(September 13, 2020). Legendary R&B singers Gladys Knight and Patti LaBelle are the kind of artists who transcend generations. Known as the Empress and Godmother of Soul, respectively (and with no disrespect to the late Queen Aretha), Gladys and Patti both have careers that span six decades with each accumulating dozens and dozens of hits over that time.
The two 76-year-old icons (born four days apart in May 1944 – although Gladys stated her age as 77, hmmm…) brought samples of their considerable song catalogs to the table Sunday night (Sept. 13) in Philly for a Verzuz battle for the ages: soul icon vs. soul icon; legendary former front woman vs. legendary former front woman; Empress vs. Godmother; Gladys’ contralto vs. Patti’s soprano; Gladys’ peach cobbler vs. Patti’s sweet potato pie…
“The Master Class we’ve all been waiting for! @MsGladysKnight vs. @MsPattiLaBelle,” VerzuzTV announced on social media earlier in the week. “Leave ya church clothes on all Sunday and pull up to the affair of all affairs. Y’all gotta get dressed up in ya Sunday’s best for this one.”
On first glance, a Gladys vs. Patti pairing on Verzuz wouldn’t seem like the ideal matchup for the Instagram generation, and the two septuagenarians probably won’t generate the kind of consumption numbers that forty-something Brandy vs. almost-40 Monica did two weeks ago.
But now that matchup between once-sparring ‘90s stars seems like child’s play by comparison. These two ladies (who, like Monica and Brandy, have collaborated in the past) represent soul music history, and the people at Verzuz likely recognized that you won’t get many more moments like this where two of the greatest soul music pioneers alive are able to provide their unique insights into what made their hits resonate with so many millions of fans over the decades. Besides, young people were likely more than willing to teach their grandmamas how to stream the event live on Instagram or AppleTv, or setup the broadcasts themselves.
DJROBBLOG analyzed each round of this epic battle between soul’s long-lasting matriarchs to determine which singer’s classics emerged victorious – with the overall tally and winner declared at the end of the article. Here goes…
Round 1: “All Right Now” – Patti vs. “Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me” – Gladys. After the two Queens realized their mics were hot and they spent about ten minutes reminiscing about the old days (Gladys affectionately referred to Patti as “Patti Little Belle”), including the babies they carried at the same time, their rotten grandkids (and great-grands), and, of course, their renowned cooking skills (and the recipes they’ve shared), Patti unleashed the gospel-esque, upbeat number “All Right Now,” causing Gladys to respond, “that was hot,” before following it with one of her many top-five pop and R&B hits, “Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me.” The fact that Gladys sang the song live and hit those notes like it was still 1973 gave her the clear victory. Winner: Gladys (Gladys 1-0)
Round 2: “If You Asked Me To” – Patti vs. “Make Yours a Happy Home” – Gladys. Patti followed her first L with her 1988 hit single, quickly noting that she recorded “If You Asked Me To” before Celine Dion covered it and made it a top-5 pop hit three years later. Patti hit those high notes very well, prompting Gladys to note that her Gemini twin was “blessed with some pipes, girl.” Then Gladys broke out the Claudine soundtrack classic “Make Yours a Happy Home,” singing the song fully live and, again, hitting the song’s high points nearly note-for-note. How do these women still do it so well at 76 (or 77)? Winner: Gladys (Gladys 2-0)
Round 3: “Stir It Up” – Patti vs. “Every Beat of My Heart” – Gladys. Patti then went to her pop catalog and introduced what she referred to as her “corny song,” one of her two top-40 hits from the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack in 1985. Gladys followed with the song that launched her chart career in 1961 – the first of her eleven No. 1 Billboard R&B hits. Winner: TIE (Gladys 2-0-1)
Round 4: “When You’ve Been Blessed” – Patti vs. “On & On” – Gladys. Patti pulled out her best contender yet with this gem from 1991, after noting that she always sings “high” (referring to her notes, of course). But Gladys showed that this would hardly be a fair fight, as she went back to her Curtis Mayfield arsenal and the Claudine soundtrack for “On & On” – a top-five pop and soul smash from 1974. My personal bias may be setting in here, but I’m going with Gladys once again. Winner: Gladys (Gladys 3-0-1)
Round 5: “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” – Patti vs. “License to Kill” – Gladys. Okay, now Patti’s starting to heat up with this remake of an old Philly Soul classic by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes (with Teddy Pendergrass on lead). Patti’s hit wasn’t as big as the Blue Notes’ version, but she certainly gave it a signature effort when she laid down those famous ad libs. Gladys went back to the soundtrack well for the third time with the title track from the James Bond flick, License to Kill. Another outstanding vocal effort by Gladys, but this one goes to Patti for the soul classic. Winner: Patti (Gladys 3-1-1)
Round 6: “My Love, Sweet Love” – Patti vs. “Midnight Train to Georgia” – Gladys. It’s just not fair. Even Patti’s Babyface-penned tune from the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack couldn’t compete with Gladys’ most iconic single ever. Winner: Gladys (Gladys 4-1-1)
Round 7: “Love, Need and Want You” – Patti vs. “Someone to Watch Over Me” – Gladys. Patti and the show’s producers didn’t seem to be on the same page when her 1984 classic was cued up (apparently the lyrics on the teleprompter weren’t correct), but that didn’t stop her from belting it out. Gladys broke out a ballad (her favorite) that both singers seemed to appreciate, the George Gershwin-penned pop standard, “Someone to Watch Over Me.” That classic has been sung by everybody and their auntie. But Aunt Patti owns “Love, Need and Want You” all to herself. Winner: Patti (Gladys 4-2-1)
Round 8: “The Right Kinda Lover” – Patti vs. “Friendship Train” – Gladys. Patti took us from the 1920s up to the new-jack era of the early 1990s with this Jimmy Jam/ Terry Lewis jam from the Beverly Hills III soundtrack and from her 1994 album Gems. Gladys countered with her Motown-era classic “Friendship Train,” a song that could easily be applied to what the world needs today. Patti takes this one by a hair. Winner: Patti (Gladys 4-3-1)
Round 9: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” – Patti vs. “Neither One of Us” – Gladys. At this point, listeners probably began to realize just how many soundtrack or movie songs these two legends recorded over the years. Granted, Patti’s cover of this “Wizard of Oz” classic was never included in the film, but she gave it a signature performance nonetheless. But when Gladys pulls out classics like this hit she recorded with the Pips in 1973, it was all Patti could do to pull out her hand mirror and fix up her makeup, blocking her face from our view in the process. She knew she’d been beaten. Winner: Gladys (Gladys 5-3-1)
Round 10: “Somebody Loves You Baby” – Patti vs. “You’re Number 1 (In My Book)” – Gladys. Patti should’ve pulled this one out earlier. The late Bunny Sigler from Patti’s hometown of Philly co-wrote this tune for her 1991 album, Burnin’. Gladys acknowledged that it was her favorite tune from Patti’s arsenal before she followed it with her mid-tempo ballad from 1983’s “You’re # 1” from her and the Pips’ Save the Overtime album. Winner: Patti (Gladys 5-4-1)
Round 11: “Kiss Away the Pain” – Patti vs. “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination” – Gladys. Patti was in a mellow mood with this song from her biggest album, 1986’s multi-platinum Winner In You. Gladys countered with the upbeat million-selling single that was one of four consecutive top-ten pop hits she recorded on the Buddha label between 1973-74 during a particular hot streak. Winner: Gladys (Gladys 6-4-1)
Round 12: “New Attitude” and “On My Own” – Patti vs. “Midnight Train to Georgia” – Gladys. Patti pulled out the double-barrel in this round with two of her biggest pop hits – one from the Beverly Hills Cop Soundtrack and the other from her first and only No. 1 album, Winner in You. Gladys reprised her own biggest hit in a repeat of her Round 6 entry. This time she sang the song live and in its entirety, prompting her to acknowledge how the voice drops in key as it ages, which wasn’t obvious from her performance. Winner (by default): Patti (Gladys 6-5-1)
Round 13: “New Day” and “Feels Like Another One” and “ABC” and “Lady Marmalade” – Patti vs. “Love Overboard” – Gladys. Patti LaBelle didn’t come to play in this round, and neither did her DJ. The tempo was turned up and so was the heat. Best surprise of her foursome here was the remix of “ABC,” a song where she sang the alphabet for Sesame Street nearly 50 years ago. Gladys gave another endorsement of Patti’s biggest hit of the 1970s, “Lady Marmalade,” before launching into her biggest (solo) hit of the 1980s, “Love Overboard,” which she again sang live in its entirety. In any other fight, this would have been Gladys’ match hands-down. But when you put up four songs, you deserve some credit for effort. Winner: TIE (Gladys 6-5-2)
Round 14: “You Are My Friend” and “If Only You Knew” – Patti vs. “That’s What Friends Are For” – Dionne Warwick and Gladys (with assistance from Patti). Patti pulled out her signature ballad, the classic “You Are My Friend” and a song that only she and the late Sylvester have ever done any justice. She then followed it with her huge 1984 No. 1 R&B ballad, “If Only You Knew,” a song from her Philadelphia International Records catalog. But the biggest surprise of the night was when the iconic Dionne Warwick showed up to accompany Gladys on their joint 1986 hit – the biggest song of that year by the way. Even with the special guest, it is hard for anyone to top that double-barreled attack from Ms. Patti. She completes the comeback with this round. Winner: Patti (tie 6-6-2)
Round 15: “Superwoman” – Gladys, Patti and Dionne. No battle here, the three songstresses stood together to sing their 1991 remake of the Babyface-penned classic by Karyn White. It was included on Gladys’ album Good Woman and earned the three women a nomination for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. Seeing the three of them perform it here was a nice reminder of why. Dionne acknowledged that her next birthday would be her 80th, but she was clearly in top form in the presence of her friends.
So, the tally is as follows:
So technically both women were winners Sunday night (although Gladys clearly won the singing battle hands down). Patti brought heavy artillery at the end when it was clear a one-on-one song battle with Gladys would be futile. However, with their stellar careers fully intact and neither artist having anything left to prove, soul music history and the many fans who tuned in were the real winners here.
Both Gladys and Patti (and Dionne) deserve credit for giving us a night to remember, and reminding young listeners what soul music is really all about. Kudos to VerzuzTV for bringing us their most veteran singers yet!
What did y’all think? Leave your thoughts below in the comment section or on any of our social media feeds where this article is posted.
DJRob is a freelance blogger from Chicago who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.
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