2020 Blues Hall Of Fame inductee Bettye LaVette is a native of Detroit. Her first recording in 1962, at the age of sixteen, was on Atlantic Records. She later charted with such singles as “He Made A Woman Out Of Me” and “Do Your Duty,” Since then she has recorded ten albums. Her most recent album Things Have Changed, also produced by Steve Jordan (John Mayer, Keith Richards), was released on Verve in 2018 and received two GRAMMY nominations, which brings her total Grammy nominations to five. Her latest release, “Blackbirds,” features songs primarily popularized by some of her peers, other iconic black women in music, who she personally respected and admired. Set for release August 28, the album finds Bettye in top form delivering powerful renditions of songs that touched her personally. It also re-unites her with legendary producer Steve Jordan and Verve Records. From Dinah Washington’s “Drinking Again,” Nina Simone’s “I Hold No Grudge,” Nancy Wilson’s “Save Your Love For Me” and more, all delivered in Bettye’s rich and raspy tone with a touch of the blues.
After having a chance to chat with Bettye a couple of years ago and hanging out with her backstage, we were like two peas in a soul sharing pod. Which made this time around even better. We talk about how this album came together, working with a producer that has the same ear and the tunes that make up this walk down music history lane. We spend a good amount of time talking about the timeliness of the song, “Strange Fruit” as social upheaval takes over the news cycles once again in the United States and beyond. This track says as much about the history of American racism and the state of the country today. The song was originally recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939 and written by Jewish teacher Abel Meeropol who wrote the song based on a photo of two black men who were lynched as a crowd of white people looked in the camera pointing and smiling. This album is one that can help bring a little focus on the way things were and still are in many ways, but I believe it also holds some of the keys to unlocking the new realities many want to see within the space of equality and justice…while honoring the people who helped build the bridge that led Bettye as a whole person to where she is today. The music joins the times of then to the times of now, and if you never knew…..just grab an earful.