If whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, Bettye LaVette will live forever. Since first emerging in the mid-1960s as a teenage recording artist, LaVette has had hits and misses, been hit and dangled out a window by brutal men, and narrowly missed being famous numerous times. And today she seems to be having the time of her life, if a morning chat in Newark, New Jersey (not far from her home in West Orange) is any indication.
We interviewed perhaps the greatest soul singer alive about her life and times. In the wake of an extraordinary autobiography and a recent album that reinvents the music of Bob Dylan, LaVette sat down with Radio NWR and talked about Jim Crow, Bobby Z, Obama and Motown and why if it wasn’t for buzzard luck, she wouldn’t have had had any luck at all.
RJ Smith is author of American Witness, a biography of filmmaker and photographer Robert Frank, and The One: The Life and Music of James Brown. He is currently at work on a biography of Chuck Berry. Smith lives in Chicken Corner, California.