Late Night with David Letterman, The Conan O'Brien Show, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and Austin City Limits.
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.
LaVette also joined the 9th annual Independent Music Awards judging panel to assist independent musicians' careers.