Patti LaBelle, Dionne Warwick, And Gladys Knight Are SISTERS IN THE NAME OF LOVE
“We thought we’d get together to do this because we’ve always wanted to,” Dionne Warwick said, as the audience cheered the arrival of fellow legends Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight. “We’ve never been on the same stage before!”
It was July 12, 1986. And the occasion that brought three of R&B’s greatest voices together for the first time was Sisters In The Name Of Love, an award-winning concert special that itself has become legendary. Originally broadcast on HBO, this team-up of music icons has never been released on home video and is rarely rerun. But getTV viewers will have a chance to see what they missed 30 years ago – or enjoy it again – when the special airs Monday, July 31.
Created by Knight and produced by her her brother Bubba (a member of Gladys Knight & The Pips), Sisters In The Name Of Love is a must-see for even the casual music lover. The 90-minute special was recorded before a live audience at the historic Aquarius Theater in Hollywood and includes performances of fifteen rhythm & blues, soul, gospel, and pop classics. Warwick, LaBelle, and Knight – with a collective 80 years in show business between them at the time – share the mic for a dozen songs, and each performs an extended solo number. They even bust out some choreography to the delight of the enthusiastic audience.
“James Brown, eat your heart out!” LaBelle brags, after duplicating his dance moves during an energetic rendition of “Living In America.”
How cool is Patti LaBelle? The Godmother of Soul – born Patricia Holt in Philadelphia in 1944 – was enjoying a major career renaissance in the mid-1980s, nearly 25 years after forming her first group the Blue Belles (eventually known as LaBelle). With two tracks on the popular Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack in 1984, LaBelle had returned to the Billboard charts with a vengeance. She performs one of those hits, “New Attitude,” on Sisters In The Name Of Love. LaBelle’s eighth studio album Winner In You was in stores when the special aired, and the biggest hit of her career – the duet “On My Own” with Michael McDonald – was all over the radio. In short, 1986 was a good year for Patti LaBelle - and an even better year for her fans.
Warwick, a few years older than her fellow songstresses, provides a nice counterpoint to LaBelle’s high-energy style and operatic soprano. By 1986, the New Jersey native – born Dionne Warrick in 1940 – had been belting out hits for a quarter of a century, beginning with “Don’t Make Me Over.” But her jazzy effortlessness on that track and other Burt Bacharach/Hal David top ten hits like “Walk on By,” “I Say A Little Prayer,” and “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” belied a voice of enormous power and range. Her solo performance of “I’ll Never Love This Way Again” (from the 1979 album Dionne) is a highlight of Sisters In The Name Of Love.
Gladys Knight began her career at the youngest age of the three women; the Atlanta native was just seven when she won a TV talent contest in 1952. A year later, the act that would come to be known as Gladys Knight & The Pips was formed. They went on to sign with Motown, tour with Diana Ross, and record Grammy-winning singles like “Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye)” and “Midnight Train To Georgia” (a number one hit in 1973). Knight, also known as The Empress of Soul, gives perhaps the most powerful performance in Sisters In The Name Of Love. Her torch-singing variation on “I Will Survive” reimagines the Disco anthem as a bluesy ballad, with Knight’s soulful phrasing replacing the danceable bravado of Gloria Gaynor’s 1978 version. It’s as much of an acting performance as it is singing, and it reminds the viewer that Knight was, and continues to be, a talented actress. (She was nominated for a Golden Globe for 1976’s Pipe Dreams and recently guest starred on Fox’s music industry soap Empire.)
In addition to presenting great music, Sisters In The Name Of Love is also inventively staged. One sequence opens with the Neal Hefti/Bobby Troup song “Girl Talk,” then transitions into footage of the three ladies chatting over a meal. A conversation about single parenthood and relationship challenges introduces Knight’s solo. Dionne asking, “Do you remember your first love?” leads to her song. And LaBelle’s frank confessions about body image transitions to “New Attitude.” It’s an ingenious method of bridging, but even more compelling is the genuine relationship the three superstars clearly have with each other.
“These two ladies and I have been friends for a very long time,” Dionne says near the end of the show. “And the fact is that we will always be friends. Always.”
And guess what comes next? LaBelle joins Warwick and Knight for a soulful rendition of “That’s What Friends Are For,” their Grammy-winning, chart-topping single. It’s an appropriately powerful conclusion to a special that will have you tapping your feet and drying your eyes for ninety minutes.
All three ladies continue to perform today, but they never again achieved the overwhelming mainstream success they shared in 1986. Happily, Sisters In The Name Of Love captures that moment. And, thanks to getTV, you can relive it.
Sisters In The Name Of Love airs Monday, July 31 at 10 pm ET. It’s preceded by a 1975 episode of Cher at 9 pm ET, with Patti LaBelle singing the hit single “Lady Marmalade” with her group LaBelle. For more information, visit the getTV schedule.