Gay Iconography: Don’t Call Patti LaBelle A Diva


We've got Patti's group Labelle to thank for introducing us to "voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir" in their 1975 disco hit, "Lady Marmalade" (the group's largest ever). Watch them slay "Lady Marmalade" on an episode of Soul Train, above. The song rose to prominence in the early-aughts with the Grammy-winning, Christina Aguilera-led No. 1 hit cover.


Before Gaga, before Madonna, Labelle were rocking otherworldly styles. Their unique look definitely made them stand out (and further endeared them to the gay community). When Patti LaBelle went solo in the late '70s, she maintained her outrageous fashions, which were on display during her incredible 1985 television special. She's singing her hit "New Attitude" in the clip above, but you can watch the whole special here.


Patti's singing style can be just as over-the-top as her look. Take this love-it-or-hate-it performance of gay anthem "Over the Rainbow" from The Merv Griffin Show, for instance.


Patti spoke with Oprah about her feud with fellow iconic star Diana Ross. (She spoke about it a lot less nicely here.) Many people were scandalized when — allegedly — Diana Ross took the microphone away from LaBelle during the finale of Motown Returns to The Apollo. It's not entirely clear from the clip above, but it's worth watching anyway to see George Michael look entirely out of place and Jesse Jackson carrying Emmanuel Lewis during a massive group singalong of Foreigner's "I Want To Know What Love Is."


Journalist Clay Cane sat down with Patti to speak directly about why she thinks she's so beloved to the gay community. You can see highlights from that interview in the video above. She discusses how her outspoken nature and big personality were big factors, as well as lending her support to transgender people. She also expressed concern for R&B singers coming out of the closet. 

Whether she's a diva, an icon, neither or both, tell us why you love (or loathe) Miss Patti in the comments.


  1. Just Sayin' says

    Yet another lame and stupid TW article with the idiotic and banal redundancy: “The phrase ‘gay icon’ blah blah blah blah blah”…

    Thanks TW for reminding me again why it is I and my friends automatically reject almost everything in the queer media that the queer media uses to differentiate us from everybody else.

    Kill the “gay icons” concept. Kill it NOW.

    You want to know who MY “gay icons” are ? People hardly anybody’s ever heard of, people who stood-up for themselves and all of us, who suffered and most of whom passed away without so much as any kind of odious overblown gay media attention.

  2. Thomas says

    You should check out Patti LaBelle’s duet with Cyndi Lauper from Diva’s Live 2004 of Time After Time, it’s incredible. Two soul singers belting their hearts out.

    Cyndi Lauper, now there is a gay icon…hint hint.

  3. NotSafeForWork says

    Great linked article in PrideSource…Patti Labelle dishing on “little heifers” – Hilarious…I wonder who she had in mind.

    I respect that Just Sayin’ has an opinion, but I’m comfortable with the term Gay Icon and when it’s applied to people like Labelle and her contemporaries. More so, when you consider the actual definition of the word

    The words I would use to describe the ideal that Just Sayin’ expressed would be “Gay Heroes”

  4. sugarrhill says

    I suspect the only Gays that would disagree with calling LaBelle a Gay icon are those that think only the ones that cater to White Gay Males are relevant.

  5. HAHA-NO says

    Patty La belle Was a gay Icon for her time. The 70’s and 80’s was her best moments. She is an amazing vocalist. She had amazing hair that no one else had. She was definitely was one of those people that many many people in her industry wanted on their albums or jam session with her on stage. She was so unique, and so very her own.I love her. But now? A gay icon? Yes ok, if your 60yrs old maybe…

  6. Brian in Texas says

    I’m focused on Emmanuel Lewis (Webster) sitting in Bill Cosby’s lap. Remember when Michael Jackson did the same thing at an awards show?

    Patti Labelle is the original Lady Gaga.

  7. enchantra says

    SUGARRHILL- you are insane, right” Patti LaBelle not appealing to a white gay male audience? Next you’ll say the same about Diana Ross or Chaka Khan. You talk like a fool

  8. Mike says

    Damn, this site talks about supposed gay icons a lot. All the time I come on here there is something about a person/thing that might be a gay icon. What’s up with that?

  9. JWL says

    OK Ill call her a c*nt because she ripped me off and put on one of the most disappointing concerts I have ever seen.

  10. Rich says

    Damn, Mike, you’d think it’s like an interesting & popular ongoing series or something. What’s up with that?

  11. johninpa says

    I’ve watched the “Motown Returns Finale” countless times and it always give me chills and brings tears to my eyes; first for Diana singing one of my favorite songs, and then seeing all of the Motown greats that we’ve lost throughout the years.

  12. JMC says

    Any Patti fans know at what time in her career Patti started to embrace her gay fanbase? Did she do it early on or only relatively recently? This article has me curious

  13. NotSafeForWork says


    This is from the first linked interview…

    When did you first know you had a big gay following?

    I’ve been in this business for maybe 51 years, and so I think 50 years ago. (Laughs) The first year I wasn’t sure, but the second year of performing I got this love – I mean, great love – from my gay fans. I always questioned, “Why do they love me? Why do they really, really give a damn about Patti LaBelle?” And I think it’s because I’m such a free spirit and such a drag queen, really, myself. The original drag queen.

  14. RIBBON says

    Patti is the best! I love the first 2 LaBelle records-‘Labelle’ and ‘Moonshadow’. Absolutely lost classics. On that body of work alone, she’s my favorite singer of all time. Fierce!

  15. TonyC says

    I loved Labelle.. I remember one concert in Hyannis with a close friend with Patti.. And my nose bleed that came from no where. Too weird.. So I got tickets to the Labelle reunion several years back at The Beacon theater in NYC .. Made time/ spent the money and after so many concerts Patti took a ” backseat” in this show & she’s not known for that.. I was so mad that she was not singing I thought it was her diabetis or something but she was really off enough to postpone the concert but no it went on.. That concert everyone was cheated.. Postpone or cancel/ we’re all old enough to take the news.. From that point forward I can’t listen to her music .. Was annoying. Ok it’s off my chest .. Thank you


  16. sam says

    Ever since Madonna came on the scene, gay men have been into fake divas. Our standards dropped dramatically. I’m glad Patti LaBelle pointed this out.

  17. Marco says

    Patti LaBelle can say and do as she pleases. 50 years in the industry, 50 million records sold. Patti has been championing the gay community since the 60s. Patti is 100% right and I love that she’s telling like it is. Go on Patti – the Gays love you.

  18. niles says

    Icon schmicon! You are a bunch of fools worshiping people who have nothing to do with your lives – or give two sh*ts about you. It’s time to stand on your own two feet.

  19. richard says

    Patti LaBelle is spot-on. I think gay men’s tastes in music have deteriorated to the point of trash. How we went from admiring true singers like Patti LaBelle to total fakes like Britney Spears should be the question we should all be asking ourselves.

    I think it’s a case study in how the gay male community has declined over time to become a disposable and fake community. It’s sad and distressing.

  20. Josh says

    Cyndi Lauper, now there is a gay icon…She has done so much for our Community. GiveADamn Campaign True Colors Tour, Supported the LGBT Community since the early 80’s …..A true ICON!

  21. tinkerbelle says

    Thanks for the link Innerbouquet—was the backup soloist in the beginning Patti’s sister? Wasn’t clear…

    I never thought about Patti Labelle’s politics, social or otherwise, and I assumed, because I always found her voice and music thrilling, that would be enough to make her an icon, to me anyway. Whether someone is an icon or not is a two way street, it may take a certain attitude from the performer (as in this case) but it also depends on the level of worship from the audience, in this case, myself. Or is this the difference between an icon and a diva? Who cares really. Patti is a one-of-a-kind talent, I expect her to use it to the best of her capabilities and to entertain, not to be automatically obligated to promote gay repression etc.

  22. Paul says

    Saw “Miss Patti” years ago in concert – she had a cold but she stayed on stage for over 2 hours and brought the house down – best concert I’ve ever seen!

  23. says

    @Thomas – I was gonna mention that Live duet of Time After Time! they both tear it UP!!

    here’s the link:

    That’s what a confident classy lady does: she welcomes in the new blood, with affection and warmth, and doesn’t feel threatened by a “New” voice.

    I love this lady, and I always have. Her vocals are a gift, and not just in the technical ability – what she does is *feel* with her voice. You believe that she believes what she’s singing. ADORE HER.

    To all the complainers: suck it. Really. Suck it. Better yet, rather than sucking it, get your own amazing selves online and share your stories from a place of visibility.

    C’mon, Just Sayin’. get yourself on youtube and share the stories of empowerment you’d prefer people to know about. Hop to it.

  24. James says

    Love Patti LaBelle!! If you have never seen her in concert, do yourself a favor and attend her show the next time she’s in town. It’s a real treat.

  25. Bigguh, Please says

    Though she may have a number of gay fans, Patti Labelle is not a gay icon. She had a unique voice at one point, and a diva attitude, but time has eroded the voice considerably. She may have the attitude of a diva, but a true diva has to have talent AND attitude. Patti, sadly, no longer has the voice.

    In 2014, to be a gay icon, a person has to take a forceful public stand for equal rights, and engage head-on with anti-gay oppressors. I’m no longer willing to give a pass to people who sing at benefits and smile for the charity photo-op, but fail to change acutely negative attidues in their own micro-communities.

    Next topic: Luther Vandross–Diva, Gay Icon, or Sweaty, Overweight, Fried Chicken Eatin’ Closet Case who wouldn’t come out because he was afraid to tell his mama, and who fronted as straight for all those years singing about imaginary girlfriends? Discuss.