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Bettye LaVette

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Bettye LaVette
LaVette at Cosmopolite Scene in Oslo in 2016
LaVette at Cosmopolite Scene in Oslo in 2016
Background information
Birth nameBetty Jo Haskins
Born (1946-01-29) January 29, 1946 (age 78)
Muskegon, Michigan, United States
GenresSoul, Blues, R&B, Funk, Rock, Country, Americana, Gospel
Occupation(s)Singer, entertainer
Years active1962–present
LabelsAtlantic, Calla, Silver Fox, Atco, Motown, Epic, Charly, Munich, Blues Express, ANTI-, Verve

Bettye LaVette (born Betty Jo Haskins, January 29, 1946)[1] is an American soul singer who made her first record at sixteen, but achieved only intermittent fame until 2005, when her album I've Got My Own Hell to Raise was released to widespread critical acclaim, and was named on many critics' "Best of 2005" lists. Her next album, The Scene of the Crime, debuted at number one on Billboard's Top Blues Albums chart and was nominated for Best Contemporary Blues Album at the 2008 Grammy Awards. She received the Legacy of Americana Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2023 Americana Music Honors & Awards.

LaVette's eclectic musical style combines elements of soul, blues, rock and roll, funk, gospel, and country music. In 2020, she was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.[2]

Life and career[edit]

LaVette was born in Muskegon, Michigan, and raised in Detroit.[1] Unlike many of her contemporaries, she did not begin singing in the church, but in her parents' living room, singing R&B and country and western music. She was raised as a Catholic.[3]

She was signed by Johnnie Mae Matthews, a local record producer. In 1962, aged sixteen, she recorded a single, "My Man – He's a Lovin' Man",[4] with Matthews: the disc was credited to Betty LaVett, the surname being "borrowed" from Sherma Lavette Anderson, the singer's friend who had introduced her to Matthews.[5] Picked up by Atlantic Records, LaVette's disc became a major R&B hit over the fall and winter of 1963–64 – eventually reaching the R&B Top Ten – resulting in LaVette touring with such Atlantic Records R&B hitmakers as Clyde McPhatter, Ben E. King, Barbara Lynn, and rising star Otis Redding.

After two overlooked single releases in respectively 1963 and 1964, LaVette in 1965 returned to the R&B charts with "Let Me Down Easy" on Calla Records,[4] her first release to be credited to Betty LaVette:[6] the spelling of the singer's first name as Bettye would date from her 1977 Bubbling Brown Sugar gig.[7] Though only a peripheral success with an R&B chart peak of No. 48, "Let Me Down Easy" afforded LaVette sufficient cachet to briefly tour with The James Brown Revue. After recording several singles for local Detroit labels, LaVette signed to the Silver Fox label in 1969. She cut a handful of tracks, including two Top 40 R&B hits: "He Made A Woman Out Of Me" and "Do Your Duty". The Memphis studio musicians on these recordings have since become known as The Dixie Flyers. In 1972, she signed once again with Atlantic/Atco. She was sent to Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama to record what was to be her first album. Titled Child of the Seventies, it was produced by Brad Shapiro and featured the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, now known as The Swampers, but Atco chose not to issue the album.

The mid-1970s saw a brief stint and two 45s with Epic, and in 1978 LaVette released the disco smash on West End Records "Doin' The Best That I Can". In 1982, she was signed by her hometown label, Motown, and sent to Nashville to record. The resulting LP (her first album actually issued), titled Tell Me A Lie, was produced by Steve Buckingham. The first single, "Right In The Middle (Of Falling In Love)", hit the R&B Top 40. She briefly gave up recording for a six-year run in the Broadway smash Bubbling Brown Sugar,[1] appearing alongside Honi Coles and Cab Calloway.

After LaVette had played her personal mono recordings of Child of the Seventies for Gilles Petard, a French soul music collector, he sought the master recordings at Atlantic, whose personnel had previously thought they had been lost in a fire some years back.[8] In 1999, he finally discovered the masters and then licensed the album from Atlantic and released it in 2000 as Souvenirs on his Art and Soul label. At the same time, Let Me Down Easy – Live in Concert was issued by the Dutch Munich label. Both albums sparked a renewed interest in LaVette and in 2003, A Woman Like Me (produced by Dennis Walker) was released. The CD won the 2004 W. C. Handy Award for "Comeback Blues Album of the Year". In an interview, LaVette identified A Woman Like Me as the first album in the second phase of her career and said her 2012 autobiography was named after the album.[9]

After she was signed to The Rosebud Agency for live bookings, Rosebud president Mike Kappus brought her to the attention of ANTI- president Andy Kaulkin. Upon seeing LaVette perform, Kaulkin signed her to a three-record deal. For the first project, he paired her with Joe Henry, and suggested an album of songs written entirely by women. The resulting CD, I've Got My Own Hell to Raise, was on many critics' "Best of 2005" lists. The title is taken from the lyrics of Fiona Apple's 1996 hit "Sleep to Dream", which is covered on the album. (Other notable songwriters on the album were Aimee Mann, Sinéad O'Connor, Lucinda Williams, Joan Armatrading, and Dolly Parton.)[10] The album was released by ANTI- and produced by Joe Henry.

LaVette performing in Leuven, Belgium, in 2006

In 2006, capitalizing on the success of I've Got My Own Hell To Raise and the reviews of her live shows, Child of the Seventies was reissued by Rhino Handmade with some previously unreleased tracks. The album was met with critical acclaim. Varèse Sarabande then issued Take Another Little Piece of My Heart, a CD containing all of the songs that she cut for Silver Fox and SSS International in 1969 and 1970. The CD included three unreleased tracks, as well as two duets with Hank Ballard.

In 2006, LaVette received a "Pioneer Award" from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation.

Her 2007 album, The Scene of the Crime, was mostly recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, with alt rockers Drive-By Truckers. The Scene of the Crime was nominated for a Grammy Award for "Best Contemporary Blues Album" and landed on numerous "Best of 2007" lists. LaVette talked about her experiences at Muscle Shoals Sound and FAME in an interview conducted by Edd Hurt in September 2007.[11] Drive-By Truckers frontman Patterson Hood produced the album together with LaVette. The album also features one song co-written by LaVette and Patterson Hood.[10]

In 2008, she received a Blues Music Award for "Best Contemporary Female Blues Singer". Also in 2008, Reel Music re-issued on CD her Motown LP, Tell Me A Lie. The album contained the original cover design that was not used when the LP was released.

LaVette, live at Massey Hall in Toronto

In December 2008 at the Kennedy Center Honors, LaVette sang her version of 1973's "Love, Reign o'er Me" in tribute to Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who, who were among the year's honorees. The performance was widely considered one of the event's highlights.[12]

On January 18, 2009, at the We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial she performed a duet of Sam Cooke's 1964 song "A Change Is Gonna Come" with Jon Bon Jovi. In April 2009, she shared the stage with Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr at Radio City Music Hall for the David Lynch Foundation's "Change Begins Within" benefit concert promoting teaching Transcendental Meditation to children in inner city schools. In 2009 Sundazed released on CD the album Do Your Duty, which consisted of her eleven solo tracks cut for Silver Fox and SSS International. In June 2009 a six-song EP, Change Is Gonna Come Sessions, was released as a download only.

In 2010, LaVette released Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, which included unique arrangements and performances of classic songs by artists including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, and Pink Floyd. Included is the complete unedited version of her Kennedy Center Honors performance of The Who's "Love, Reign O'er Me". The CD was critically acclaimed and nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album. She has appeared on National Public Radio's Mountain Stage, World Cafe, All Things Considered and Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!. She has appeared in a Mississippi Public Broadcasting series, Blues Divas, and is in a film of the same name, both produced by Robert Mugge. She has also appeared on Late Night with David Letterman, Conan, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Austin City Limits, The Today Show, Good Morning America, and Live from the Artists Den. LaVette also joined the 9th[13] 10th[14] and 11th[15] annual Independent Music Awards judging panel to assist independent musicians' careers.

LaVette contributed a cover of "Most of the Time" for the album Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International. On December 31, 2012, she appeared in the UK on BBC Two's Jools Holland Annual Hootenanny. In 2013 and 2014, LaVette was nominated for a Blues Music Award in the "Contemporary Blues Female Artist" category.[16][17]

LaVette's album Worthy was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2016 for Best Blues Album.[18]

In 2016, LaVette won a Blues Music Award as the Soul Blues Female Artist of the Year.[19]

On March 6, 2017, she took part in a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall celebrating the music of Aretha Franklin, whom she has known since 1962. Lavette performed a rendition of the song "Ain't No Way", which she mentioned was written by Carolyn Franklin, her younger sister, with whom Bettye was friends.[20]

In 2017, LaVette appeared in the award-winning documentary film The American Epic Sessions. The film featured an interview between director Bernard MacMahon and LaVette in which they discussed her "heartfelt recollections of being pushed away from early blues as 'Uncle Tomish' in the '60s."[21] Following the interview, LaVette recorded "Nobody's Dirt Business", a song by early blues musician Frank Stokes, direct-to-disc on the first electrical sound recording system from the 1920s. A soundtrack for the film, entitled Music from The American Epic Sessions, also featured a second song she recorded for the film, "When I Woke Up This Morning", which L. Kent Wolgamott in the Lincoln Journal Star praised as "among its highlights."[21]

In 2018, Bettye LaVette was inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame.[22]

Her 2018 album Things Have Changed, an album of all Bob Dylan songs, was nominated for Best Americana Album and the song "Don't Fall Apart On Me Tonight" was nominated for Best Traditional R&B Performance at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards.[23]

In May 2020, LaVette garnered another Blues Music Award in the "Soul Blues Female Artist of the Year" category.[24] The same year, LaVette was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.[2] On August 28, 2020, she released a new studio album, Blackbirds, which is an album of songs by women from the 1950s who were the "bridge she came across on". Blackbirds was nominated for Best Contemporary Blues Album at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards.

In 2021, Bettye again received the Blues Music Award for "Soul Blues Female Artist of the Year".

On February 8, 2022, LaVette's vocals from "Let Me Down Easy" were sampled as the focal point for Odesza's song, "The Last Goodbye".[25]

Personal life[edit]

LaVette is married to Kevin Kiley,[8] a recorded music and antiques dealer who is also a singer and musician. They live in West Orange, New Jersey.[26]



Album Year Label Media
Tell Me a Lie 1982
Reel Music
Not Gonna Happen Twice 1990 Motor CIty Import CD
A Woman Like Me 2003 Blues Express CD
I've Got My Own Hell to Raise 2005 Anti-, DBK Works CD, LP
The Scene of the Crime 2007 Anti- CD, LP
A Change Is Gonna Come Sessions 2009 Anti- Digital download-only EP
Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook 2010 Anti- CD
Thankful n' Thoughtful 2012 Anti- CD, LP
Worthy 2015 Cherry Red CD, download, streaming
Things Have Changed 2018 Verve CD, LP, download, streaming
Blackbirds 2020 Verve CD, LP, download, streaming
LaVette![27] 2023 Jay-Vee CD, LP, download, streaming


Album Year Label Notes
Nearer to You: The SSS Recordings 1990 Charly
The Very Best of the Motor City Recordings 1996 Motor City Reissued as Danger, Heartbreak, Dead Ahead – The Best Of
Bluesoul Belles: The Complete Cala, Port and Roulette Recordings 1999, 2005 West Side, Stateside with Carol Fran
Souvenirs 2000 Art & Soul Original previously unreleased Atco LP from 1973
Let Me Down Easy in Concert 2000 Munich Records
Take Another Little Piece of My Heart: The Classic Late '60s Memphis Recordings with The Dixie Flyers 2006 Varese Sarabande Duplicates tracks from Nearer to You
Child of the Seventies: The Complete Atlantic/Atco Recordings 2006 Rhino Handmade
Do Your Duty: The Complete Silver Fox/SSS Recordings 2006, 2009 Sundazed (LP, CD) Duplicates tracks from Nearer to You

Compilation appearances[edit]

Title Year Album Artists Label
"Real Real Gone" 2003 Vanthology: A Tribute to Van Morrison Various artists Evidence
"Night Time Is the Right Time"
"Tailfeather Finale"
2005 Get in the Groove – Live Various artists Norton
"What's Happening Brother" 2006 What's Going On The Dirty Dozen Brass Band Shout! Factory
"Streets of Philadelphia" 2007 Song of America Various artists Thirty Tigers
"Nobody's Dirty Business"
"When I Woke Up This Morning"
2017 Music from The American Epic Sessions: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Various artists Lo-Max, Columbia, Third Man


Title Year Label Catalog Number Notes
"My Man – He's a Lovin' Man" / "Shut Your Mouth" 1962 Atlantic 2160 No. 7 R&B
"You'll Never Change" / "Here I Am" 1963 Atlantic 2198
"Witchcraft in the Air" / "You Killed the Love" 1963 LuPine 123
"(Happiness Will Cost You) One Thin Dime" 1964 Scepter unreleased
"Let Me Down Easy" / "What I Don't Know (Won't Hurt Me)" 1965 Calla 102 No. 20 R&B
"I Feel Good All Over" / "Only Your Love Can Save Me" 1965 Calla 104
"Cry Me a River" 1965 Calla unreleased
"She Don't Love You Like I Love You" 1965 Calla unreleased
"I'm Just a Fool for You" / "Stand Up Like a Man" 1966 Calla 106
"I'm Holding On" / "Tears in Vain" 1966 Big Wheel 1969
"Almost" / "Love Makes the World Go Round" 1968 Karen 1540
"Get Away" / "What Condition My Condition Is In" 1968 Karen 1544
"A Little Help from My Friends" / "Hey Love" 1969 Karen 1545
"Let Me Down Easy" / "Ticket to the Moon" 1969 Karen 1548
"He Made a Woman Out of Me" / "Nearer to You" 1969 Silver Fox 17 No. 25 R&B
"Do Your Duty" / "Love's Made a Fool Out of Me" 1970 Silver Fox 21 No. 38 R&B
"Games People Play" / "My Train's Comin' In" 1970 Silver Fox 24
"Piece of My Heart" / "At the Mercy of a Man" 1970 SSS International 839
"He Made a Woman Out of Me" / "My Train's Coming In" 1970 SSS International 933
"Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go" (with Hank Ballard) 1970 SSS International 946
"Hello, Sunshine" (with Hank Ballard) c. 1970 SSS International unreleased
"I'm in Love" 1970 Silver Fox unreleased
"We Got to Slip Around" c. 1970 SSS International unreleased
"Easier to Say (Than Do)" c. 1970 SSS International unreleased
"Never My Love" / "Stormy" 1971 TCA 001
"Heart of Gold" / "You'll Wake Up Wiser" 1972 Atco 6891
"Your Turn to Cry" / "Soul Tambourine" 1973 Atco 6913
"Thank You for Loving Me" / "You Made a Believer Out of Me" 1975 Epic 50143 No. 94 R&B
"Behind Closed Doors" / "You're a Man of Words, I'm a Woman of Action" 1975 Epic 50177
"Feelings" 1978 unreleased
"Shoestring" 1978 unreleased
"Doin' the Best I Can Pt. 1" / "Doin' the Best I Can Pt. 2" 1978 West End 1213 No. 13 Dance Club Songs[28]
"Right in the Middle (Of Falling in Love)" / "You've Seen One You've Seen 'em All" 1982 Motown 1532 No. 35 R&B
"I Can't Stop" / "Either Way We Lose" 1982 Motown 1614 No. 35 R&B
"Trance Dance Pt. 1" / "Trance Dance Pt. 2" 1984 Street King
"Not Gonna Happen Twice" 1990 Motor City UK only
"Damn Your Eyes" / "Out Cold" 1997 Bar None Cassette only
"The Last Goodbye" (Odesza feat. Bettye LaVette)[25] 2022 Foreign Family Collective/Ninja Tune No. 10 Dance[29]
"Plan B"[30] 2023 Jay Vee


  • A Woman Like Me by Bettye Lavette with David Ritz (Blue Rider Press, New York 2012)[31]


  1. ^ a b c Eagle, Bob; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues: A Regional Experience. Santa Barbara: Praeger Publishers. p. 253. ISBN 9780313344237.
  2. ^ a b Willman, Chris (December 10, 2019). "Bettye LaVette, Eddie Boyd Among 2020 Blues Hall of Fame Inductees (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety.com.
  3. ^ Wilkinson, Alec (November 7, 2010). "Long Time Coming". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved February 4, 2024.
  4. ^ a b Colin Larkin, ed. (1993). The Guinness Who's Who of Soul Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 158. ISBN 0-85112-733-9.
  5. ^ Wilkinson, Alec (November 8, 2010). "Long Time Coming". Newyorker.com. Retrieved June 8, 2019.
  6. ^ "Bettye Lavette". Discogs.com. Retrieved June 8, 2019.
  7. ^ Boston Globe July 28, 1977 "Singer Finds Theater is Easier" by Olie McManus p.35
  8. ^ a b "Bettye LaVette Is the Comeback Queen". Fresh Air from WHYY. December 17, 2007. Retrieved January 24, 2009.
  9. ^ Quoted in an interview on the Americana Music Show, episode 124, published January 28, 2013.
  10. ^ a b Schneider, Jason (October 2007). "Soul Survivors: How Classic Rhythm and Blues Has Become Vital Once Again". Exclaim.ca. Archived from the original on April 14, 2008. Retrieved September 26, 2007.
  11. ^ [1] [dead link]
  12. ^ MacIntyre, April, "Kennedy Center Honors Dec. 30, Bettye LaVette Steals the Show", Monsters and Critics, December 18, 2008. Archived December 29, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ "2010 Judges". Independent Music Awards. Archived from the original on October 1, 2011. Retrieved March 21, 2013.
  14. ^ "She & Him, The Black Keys, Mark Hoppus, Aimee Mann And Bettye LaVette Join Judging Panel For The 9th Annual Independent Music Awards". Top40-charts.com. Retrieved March 21, 2013.
  15. ^ "11th Annual IMA Judges. Independent Music Awards. Retrieved September 4, 2013.
  16. ^ "Blues Music Awards Nominees – 2013 – 34th Blues Music Awards". Blues.org. Retrieved March 21, 2013.
  17. ^ "2014 Blues Music Awards Nominees and Winners". Blues.about.com. Archived from the original on December 22, 2013. Retrieved May 16, 2014.
  18. ^ "Grammy Nominations 2016: See the Full List of Nominees". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. December 7, 2015. Retrieved December 7, 2015.
  19. ^ "2016 Blues Music Awards Winner List". Blues411.com. Archived from the original on May 6, 2016. Retrieved May 23, 2016.
  20. ^ Dorf, Michael (March 6, 2017). "The Music of Aretha Franklin". Carnegiehall.org.
  21. ^ a b Wolgamott, L. Kent. "'American Epic': PBS series, boxed set present 'The First Time America Heard Itself'". JournalStar.com. Retrieved February 27, 2018.
  22. ^ Johnson, Gary. "Michigan Rock and Roll Legends – BETTYE LAVETTE". Michiganrockandrolllegends.com. Retrieved August 27, 2018.
  23. ^ "61st GRAMMY Awards: Full Nominees List". Grammy.com. December 7, 2018. Retrieved December 8, 2018.
  24. ^ McKay, Robin. "BLUES MUSIC AWARDS". Blues.org. Retrieved May 4, 2020.
  25. ^ a b Bain, Katie (February 8, 2022). "ODESZA Returns With Their First New Music In Four Years: Listen". Billboard. Retrieved February 10, 2022.
  26. ^ La Gorce, Tammy. "MUSIC; No Longer the Best Soul Singer Nobody Knows", The New York Times, February 19, 2006. Retrieved April 16, 2008. "After trying to find joy everywhere from Memphis to New York City, Ms. LaVette, a ragged-voiced veteran soul singer, fades out with the pronouncement: So I went to West Orange."
  27. ^ Madarang, Charisma (March 29, 2023). "Bettye LaVette Has No 'Plan B' for Self-Titled New Album". Rolling Stone. Retrieved May 14, 2023.
  28. ^ "Bettye LaVetteChart History: Dance Club Songs". Billboard. Retrieved March 2, 2022.
  29. ^ "ODESZA Chart History: Dance/Electronic Songs". Billboard. Archived from the original on January 9, 2022. Retrieved September 18, 2018.
  30. ^ "Triple A Future Releases". All Access Music Group. Retrieved March 18, 2023.
  31. ^ LaVette, Bettye; David Ritz (2012). A Woman Like Me. New York: Blue Rider Press. Retrieved February 13, 2013.

External links[edit]