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Patti LaBelle says she cooked for Elton John before he was famous — and he never returned her Tupperware

With the release of the 20th anniversary edition of her bestselling cookbook LaBelle Cuisine: Recipes to Sing About, legendary singer Patti LaBelle joined Q’s Tom Power to dish on her decades-long legacy of making comfort food and soul music.

The singer joined Q’s Tom Power to dish on her decades-long legacy of making comfort food and soul music

Soul singer Patti LaBelle joined Q’s Tom Power for a conversation over Zoom. (CBC)

Patti LaBelle is a two-time Grammy-winning singer heralded as the Godmother of Soul, but in some circles, she's better known for her food than her legendary voice.

In a conversation with Q's Tom Power, LaBelle reminisced about cooking on the road for her band, which at one time included a little-known piano player named Reggie Dwight, who would later be known as Elton John.

"I would feed him all the time because, you know, you don't make much money back in those days," LaBelle told Power. "I would send things back home with Reggie. I said, 'Take these Tupperware, guys, but I want them back.'"

WATCH | Patti LaBelle's full interview with Q's Tom Power:

John didn't return the Tupperware, and LaBelle never forgot. When they crossed paths again years later, he invited her to see his show in Philadelphia. "I said, 'Who are you opening for?'" recalled LaBelle. "He said, 'I'm Elton John now.' I said, 'You little punk, give me my Tupperware!'"

While LaBelle never got her Tupperware back, John more than made up for it by gifting her with a diamond ring in place of the plastic food storage containers.

"We recorded something at the Red Piano show, and he took his rings off to play," she explained. "And I said, 'Elton, here's your ring.' He said, 'That's your Tupperware.'"

LaBelle said seeing one of her good friends become a massive success was amazing, but it made her reflect on the difficulty Black performers can experience trying to make it in the music industry. It's something she's encountered throughout her career.

"No matter how well we sing, no matter how well we do — whatever we do — we're gonna have to work a little harder," she said. "And I'm still climbing. I'm still working."

WATCH | Official video for LaBelle's song If You Asked Me To:

On the reception to Céline Dion's cover of If You Asked Me To

Another of LaBelle's friends who achieved superstardom is Céline Dion, who covered the soul singer's 1989 hit If You Asked Me To just three years after the original song was released.

"I was so happy to hear her version because she's one of the [greatest] singers ever," LaBelle told Power. "And when she did it exactly like me, it was a blessing to me. I said, 'Wow.' We talked about it because we are friends. And I said, 'Girlfriend, you killed it.'"

Maybe if I was a white girl doing it before she did, maybe I would've had the success that she had with it.- Patti LaBelle

But the reception to Dion's version was vastly different from the reception to LaBelle's: the French Canadian singer's cover was a huge commercial success, despite it having a note-for-note arrangement that matched the original recording. 

"They were very much the same, but the difference is hers sold billions. Mine sold maybe 100," LaBelle said wryly. "That was the difference. And I said at the time that maybe if I was a white girl doing it before she did, maybe I would've had the success that she had with it. And I never pull anything from her success because she's phenomenal, but I had to listen and think, 'OK, we're doing it quite alike.'"

Patti Labelle: "It's hard sometimes for a black performer."

7 months ago
Duration 1:11
Celine Dion's cover of 'If You Asked Me To' was a major breakout success for the French-Canadian singer in 1992. When Patti Labelle released the original in 1989, it didn't have the same commercial success. 1:11

'I have more ease in cooking than singing sometimes'

While LaBelle feels she never made it quite as big as John or Dion, she's still one of the most respected singers working today and, not only that, she's maintained a successful side hustle cooking throughout her life.

This year, she released a 20th anniversary edition of her bestselling cookbook, LaBelle Cuisine: Recipes to Sing About. She still cooks for her band and crew when she's on tour.

"I carry a trunk with pots and pans and all my seasonings that I can carry — dry seasonings," she said. "And then when I get to the farmers' market, I'll go and buy my fresh veggies, fresh fish and chicken and whatever else I want to cook on the road…. I've always cooked on the road. Always."

LaBelle’s bestselling cookbook, LaBelle Cuisine: Recipes to Sing About, turns 20 this year (Whitney Thomas, Simon & Schuster)

When Power asked LaBelle what comes with more pressure, singing for thousands of fans or cooking for an intimate group of celebrity friends, she responded that she does both with all her heart.

"Singing for thousands and thousands of people, you know, that's not intimidating," she said. "But I have more ease in cooking than singing sometimes."

Like most performers, she said there have been times she's experienced disgruntled concertgoers booing her from the audience, but she's never felt uncomfortable in the kitchen.

"I know where I am in the kitchen, and sometimes on stage I know. But sometimes there are some doubting Thomases out there."


Hear the full conversation with Patti LaBelle near the top of this page.

Written by Vivian Rashotte. Produced by Ty Callender.

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