Patti LaBelle: Every day I pray, and every morning I wake up, I say, “Gosh, I got another day.” You know? So I never take the days for granted, because within that twenty-four hours, something could happen that’s not so nice or negative. So I keep the faith.
Giving Thanks Instead of Giving Up: Patti LaBelle & Tracy Lawrence – Episode #279
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. At this time of the year, we hear a lot about being thankful and having an attitude of gratitude. But from an everyday perspective, why is gratitude key in allowing good things to flow in our lives? When we are grateful to God, even in the bad times, it has the power to energize us. When we’re broken, a grateful heart can bring healing, and when we feel like giving up, giving thanks can bring us hope. Our guests this week have learned to be grateful—not only in the good times, but in the difficult times, and they share how practicing gratefulness opens them up to more blessings, and gives them the strength to share those blessings with others. We’ll hear stories of gratefulness from legendary singer Patti LaBelle and country music icon Tracy Lawrence.
Let’s start with Patti’s story.
Patti: Hi, I’m Patti LaBelle. I sing, I cook, I dance, I pray, and I stay.
[Growing up,] I learned how to cook by just being at home all the time. So I never missed a meal being prepared. So that’s when I learned how to cook. I had no friends. I had a cat, a dog, and butterflies and lightning bugs were my buddies. My friends were actually my aunts, the older people I lived with and who frequented the house. I was just very shy—and I’m still shy, to a point. I just really was always afraid of communicating. And that’s why I think it was so easy for me to learn to cook because that was something that I was around 24/7.
Patti Discovers Her Voice in Church
I finally went to church and met my musical director—the choir director, Miss Chapman. I knew at a young age I was going to sing because I would take brooms and pretend they were microphones and stand in front of a mirror and just belt out.
So when I finally got out of the house and went to church, they knew I could sing. For some reason, they knew I could sing. And so Miss Chapman said, “We would like for you to be in the choir.”
And I said, “Okay, fine.”
But then they heard me sing and she said, “I think you should take the lead.”
I said, “Lead what?”
She said, “We want you to lead the choir. We want you to be the lead vocalist.”
I was petrified. I said, “I don’t think I can do that.”
And she said, “Just give it a chance.”
Her son was a phenomenal singer. He reminds you of Luther Vandross. So we did a duet together. It was called “God Specializes” and we tore the church up. That’s when I realized that I had something that was pleasant to the ears. You know, people got the Spirit. They got to say, “Hallelujah,” and “Thank you, Jesus,” and all kinds of wonderful things that made me know that I did have it.
My mother and father were supportive of anything I sang because I was so shy and finally to get that voice out of this little shy girl, they were happy. They were very happy.
Singing in church, it was every Sunday and then, of course, I met real people, real girls who wanted to sing. And that’s when we formed the group, the Ordettes. That’s when I started singing secular music. So we started the group around the Philadelphia area and wherever we could, Jersey, New York. I knew then that I had another, not just a gospel voice, but an R&B voice, a secular voice, and you can have a voice no matter what, depending on what kind of music you want to sing. So I continued to sing R&B and I still sing gospel. I mean, I still sang gospel. But that’s when I started singing, I guess, for real, with the girl group.
You know, my faith took me through, because I said, “I have to do this because I’m born to sing.” So a lot of prayers help me become the not-so-scared Patti LaBelle now.
“Faith took me through, because I said, ‘I have to do this because I’m born to sing.’ So a lot of prayers help me become the not-so-scared Patti LaBelle now.” – Pattie LaBelle
Losing Her Voice, Coming Back Stronger
There was a time I did lose my voice. I lost it, and everybody around me is telling me what they think I want to hear. They said, “No, you didn’t. You sound great.”
I sounded like a lamb in labor.
I was so awful that before I would go on stage, I will pray that the audience wouldn’t throw oranges at me. I would stand on stage sometimes for forty-five-minute shows when we had four acts on the show, it was Frankie Beverly & Maze, and The O’Jays and someone else, and I performed before Frankie Beverly & Maze, and I had forty-five minutes. The whole forty-five minutes I stood there like a zombie because I knew when I opened my mouth, they were going to run out of the building because it sounded so bad to me.
But my manager, who is my son, said, “Mom, nothing’s wrong with you.”
I said, “Zuri, I know how I should sound, and I don’t sound like the Patti LaBelle that I want people to hear.”
I was nervous. Every show I’d say, “Zuri, can I please cancel? Can we not?”
“Ma, you’re going to go out, Ma you’re fine.”
But I went through that thing, and by the grace of God, I made it. But the next day, when [I did] a lot of radio shows in each city, they said, “We’re praying for Patti LaBelle,” because I knew that I wasn’t as great as I should be. But people believed in me so much. And it just gave me faith and courage to just, no matter how bad my voice is, just continue to sing. And guess what? By the grace of God, it came back stronger than ever before. And it was prayer.
“People believed in me so much. And it just gave me faith and courage to just, no matter how bad my voice is, just continue to sing. And guess what? By the grace of God, it came back stronger than ever before. And it was prayer.” – Pattie LaBelle
Time Is Precious
All my sisters were diagnosed with cancer at one time or another.
I was touring a lot on the road, and nobody could cook as I could cook in my family. I made the best bacon and eggs sandwiches with butter toast. And when I came back from—I don’t know where I was—my sister Jackie was in the hospital about five minutes from where I lived at that time, and she wanted an egg sandwich. I had just gotten back and I said, “Oh, honey, I’m so tired.” I knew she was so sick and I was feeling it as I was touring, then I felt sad a lot on stage because I knew she had bad cancer. And at that time I was feeling as though I have not been as nice as I could have been to her—and she had a T-shirt line selling Patti LaBelle T-shirts and different things. And at the time that she was doing that, I wasn’t as pleasant as I could have been.
And so the day when she wanted the sandwich, I said, “I’m so tired, Jackie. I’ll bring it tomorrow. I promise you, I’m five minutes away from the hospital.”
And the next morning, my aunt says, “Sugar, don’t rush with the sandwich. Your sister just died.”
She didn’t say it like that, but it was like that. Here I am, selfish, with my little bit of time the day before to make a sandwich to take to her, and I didn’t do it. So, of course, that’s been with me.
Then my other sister, Barbara, was diagnosed with cancer. My other sister, Vivian, was diagnosed with cancer. I’m still standing, and I’m wondering why. Before they turned forty-four, forty-five, they all died.
Faith pulled me through, and every year after fifty, I just said, “Am I going to stay? I am going to stay in order to reduce myself.” And I wonder every day how long I’m going to stay. And then my mother died of diabetes, my father died of Alzheimer’s, my uncle of blindness from diabetes, my aunts, everybody died—and I was still standing. It made me feel like, Why not me?
And I still don’t know. I deal with it. Every day, of course, I miss them in my house. I miss them fighting with me. I miss all of the things that come along with having sisters, having a family who can say anything to you and get away with it because it’s blood. This time is precious.
“I miss all of the things that come along with having sisters, having a family who can say anything to you and get away with it because it’s blood. This time is precious.” – Patti LaBelle
Stop Saying “No” and Start Saying “Yes!”
My faith is so strong. I woke up this morning, faith was, here again, my house is still intact. I live in the area that the tornadoes tore up so many close to my home, so many friends of mine. I was there, by the grace of God, here I am again. Faith pulled me through this morning. I was nervous to wake up, to look outside. And here again, I’m highly favored, I am blessed again. At seventy-seven, I’m still being given the chance to perform. I’m going on tour for the first time in two years almost, eighteen months. I am being asked to perform again. So my faith is strong.
I’ve been asked to do a lot of things. Dancing with the Stars, they asked three years in a row, and I said, “No, no, no.” Finally, at seventy-one, I said, “Why not?” And then I did it. I lasted six weeks, and so many ladies, I gave them faith. I gave them hope. They’d see me in the airport and say, “My God, I’m sixty-nine or whatever, and I’m afraid to take chances even after fifty years. You did Dancing with the Stars at seventy-one. What help that did for my mind, because I realize now I can try anything.”
You don’t always have to succeed in what you try. You can fail. I mean, I didn’t make it through Dancing with the Stars, but I did it because I could. You have to believe in yourself a lot more. And most people after they turn fifty, they think it’s over. I know it’s not over. I know at seventy-seven, I’m getting more opportunities than I did when I was forty, you know, so never stop thinking that you’re all that and the bag of chips at seventy-seven. You’re not through.
I know I’m not finished. I have so much to give and so much to do. But just knowing that you’re offered these things, stop saying no and say yes.
Narrator: Patti leaves us with a thought from a January 9th excerpt of the Jesus Calling devotional.
You may encounter many obstacles as you move toward your goal, but don’t be discouraged—never give up! With My help, you can overcome any obstacle.
Narrator: To learn more about Patti’s new projects or where you can see her on tour, please visit her website at www.pattilabelle.com.
Stay tuned to Tracy Lawrence’s story after a brief message.
A Meaningful Gift: Jesus Listens by Sarah Young
When your days feel overwhelming, and your life has you anxious and stressed, you can find peace and hope in Jesus. There’s a brand-new 365-day devotional prayer book called Jesus Listens from Sarah Young, the author of Jesus Calling. With Jesus Listens, you can strengthen or renew your relationship with God through the continual conversation of prayer. Jesus Listens is perfect if you’re busy with life’s demands but want to grow in your prayer life. Looking for rest and hope from difficult times? Or, are not even sure how to pray? By praying scripture through this daily devotional prayer book, you’ll experience how intentional prayer connects you to God, changes your heart, and can even move mountains. For more information on how to get the new 365-day devotional prayer book, Jesus Listens, visit www.jesuscalling.com/jesuslistens.
Narrator: Our next guest is award-winning and multi-platinum selling country musician Tracy Lawrence. Tracy’s musical life began while in church, being influenced by gospel music right alongside listening to the music of country greats like Glen Campbell and Charley Pride. Achieving great heights himself in the country music world, Tracy never forgot his roots and credits God for having His hand over his life every step of the way. In that spirit of remembering where his blessings come from, Tracy wants to give back what he’s been given to those in need. This has inspired the work of the Mission:Possible Turkey Fry and Benefit Concert every year during Thanksgiving, where Tracy and friends feed hundreds of people experiencing homelessness in Nashville, Tennessee.
Tracy Lawrence: My name is Tracy Lawrence. I’m a professional musician and recording artist in Nashville, Tennessee, and I had a huge string of hits in the ‘90s and the early 2000s going all the way back to Sticks and Stones, which was my very first album, my first number-one record back in 1991. So that’s what I do: produce records and make music, write a lot of songs.
Early Influences in Gospel and Country
I grew up in southwest Arkansas. I’m originally from east Texas. My mother remarried when I was very young and my stepfather raised me. I have three sisters and two brothers, a pretty large family. I grew up cutting hay and working in the yard and working cattle and all those kinds of things. We lived in the farm community that was right on the Red River. We bordered Oklahoma to the west and Texas to the south. And the Red River was the boundary between where we lived and the Texas line.
I grew up in the church. I was a member of the UNY when I was a kid, so the early part of my childhood. My mom and my dad, my grandmother were very instrumental in that. I grew up in the Methodist Church. That was where my dad belonged, went through confirmation when I was fourteen and went to church camp every year for many, many years. I was actually conference council president, I was UNY president, and subdistrict president and all that stuff. So I was an officer for many years. My grandmother went to a Pentecostal church, so I got exposed to it from that side, too. And that was a very different experience going back and forth between the Pentecostal church and the Methodist church. So those were the big influences in my life.
I had influences all the way back to when I was four and five years old listening to Glen Campbell and Charley Pride, but the two big ones that really sparked it for me, that made me really decide that I really want to pursue this. George Strait and Merle Haggard were the two big ones, and I pretty much taught myself how to play guitar from the back of a church camp songbook that had all the chord charts in it. And I would start working up old Merle Haggard songs that were pretty basic and some of the easier George Strait songs. And that was when I was about twelve years old, I discovered that I had a decent baritone voice, and I started to emulate a lot of the guys. That was really the foundation where it all started. I really think that that’s when the dream started for me when I was about twelve. That was really when I decided that this was what I wanted to do for a living. So it was always there for me.
You know, I sold everything and moved to Nashville in the early nineties. It was a pretty quick thing for me. I got here in September of ‘90 and in May of ‘91, I cut Sticks and Stones, which was my first album. We’re celebrating our thirtieth anniversary this year for that record. I just felt like I was at the right place at the right time. It was a pretty quick transition from the time I got here until I found my way in the studio cutting that first record. I was just lucky enough to run across a lot of really great people and had some people who really believed in me early on. And a lot of lucky cards fell my way.
You know, growing up with a family that was very faith-based, I’ve always known that God’s had His hand on my shoulder even through the hard times in life. I’ve never felt alone. I’ve always known that there was a greater power watching over me, and I’ve always felt guided, that I was here for a purpose. And I have felt that way since I was a young kid. I always believed that God had a plan for me and He had great things in store for me in my life. And even through some of the darkest periods of my life, God’s always had His hand on me and I’ve always felt that presence in my life.
“I’ve always known that God’s had His hand on my shoulder even through the hard times in life. I’ve never felt alone. I’ve always known that there was a greater power watching over me, and I’ve always felt guided, that I was here for a purpose.” – Tracy Lawrence
Mission:Possible Shares the Joy of Thanksgiving
Mission:Possible, we actually work hand-in-hand with the Nashville Rescue Mission. We’ve just finished our fifteenth year and we’ll prepare turkeys in the parking lot, we deep-fried turkeys for the Rescue Mission, usually 500 or so. And they will serve food to the men and women of the Mission the week of Thanksgiving every year. But the concert is where we actually raise the money. And I think we raised over $150,000 dollars again this year that we donated to the Mission. And they use that for all the other things that they need throughout the year. They don’t get any government funding for the Mission. Everything that they get is privately donated.
So my purpose is just to facilitate the thing, drive awareness to the Mission, and then bring some friends on every year to help me out and to drive awareness to the great work that they do. I think we’ve all seen through this last year that the homeless and the need that is out there across the country is just getting greater and greater. It’s a little disheartening. It seems like the more you do, the more you realize that you’re barely scratching the surface. But hopefully, you’ll inspire somebody else to do something with their church or somewhere else and just do their part in helping out our fellow man. I think that we all have a responsibility to do that wherever we’re at in life and whatever that you can afford to do, just contribute and help your fellow man out.
“It seems like the more you do, the more you realize that you’re barely scratching the surface. But hopefully you’ll inspire somebody else to do something with their church or somewhere else and just do their part in helping out our fellow man.” – Tracy Lawrence
I think it’s really easy, especially when you do have some notoriety and you’ve found yourself in the public eye, to kind of lose track of everything. But I’ve tried to channel that as I’ve gotten older and really make it a point to realize how fortunate I am to be where I am. And God has blessed me so much in my life. And I think whenever you do know that God has blessed you, that you have a responsibility to share that with the people that you come in contact with and be able to spread a little bit of that love and joy and humanitarianism around to them as well.
“I think whenever you do know that God has blessed you, that you have a responsibility to share that with the people that you come in contact with and be able to spread a little bit of that love and joy and humanitarianism around to them as well.” – Tracy Lawrence
I’m just very thankful that God has given me a platform that I can do a lot for a lot of other people, and we have a great vision of the things that we want to do further down the road. I mean, I hope Mission:Possible continues to grow. We want to make the concert bigger. We want to add some other elements to it. So we’re going to be raising money to be able to do other things for the Mission and for some other peripheral nonprofit organizations out there as well. So we have the desire to continue to grow and do more for the Nashville community.
Prayer: The Key to Knowing Which Way to Go
I pray every day. I pray when I’m driving in my vehicle when I’m going down the road. And they say you’re not supposed to pray for patience, but sometimes I have to because I require it, I need it. But, you know, I’ve seen it affect our everyday lives. My wife’s a prayer warrior, she’s on it every day. She gets up every morning. She is very engaged. I’ve seen the effect that has had on our family. I’ve seen the peace that it’s given to me and everybody around me. Prayer is just an essential part of life. If you don’t have prayer in your life, I think you’re missing the whole picture. I have that relationship with my Maker and I talk to Him every day. It’s a very special relationship.
I take those times when I’m driving a lot, those are the real special times when I just turn the radio off and just enjoy some quiet time and ponder on things that are going on in my family and ask for understanding and how do I deal with different situations that are going on with my children and what am I supposed to do as a leader and a role model and what am I supposed to do in these situations? Those are the times that I really take that moment to really kind of get inside, and He tells me what to do. I mean, He shows me the way, because I’ve had to realize as I’ve gotten older that I really don’t know what to do. Most of the time I rely on God to show me.
Narrator: As we wrap up our time with Tracy, he reads a passage from Jesus Listens, January 7th.
I love to worship You in the beauty of holiness. The beauty of Your creation reflects some of who You are, and it delights me! You are working Your ways in me: the divine Artist creating loveliness in my inner being. You’ve been clearing out the debris and clutter within me, making room for Your Spirit to take full possession. Help me to collaborate with You in this effort—being willing to let go of anything You choose to take away. You know exactly what I need, and You have promised to provide all of that— abundantly!
I don’t want my sense of security to rest in my possessions or in things going my way. You are training me to depend on You alone, finding fulfillment in Your loving Presence. This involves being satisfied with much or with little of the world’s goods, accepting either as Your will for me. Instead of grasping and controlling, I’m learning to release and receive. To cultivate this receptive stance, I need to trust You more— in any and every situation.
In Your beautiful Name, Jesus,
If you’d like to hear more stories about what happens when we say yes to God, check out our interview with CeCe Winans.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we’ll hear from co-host of CBS’ The Talk, Amanda Kloots, who tragically lost her young husband, Nick Cordero, to COVID-19. Amanda opens up about her grief process and how she found comfort in prayer.
Amanda Kloots: You know, finding comfort came from my family, from Nick’s family, definitely from God and from prayer and believing and having faith—and from my social media army who came to my aid. You know, I think loss, it’s such a tough process. Grief is a journey that you really can only go on on your own.