Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
(b 1946, Muskegon, Michigan) Blues/Soul singer. Bettye LaVette gained her first professional experience as part of the touring review run by soul singers Don Gardner and Dee Dee Ford in the early 1960s. Her passionate vocal style won her a solo contract with Atlantic Records, where the 1962 R&B hit "My Man - He's A Loving Man" was one of the finest early examples of southern Soul.
However, she was unable to build on this success, and only made sporadic recordings with small labels during the rest of the decade. Her torch ballad "Let Me Down Easy" was an R&B hit in 1965, written by Country rebels Jim and Tompall Glaser, the song was later covered by the Spencer Davis Group. LaVette recorded material by other Country writers, and her version of Mickey Newbury's "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" in 1969 was later picked up by Kenny Rogers. She enjoyed two further chart successes in 1969-70 with Country/Soul recordings on Lelan Rogers' Silver Fox label, most notably with the superb (and risqué) "He Made A Woman Out Of Me," turned into a pop release for Bobbie Gentry.
After singles for SSS-International and TCI, LaVette next returned to the Atlantic fold to record two 1971/2 singles for their Atco label. Of these, her searing version of Joe Simon's "Your Time To Cry" (re-titled "Your Turn To Cry") became yet another high point in a career of little-known but aesthetically sublime recordings.
The mid- to late 70s saw singles on Epic and a disco-influenced outing for West End, while LaVette also starred in the Broadway musical Bubbling Brown Sugar. In the early 80s, renewed interest in her early recordings led to her being offered a contract with Motown. There she recorded the acclaimed Tell Me A Lie, one of the label's few ventures into southern soul. Besides the R&B hit "Right In The Middle Of Falling in Love," the album included impressive remakes of "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" and "If I Were Your Woman." LaVette remains a cult figure among Soul fans in the UK, and many of her 60's recordings have been reissued in recent years. In 1992 she released two singles and the album Not Gonna Happen Twice on Ian Levine's Motor City label.