Performance Friday, March 21, 2014 | 10 PM

Bettye LaVette

Zankel Hall
Legendary singer Bettye LaVette is rhythm and blues royalty. LaVette launched her 51-year career with the hit single “My Man—He’s a Loving Man” and brought down the house at the 2008 Kennedy Center Honors ceremony. She’s back in classic form, performing favorites from across the entire span of her brilliant career.

This concert is part of Late Nights at Zankel Hall.


  • Bettye LaVette

Event Duration

The program will last approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.


  • Bettye LaVette

    Two-time Grammy nominee Bettye LaVette is no mere singer. She is an interpreter of the highest order. Whether a song originated as country, rock, pop, jazz, or blues, it becomes pure R&B when she takes it over. LaVette is one of very few artists who were recording during the birth of soul music in the 1960s and is still creating vital music today. She gets inside a song and shapes and twists it, conveying all of the emotion that can be wrought from the lyrics.

    She was born Betty Jo Haskins on January 29, 1946, in Muskegon, Michigan. Unlike her contemporaries, she did not get her start in the church, but was instead raised on the country and R&B records of the time that were playing on the juke box in her parents' living room.

    At the age of 16, she became Bettye LaVette. Her first single was "My Man-He's a Loving Man" on Atlantic Records, climbing to number seven on the R&B charts and earning her a spot on a national tour with Ben E. King, Clyde McPhatter, and other Atlantic stars of the time. She continued recording throughout the 1960s, '70s and '80s, including stints on Atco, Epic, and Motown. She also worked alongside Charles "Honi" Coles and Cab Calloway in the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Bubbling Brown Sugar in the role of Sweet Georgia Brown.

    LaVette's resurgence in the 21st century is an amazing tale of perseverance. In 2004, her CD A Woman Like Me won the W. C. Handy Award for Comeback Blues Album of the Year. The following year, she signed with ANTI- Records and released the critically acclaimed I've Got My Own Hell to Raise, consisting of songs that were written by women. In 2006, LaVette won the prestigious Pioneer Award from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation. She has also collaborated with alt-rock group Drive-By Truckers for the Grammy nominated The Scene of the Crime. She received the Blues Music Award for Best Contemporary Female Blues Singer (2008), in addition to performing an unforgettable "Love Reign O'er Me" at The Kennedy Center Honors in a tribute to The Who. In 2009, she performed "A Change Is Gonna Come" with Jon Bon Jovi on HBO's telecast of President Barack Obama's inauguration kick-off concert We Are One. Her CD, Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook earned her a second Grammy nomination in 2010.

    In 2012, LaVette celebrated her 50th year in show business with the release of both a new album, Thankful N' Thoughtful (ANTI- Records), and her autobiography, A Woman Like Me (Penguin), written with David Ritz. The book is currently being developed as a feature film by producing partners John Wells (The West Wing, ER) and Alicia Keys's company AKW. At President Obama's personal request, she also performed at the prestigious Ford's Theatre Annual Gala in Washington, DC.

    More Info


I'm Not The One
Bettye LaVette
Thankful N' Thoughtful | Anti, Inc.

Jay Ruttenberg on Bettye LaVette

In the fraternity of artists who got bum deals in their initial music industry go-rounds only to burn bright in maturity, Bettye LaVette stands as a queen. The dreamy achievements of her early years—charting R&B singles when her contemporaries were learning to drive, touring alongside legends named Otis and James—too often got overshadowed by the slights handed down by the gods of record companies and timing. She is the type of singer who recorded a debut album in the early 1970s, only to see it shelved until the early 2000s. Were LaVette to tumble into the plot of a Nick Hornby novel, she would feel right at home.

During the singer's fruitful 21st-century renaissance, she has been in full-on revisionist mode. Her albums include I've Got My Own Hell to Raise, featuring material composed entirely by female songwriters, and The Scene of the Crime, which returned LaVette to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where she recorded the fateful LP that had been scrapped decades earlier. On Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, she performed standards of the British Invasion—well-trodden material that, one would assume, needed no further airing. Yet LaVette does not cover songs; she disembowels them, carefully twisting perspective and emphasis until they belong to her outright. These are fresh creations with familiar words and melodies. Witness her recording of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" from her 2012 album Thankful N' Thoughtful: LaVette strips a pop hit of recent omnipresence of any contemporary archness or sheen, rendering it desperate and weathered.

Why have this singer's fortunes so improved with the years? Perhaps LaVette makes the most sense as a veteran artist and a perennial underdog. Her voice is certainly not that of some young angel—this music is gritty, knowing, blue collar. She has a work ethic unique to those who have been gifted second acts. People who attend cultural events around New York City are likely to stumble upon her. I have seen LaVette sing as part of a starry charity event, in a tribute show devoted to another musician, and at a studio taping of Late Show with David Letterman. She has a way of popping up. But the performance that hit me in the gut was the singer's headlining concert in Madison Square Park. It was a free show, with an audience that not only included fans, but also people on their way home from work, young children of the Flatiron District, and curious passersby. The musician voiced songs both familiar and obscure, then introduced what was perhaps her set's most known quantity: "Blackbird," from The White Album. "Who needs to hear this old number again?" I thought. In a flash, she proved me wrong. LaVette dragged the tempo down and seemed to crawl inside the song, acting as both singer and subject. Everybody—kids, tourists, office workers—seemed to stop in their tracks to stare down the source of sound. And for a brief moment, a bustling New York City park stood perfectly still.

—Jay Ruttenberg is the editor of the comedy journal The Lowbrow Reader and of its book The Lowbrow Reader Reader (Drag City). He has written for The New York Times, Fashion Projects, and Mad magazine.

Program Notes
Presented by Carnegie Hall in partnership with WFUV.
This performance is part of Non-Subscription Events.

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