If only all R&B singers / celebrities / married people / senior citizens were as open and offhand about their same-sex relationships as Bettye LaVette is. The Grammy nominee is marking 50 years in the music business with the release this week of her new album Thankful N' Thoughtful and her first book, A Woman Like Me [Kindle], in which she discusses her lesbian affairs. Typical of her breezy, brassy style is the chapter, "Groupies Who Sang." On its first page she writes, "I was in my dressing room, angry that James Brown didn't want me to close my set with Let Me Down Easy because I was getting too much applause." On the second page Tammi [Terrell] confronts her with a handgun. On the third page, Bettye's "producer-pimp" suggests she have sex with Cindy Wharton, "a stunning woman." On the fourth page, fueled by the twin encouragements of money and cocaine, they do it while he watches:
"...But I did it, and I liked it. I liked it well enough that Cindy was in my life for the next thirty years. We'd have our boyfriends and husbands. We'd live our separate lives, but if we were in the same city on the same night, we'd get together.
"My dalliances with women just sort of happened. I've never had hangups about sex, an area where I've felt fortunately free. In the case of women, once the sex was over, it was over. It never turned to romance. The friendship with Cindy, though, remained strong. She and I had some wild adventures."
She was equally forthcoming last night when I saw her at Union Square and took this picture.
People have been continually re/discovering LaVette since at least 2003. Another breakthrough was her 2008 performance of Love Reign O'er Me at the Kennedy Center Honors, where Barbra Streisand and Pete Townsend nodded along oh so whitely. That appearance led to A Change Is Gonna Come, her duet with Jon Bon Jovi at Obama's inauguration. The NYT says, "Ms. LaVette now rivals Aretha Franklin as her generation’s most vital soul singer. She uses every scrape, shout and break in her raspy voice, with a predator’s sense of timing, to seize the drama of a song."