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Bettye LaVette

  • Stoughton Opera House 381 East Main Street Stoughton, WI, 53589 United States (map)

One of R&B's great singers is deservedly thriving after decades of struggle. Info/tix

Photo by Marina Chavez.

Photo by Marina Chavez.

Bettye LaVette has had a nearly 60-year career, but only during the last couple decades has she been recognized as one of the great R&B singers of her generation. Despite the lack of lasting success at different points in her career, LaVette has been recording and performing constantly since 1962, when she recorded her first single, "My Man-He's A Loving Man."

Though she was only 16 when she recorded the song, LaVette already possessed a distinctive, powerful voice, and the song became a national R&B hit single. LaVette recorded a number of incredible singles with Muscles Shoals backing bands throughout the 1960s & 1970s, and her voice quickly developed a gritty, intensely emotional quality. Equally confident on upbeat, flirtatious songs like "Do Your Duty" and the heartbroken deep soul of "Let Me Down Easy,” LaVette's powerful delivery could give meaning to even the most insipid of lyrics. In 1978 she crossed over into disco with the Walter Gibbons-fueled proto-house classic "Doin' The Best That I Can," which led to her releasing her first album on Motown in 1982. Unfortunately, the Motown of 1982 was preoccupied with its mega-stars, and Tell Me A Lie sounds cheap and dated, with LaVette's vocals struggling against a robotic backing band churning out tepid versions of old Motown hits.

In the late 1990s, LaVette's unreleased 1972 album Child Of The Seventies was discovered and released as Souvenirs, leading to new recording projects and a deal with Anti- Records. I've Got My Own Hell To Raise, released in 2005, was a massive critical success, with its reinterpretations of songs by female songwriters like Dolly Parton's "Little Sparrow," backed by a slinky, distorted backing band.

Since that much-overdue resurgence, Bettye LaVette has continued to record albums and tour, becoming a renowned interpreter of songs. Whether she's covering 1920s country blues or 1970s arena rock, her voice makes the material her own and distills the essence of what makes a song great. Her newest album is a collection of Bob Dylan covers, 2018's Things Have Changed, and LaVette will be performing the album in its entirety at the Stoughton Opera House, along with other selections from her long and varied career. —Ian Adcock