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Patti LaBelle still remembers the day she first heard "Lady Marmalade," the smash disco hit that catapulted her voice into millions of homes and clubs in the 1970s.

"I knew it was a hit," she says. "We had no clue what the words meant — 'Voulez-vous coucher' — but we knew it sounded great."

The year was 1974 and she was fronting the band Labelle. They were about to fly to New Orleans to record a new album with Allen Toussaint when songwriter Bob Crewe called their manager.

"He said, 'Please stop by on your way to the airport. I have a hit.' So we went to his apartment and listened and we knew we had something," she said.

It was the first song they recorded with Toussaint for the "Nightbirds" album, and "Lady Marmalade" would go straight to No. 1 on the charts. Soon after, they underwent a disco makeover, with space-age silver and metallic costumes and massive platform shoes. By 1975, they were on the cover of "Rolling Stone" magazine.

Over the years, Patti LaBelle would go on to record huge hits like "On My Own" (with singer Michael McDonald), "New Attitude" and "If You Asked Me To," selling more than 50 million records on her way to a Grammy Hall of Fame induction.

These days, you're as likely to hear her name linked to the Lady Marmalade hot sauces, cookbooks and Macy's bedding that she sells. Coming soon: Patti LaBelle's "Macaroni and Cheese with Lobster" in the refrigerated aisle.

Before she plays the Wells Fargo Center in Santa Rosa Friday night, the 69-year-old diva took a tour break at her home in Philadelphia to chat about cooking, her Shih Tzu, and that "over-used" word often applied to singers of her stature.

Q: What's your daily ritual like these days?

A: I get up about 9 in the morning and I'll have breakfast, and then I'll play with my little Shih Tzu. His name is Cuddles and he's a little cutie pie. We'll walk around the neighborhood and then I'll come back and I'll think about lunch or maybe not. And then eventually I'll think about dinner and I cook dinner and then I'll chill and watch TV.

Q: I hear you're an awesome cook.

A: I sure am. I like to cook.

Q: Do you get that from your family?

A: I get that from my mother and father. They cooked like crazy people.

Q: Do you remember some of the dishes you loved as a kid?

A: Oh yeah. Blueberry dumplings — a pot of dumplings floating in blueberries and butter. And the best potato salad and the best fresh fried corn.

Q: Do you remember some of the first music you heard in your house growing up?

A: It was "Moody's Mood for Blues" by James Moody. My brother would be listening to jazz and Nina Simone.

Q: What about some of the first songs you sang?

A: I remember singing Gloria Lynne's "I Wish You Love" and Nina Simone's "Four Women" and Dinah Washington (she sings) "There I go ..."

Q: Looking back, do you miss some of the crazy costumes of the 1970s?

A: They were really phenomenal in those days. I still see some acts trying to look like that. KISS is still doing it. We had some KISS-looking outfits I think before KISS did.

Q: What about some of your most memorable shows?

A: I guess the Metropolitan Opera House (in New York) would have to be in there. (In 1974, Labelle was the first black pop group to play the venue.) It was a "Wear Something Silver" night. Cher was there. It was amazing.

Q: What do you think of the term "diva"?

A: Nothing. It's so over-used. It's like, why?

Q: So when people apply that term to you, it means nothing?

A: No. I mean of course it's high praise, but I think it's overdone, over-used and worn out.

Q: Do you think maybe some of the latest generation of singers — without naming names — don't deserve to be called divas?

A: Well, to each his own. There are a lot of lucky girls out there now.

Q: How have you seen the business change over the years?

A: It's just different now. I've been in this business for 50 years, I'm 69 years young, and every day I do it is a blessing. Some folks still have ears to hear.

Q: Can you ever walk off the stage without singing "Lady Marmalade"?

A: Never.

Q: What would happen?

A: They would not like it. They would scream for more. And, of course, they'll always get it.

Bay Area freelancer John Beck writes about entertainment for The Press Democrat. You can reach him at 280-8014, john@sideshowvideo.com and follow on Twitter @becksay.

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