Watching the #PattiVsGladys #Verzuz brought back the night I saw Patti Labelle in concert in Raleigh in 2004. It was a pivotal period in my life. I had decided to leave my tenure-track position in psychology to enroll in seminary, despite doing very well in that career. The decision had resulted in a painful backlash from my department that had far-reaching consequences. In the midst of that, I saw Patti in concert. It was a night that changed my life. Afterward I wrote this piece. I submitted it to one or two publications, but it was rejected. I tucked the article away, but not the memory. The Verzuz event made me dig it out.
The Night Patti Labelle Changed My Life
Sometimes the Divine Spirit speaks to us in the most unexpected places. And not just a little whisper but a decibel-shattering, life-changing shout. If we open our hearts and minds to the possibility, important life lessons can be learned from unlikely sources. Three of my most valuable lessons came during a Patti Labelle concert.
Lesson #1: Be authentically and unapologetically you.
Patti kept the audience waiting for over an hour. A few people left but we stayed glued to our seats. With fifth row seats, there was no way that we were going anywhere, even if we had to wait three hours to hear one song. After all, this was Patti Labelle and if we were lucky, we just might catch a shoe.
When she finally emerged, she was undeniably and unapologetically angry. She announced to the audience that she had been in the building for hours waiting for payment from the promoters. In case you have never seen Patti live, let me tell you that she does not come lightly. She travels with her management team and a full band composed of incredibly talented musicians and background singers. And those were just the people onstage. It was clearly an expensive production.
Throughout the concert, Patti ranted and raved, cursed at the promoters, and even threatened to slap them if they approached her the wrong way. But her anger was not motivated simply by her financial loss. She saw the promoters’ actions as another example of an industry that disrespects women and devalues the talent, however legendary, of anyone over the age of thirty. She was tired of being told that she had nothing to offer and that fans no longer appreciated her. She knew her talent and she refused to be taken advantage of.
Lesson #2: Spend your life doing something you love.
As Patti recounted her problems with the promoters, I could hear whispers in the audience echoing the fear that existed in my mind – “She’s not going to sing.” But she did. Even despite the fact that the sound in the building was horrible and she could not hear herself or the music, she sang her heart out.
Midway through her performance, it became obvious that she was suffering from a migraine. One of her assistants rushed out on stage with some pills and a glass of water. Several times her managers gestured that it was time to leave. And still she sang.
As expected, her voice was amazing. But even more amazing was that she sang at all. Despite bad sound, no money, and a migraine, she sang. And it was no half-hearted attempt, either. It was “I’m giving you everything I’ve got because there’s nothing more that I’d rather be doing right now than singing for you.” It was thrilling to watch someone with that much passion for their work.
Lesson #3: If you are open, the universe will provide what you need when you need it.
The timing of that concert was nothing short of divine. At the time, I was going through a major transitional period. My life had arrived at a fork in the road where I had to decide between two options – continuing my fast track career as an academic researcher or relinquishing my hard-gotten position to pursue a call to ministry. After much struggle, I decided to follow my heart and choose a life of ministry. But my decision, while bringing relief in some ways, also caused turmoil as several of my colleagues began to respond with hostility and resentment. With over six months before my resignation took effect, every day became a chore. My rights were being trampled on and I was expected to lie quietly and take it. Although in recovery, I was still a chronic people-pleaser and had difficulty standing up for myself. So Patti’s honesty was refreshing and inspiring. I left that concert with much more than I had expected to receive – joy that I had chosen a path of passion and a renewed commitment to speaking my truth no matter what the consequences.
Be open to the lessons that the universe has for you and the teachers who bring them. You never know who might change your life.
That night inspired me to keep moving forward with my transition. After I graduated from seminary, I returned to a faculty position, this time in a seminary. But I was not certain that I would remain in the academy. My prior experience had ripped my confidence away, and I did not think I belonged there. I took that job thinking it would be a stop-gap until God revealed my true life’s purpose.
I kept thinking back to that concert and how Patti’s love for singing was so strong that neither her pain nor the pay issues could stop her from doing it. I wanted that.
And then one day, I realized that I had it. I had not been feeling well in the hours before class and was not sure how I would make it through. But once I began teaching, the pain and fatigue disappeared. I didn’t feel it again until I had finished class and returned to my office. As I marveled that I had been able to make it through the class, I realized it wasn’t the first time that had happened. I realized in the teaching moment, all other worries and concerns left. It was my sweet spot, the thing I loved to do best.
Thank you Ms. Patti.