At the height of the pandemic, Patti LaBelle engaged in a daily ritual.
Shortly after waking up, she’d get on her knees and thank God – “Again, and again and again,” she says – for her health.
This too shall pass, she would remind herself as the daily inundations of death and sickness pervaded the TV news.
She also felt “blessed,” at the time, for avoiding illness and “grateful” for the socially distanced contact she was able to maintain with friends.
On this day, she’s equally appreciative.
“I can’t complain, honey,” she tells USA TODAY. “You’ve just got to take the high road all the time.”
LaBelle’s status as one of the all-time great singers – soul, gospel, R&B, pop – is undiminished. And while she is working on new music, she’s currently focused on health. Not just her own, which, at 77, she maintains with regular activity. But adults, particularly those over 40, need a nudge to get screened for common cancers such as breast, colorectal, cervical, prostate, lung and skin.
So, she’s partnered with the Community Oncology Alliance and CancerCare, and through October, LaBelle will be seen in PSAs for the Time to Screen campaign.
Checking in from her home just outside of Philadelphia, LaBelle talked about how cancer robbed her of her sisters, how she stays healthy and what’s cooking in her famous kitchen.
LaBelle on staying fit: Just before the pandemic I had gotten a treadmill. At 77 I need to keep as active as possible, so I would do (the treadmill). I would walk the little dog. I would get in the pool and kick my legs. I cooked every day. On Mondays I would think about what I’d cook the whole week and go to the farmer’s market with my mask on. On Fridays, we would have a Pokeno game, a small group of four keeping our distance and eating crabs and still having fun, but with 6 feet (of space) in mind. Everybody around me would make sure I didn’t touch this or that.
The Time to Screen campaign is personal: I have so many reasons to remind people what to do at this time of their lives. I was diagnosed with diabetes several years ago and I lost three sisters and great friends to cancer – lung, colon and so many types of cancer – who didn’t get screened as often as they should have. They all died before they turned 50 and when I turned 50 it was a milestone to me because I made it through without getting cancer. (At the start of the pandemic), people were afraid of going to doctors and let their health go by the wayside. It’s just so important for people to go and get screened … screening is the main thing we have to catch (disease) early.
Focusing on health: I started early, since I turned 50. After hearing and seeing my sisters go through so many awful changes, of course I’ve been (trying to stay healthy), not because I’m 77, but because I’d like to turn 78! I hope a lot of people in my life who know what I’ve dealt with take heed and get checked.
Passing the torch: I see it a lot out there, people who will carry on our Queendom (laughs). Jennifer Hudson is doing it now with the Aretha (Franklin) movie (“Respect,” out Aug. 13). I love Pink. Billie Eilish. There are so many baby queens out there. We laid out the trail for you, now you come out there and do it.
Her legacy: Hopefully, people will say, she was so honest. She didn’t hold back about what she didn’t like about you the same as about why she loved you. She was not afraid to step on toes, because sometimes I had to. I get that from a lot of young girls – they thank me for pulling their coats and setting them on their way.
What’s cookin’: Yesterday it was sautéed chicken with spinach and garlic and salad with cilantro and Vidalia onions. Honey, I cook every day. Tonight we’re having leftovers – but I only keep them one night. I cook fresh as much as I can. I love being in the kitchen. It’s very cathartic to me. I’m thinking about songs and shows and costumes. It frees my mind.