Bettye LaVette

Bettye LaVette
Jo Long Theatre, Carver Community Cultural Center
San Antonio, Texas

One of the greatest soul music singers of all time, Detroit-raised Bettye LaVette may not be a familiar name to many, but she is living proof of success in music through her cult following for over 50 years. With a few certified classics in her discography (“My Man – He’s a Lovin’ Man,” “He Made a Woman Out of Me,” “Doin’ The Best That I Can,” and “Let Me Down Easy”), her voice has graced the historic imprints Atlantic and Motown. And her songs were recorded by Joe Cocker, the Spencer Davis Group, Bobbie Gentry, and Jeannie C. Riley, and she toured with James Brown, Otis Redding, and Clyde McPhatter (of the Dominoes’ and Drifters’ fame), even performing with Jon Bon Jovi and Paul McCartney. She has been nominated for several Grammys, won recognition from The Rhythm & Blues Foundation and the W.C. Handy Award, was lauded by various publications such as The New York Times, served as a guest on several television talk shows, and performed for President Obama.

Dressed in her usual black gown and a lethal combination of attitude, sass, and verve, Bettye wringed out every emotion with such integrity that she made the cover of songs her own, whether it was Bob Dylan’s “Everything Is Broken,” The Beatles’ “The Word,” Dolly Parton’s “Little Sparrow,” The Black Keys’ “I’m Not the One,” and Renee Geyer’s “Heaven (The Closest I’ll Get).” She ended the show with a striking a cappella version of Sinead O’Connor’s “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got” that was met with a standing ovation. Again, here stood a woman who had mesmerized audiences after performing Pete Townshend’s “Love, Reign o’er Me” at the 2008 Kennedy Center Honors in recognition of The Who.

In an hour performance, Bettye LaVette captured the essence of a great song interpreter, continuing the tradition of R&B/soul artists covering rock music material to acclaim and success. And she did it with musical phrasing that seemed effortless to the ears.

by Jeff Boyce