It's been a long time coming but a combination of Bettye's confidence in her talent and the appreciation by her audiences during those years, has finally brought her to this place where we can celebrate a talent that, like fine wine, has improved with age.
At the heart of the Bettye LaVette story, whether sung as a song or narrated in a book, is the notion of creative survival. It is her voice that both announces and ensures that survival; it is her voice that, no matter how dire the circumstances, lets you know that she will not be denied. It is her voice that compels you to listen to every word she says, sings or writes. That voice - rough, tender, sensuous and soaring - is an instrument of inspiration.
"Like all voices," says Bettye, "mine has changed over the years. I'd like to think that the change has to do with wisdom. I'm far more selective about what songs I'll sing. If I can't re-sculpt them and, in many instances actually reinvent them to be part of my story, I can't make them come to life."
Bettye LaVette world-premiered Worthy at the renowned Café Carlyle, NY, to much acclaim — Bettye LaVette Brings Café Carlyle to Tears with Old Songs from New Album Worthy. The prestigious residency kicked off a 4-month promotional tour of North America, including stops in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and in Europe, including London, Paris, and Amsterdam.
On Worthy, Bettye revisits Dylan with the opening track “Unbelievable,” with a funky urgency introduced into the song, not present in the original. On “When I Was a Young Girl,” she slides effortlessly into a slinky groove which Chris Youlden of Savoy Brown probably never imagined. “Bless Us All” is as relevant now as when Mickey Newbury wrote it decades ago, while her rendition of Joe Henry’s own “Stop” is jazzy, soulful and reminds one not to dare try to stop her. The musicians on the album all brought their A-game to the plate: Jay Bellerose on drums and percussion, Doyle Bramall II on guitar, Chris Bruce on bass and Patrick Warren on Piano, Hammond organ and Chamberlin.
Worthy showcases a special selection of songs, making for an extremely reflective, visceral, yet vulnerable album. “Where a Life Goes” is a conversation between Bettye and her deceased sister. When she sings the Lennon/McCartney track “Wait” and the title track “Worthy,” Bettye is at her most insightful and satisfied. Perhaps, the most heart-wrenching tunes of the lot may be “Undamned” filled with quiet desperation, and “Just Between You and Me and the Wall You’re a Fool,” on which she wears her tattered and battered heart on her sleeve.
Worthy is available on CD and as a Deluxe Edition, which contains both the CD and a live DVD of Bettye’s 2014 concert at the Jazz Café in London. Click here to order a personally-autographed copy
“This ranks among the greatest feel-good stories in recent memory, but the feel-good part accounts for a small fraction of the story that Bettye LaVette has to tell. Her book, co-authored with David Ritz (celebrated biographer of Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye and many others) is an unflinching and uncompromising look at a life lived across the tracks from fame, where the brass ring was always within view but never within her grasp.
"I did think there would be a book", she says by phone from New Jersey, where she now lives. "But I always thought I'd be discovered after my death, and then somebody would write this great book about me." We are thankful she got around to it herself. No outsider could have begun to do this woman justice.
What you get in "A Woman Like Me" is LaVette raw and unfiltered. "At my age I'm not trying to make any kind of impression on anyone", she says. The singer, 66, clearly relishes her late-life breakthrough, and she has never stopped engaging the world with the enthusiasm of a teenager. She has an endearing salty streak, leading to statements like, "I know everybody in Detroit over 50. No matter how rich or poor they may be, I've seen 'em drunk or broke or nekkid; sometimes all three." Read More @ Detroit Free Press
AMC’s new drama, “Low Winter Sun,” which is co-produced by Endemol Studios and AMC Studios, premieres on AMC Sunday, August 11 at 10:00pm ET/PT, will feature original music by composer Tyler Bates (Watchmen, TV’s Californication, God of War Ascension video game) and a performance by American R&B legend, Bettye LaVette. The series, set in Detroit, features the new song “Hustlin’ In The Motor City,” co-written by Bates, Nan Vernon, series creator Chris Mundy, and Detroit soul legend Bettye LaVette who performs the song for the main title sequence.
For ”Low Winter Sun” Bates matched the gritty themes with a gritty sonic palette to heighten the tension of the story. Bates wrote a large volume of music during production – essentially creating a music library that the show’s editors have worked with from the beginning of post-production. This approach has been Bates’ modus operandi in effort to shape the feel and pacing of the series with its distinctive sound.
“Tyler is a creative force in the music industry and the perfect choice to provide the gritty, edgy score that ‘Low Winter Sun’ needed,” said Chris Mundy. “I loved working with him on the main title theme and think he did a fantastic job on the whole series, echoing each character’s struggle musically.”
“With Detroit currently in a crisis state bordering an apocalypse, the show calls for a sound that blurs the lines between music and the hollow din of the scarcely populated Motor City,” commented Bates.
To perform on the title track, Bates assembled an all-star team including Justin Meldal-Johnsen on bass (Beck/NIN, producer Paramore, M83, Neon Trees), Roger Manning on keyboards (Beck, Jellyfish), and Scott Seiver on drums (Pete Yorn). For the vocals – he turned to Detroit native and renowned R&B singer Bettye LaVette.
“When I first discussed the possibility of writing the title track for the show, Chris Mundy said that in an ideal world Bettye LaVette would be singing a song in a Detroit club for the opening credits. One thing led to the next and Chris asked me to write the title track. I thought it would be fitting if Chris wrote the lyrics for the song, given his deep affection and concern for the city. One week later we were in the studio with Bettye LaVette cutting ‘Hustlin’ In The Motor City.’”
“I am so thrilled to have been asked to sing this song representing my home town. It's been very hard to watch my city die before my eyes and I am so pleased that this show is set here. Perhaps it will help us to get back on our feet and on our way. Being on this television set was the most exciting thing that has happened to me since learning how to tap dance with Cab Calloway”, said LaVette.
“Low Winter Sun” is a co-production between Endemol Studios and AMC Studios. Chris Mundy (“Criminal Minds,” “Cold Case”) serves as writer, executive producer and showrunner on the project which stars Mark Strong (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy, Zero Dark Thirty), Lennie James (“The Walking Dead,” “Jericho,” Snatch), James Ransone (“The Wire”), Ruben Santiago-Hudson (American Gangster, “Castle”), Sprague Grayden (Paranormal Activity, “Prime Suspect”), Athena Karkanis (“Supernatural”), Billy Lush (“Generation Kill”) and David Costabile (“Breaking Bad”).
Set in Detroit, “Low Winter Sun” is a contemporary story of murder, deception, revenge and corruption in a world where the line between cops and criminals is blurred. This gritty, edgy and provocative crime drama begins with an act of retribution -- the murder of a dirty cop by two fellow Detroit detectives, Frank Agnew (Strong) and Joe Geddes (James). Seemingly the perfect crime, in reality the murder activates forces that will forever alter Agnew’s life, and pull him into the heart of the Detroit underworld. The series is based on the 2006 award-winning British two-part mini-series of the same name written by Simon Donald and produced by Tiger Aspect Productions (an Endemol Company). In addition to Mundy, Jeremy Gold, Head of Creative Affairs for Endemol Studios, oversees the project with Greg Brenman, head of drama for Tiger Aspect. The project is represented by CAA. Click here to view the main title theme featuring Bettye LaVette
Bettye in Belgium: December 2012. Image © Hans Vangeel, Cutting Edge
Bettye LaVette and her band took Europe by storm with a December tour that covered England, France, Holland and Belgium. Bettye was lavished with praise wherever she went. The London Guardian gives a flavor of the reviews:
"Five decades of trying and often failing have left their mark on Detroit soul singer Bettye LaVette. Not only are there gravel and guts in her voice, she has a caustic survivor's wit that warns you not to trifle with her. "We've just finished the 'Who the Hell Is She?' tour, and now we're on the 50th anniversary tour." She pauses to allow applause from the audience at her sole UK show. "So I've decided to put some of the many flop records back into the show. Because, after 50 years of showbusiness and 66 years of life ..." Longer pause. "I no longer care what you think."
And why should she? For most of those years, the public were busily making stars of such Motor City contemporaries as Diana Ross, while ignoring a woman whose ability to extract pathos from a song far exceeds Ross'. Between jokes – her wit spares no one, from her grandchildren to certain singers who demand flattering pink stage lighting – LaVette gives so much of herself to the songs that she trembles.
...But her 1965 single "Let Me Down Easy" is the highlight, and as LaVette shudders through it, you imagine what could have been had success come earlier." - The Guardian (Our webmaster was there and has uploaded the video clip of "Let Me Down Easy" to YouTube.)
Bettye's appearance on the Tonight Show, with Jay Leno, fell on the same day of the release of her new CD, "Thankful N' Thoughtful", on ANTI-. Bettye's CD was produced by Craig Street and contains a collection of 12 passionately-reinterpreted songs, which is both a celebration and self-reflection of her 50th anniversary in the music business. The CD continues to garner high critical praise with The New York Times stating, "Ms. LaVette's bruised, caustic, adamant voice plunges into every line, coming through the songs as an unflinching survivor".
Following on closely with the release of her new CD, Bettye's autobiography "A Woman Like Me", came out on Sept 27, 2012.
She later released 5 previously-unavailable tracks on the limited release EP, "More Thankful, More N’ Thoughtful".
Bettye LaVette was invited to perform as part of the prestigious Ford's Theatre Annual Gala on June 3rd, 2012. This year’s event celebrated courageous American stories from the Revolutionary War to the present day through performance and song. Highlights included appearances by host Scott Bakula, soprano Anna Christy, musical duo The Civil Wars, R&B icon Bettye LaVette, actor and vocalist Matthew Morrison, and 1776 cast members Robert Cuccioli, Bobby Smith and others. Following the performance, guests dined at the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum.
The evening also included the presentation of the Lincoln Medal to Morgan Freeman and Elie Wiesel, two individuals whose extraordinary character, accomplishments and life work reflect Lincoln’s legacy of leadership, service, humanity, wisdom, eloquence and vision. First Lady Michelle Obama served as the Honorary Chair of the gala celebration. More info
Preceding the gala, Bettye and husband Kevin Kiley, were amongst those invited to the White House to be greeted by President Obama at a special reception for supporters and the performers. (Photo courtesy of The White House.)
Dr. John and Bettye LaVette performed at the historic Harlem Apollo Theatre, joining a host of luminaries from across the music and entertainment world. The night included appearances from Quincy Jones, U2's Bono, Macy Gray and former Saturday Night Live star Darrell Hammond, coming together for the eleventh annual Jazz Foundation of America benefit gala, A Great Night in Harlem.
For the past 22 years the Jazz Foundation of America (JFA) has played a vital role in supporting American musicians who hail from the culturally rich roots of jazz and blues. JFA's mission is to help those who have dedicated their lives to their art and then find themselves in times of crisis. The JFA handles up to 6,000 cases annually ranging from Emergency Assistance programs to providing access to essential medical providers, allowing vulnerable artists to get back on their feet and back to making music.
I was honored to be a part of The 30th Annual John Lennon Tribute - live from the Beacon Theatre, NYC. The project was organized by Theatre Within and alll proceeds go to the Japanese Red Cross. I also had the privilege of being asked to contribute a song to the 4 CD set, Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan - honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International. My track, "Most Of The Time", is a previously unreleased track and was recorded during the I've Got My Own Hell To Raise CD sessions. Proceeds go to Amnesty International.
Performing at Radio City Music Hall for the David Lynch Foundation's "Change Begins Within" Benefit Concert. Mouse-Over: Ringo, Bettye & Paul / Paul McCartney, David Lynch, Ringo Starr and Bettye LaVette attend the press conference. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images)
"Her use of vocal texture, of which she has lots of shades, is perfect and really involves you with the track. Worthy is well worth the wait." - Express (London)
"The life story of this soul singer is destined for the big screen… LaVette’s candid story is also a window into the early years of Motown." – New York Post