soul reign

bettye lavette.

bettye lavette.

The performance that perhaps best defines the remarkable career renaissance of Bettye LaVette arrived last December at the Kennedy Center Honors.

As part of a tribute to The Who, the veteran soul singer transformed the Quadrophenia anthem Love Reign O’er Me into a simmering torch song. Reserved, elegant and thoroughly majestic, LaVette delivered the song to an audience that included then-President George W. Bush, honorees Barbra Streisand and George Jones, presenter/attendees Aretha Franklin and Beyonce and perhaps most significantly the two surviving members of  The Who: guitarist Pete Townshend (who wrote the song) and singer Roger Daltrey (the vocalist on the tune’s original 1973 recording).

To the call the performance transcendent when it was presented on network television just after Christmas is not at all an overstatement. In LaVette’s hands, the song’s theme of longing and healing were conveyed with a voice that seemed to rise like steam, cracking with deep, unforced and very real drama. Townshend wrote later on his website, “My favorite moment was when Bettye LaVette sang a very fine version of Love Reign O’er Me at the gala and Barbra Streisand turned to ask me if I really wrote it.”

Not a bad gig and not a bad review for an artist that has been singing all her life but never enjoyed anything close to mainstream success and acceptance until 2005.

Did performing before such a court of celebrities and the very creators of the song she was singing rattle the nerves?

“Not at all, baby,” said LaVette, 63. “I’ve been waiting almost 50 years for an audience like that. If someone has asked me, ‘Who would you want in your audience?’ I would have said the people who became successful the whole time I was struggling. But Aretha Franklin, Beyonce, The Who and the President of the United States? That worked for me.

“Pete came over afterward and said, ‘You made me weep.’ I turned around and Roger was on his knee telling me I was marvelous. They were genuine, gracious and forthcoming. They were saying the things I always wanted to hear.”

When LaVette said she had been waiting for a half century for such praise, she wasn’t exaggerating. Her first recordings date back to the early ‘60s. She earned her first Top 10 R&B hit (My Man, He’s a Lovin’ Man) at the age of 16 and has shared studios and stages with scores of soul legends, including James Brown, Otis Redding and Ben E. King. There were occasional hits, but often severe disappointments – cancelled tours, shelved recordings and, in general, missed career opportunities beyond her control.

LaVette never stopped singing though. There were club gigs full of soul and jazz standards, several of which are revisited on a new download-only EP titled Change is Gonna Come Sessions, as well as extensive touring in the musical Bubbling Brown Sugar. Then Lavette’s singing came to the attention of Andy Kaulkin, the president of Anti- Records, a label whose roster includes such multi-generational greats as Tom Waits, Neko Case, Mavis Staples and Daniel Lanois.

Kaulkin signed LaVette to a three album deal that began with a stunning collection of songs penned entirely by women. The composers included Dolly Parton, Lucinda Williams, Aimee Mann and Joan Armatrading. But it was a verse from the Fiona Apple affirmation Sleep to Dream that gave what would become LaVette’s breakthrough album its name: I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise.

“Sweetie, I’m the oldest person who isn’t a big star in the world who has an active record contract,” LaVette said. “When I came to Anti-, I was already over 55 years old.

“I mean, I knew I could always sing because that’s what I do. I knew I could always get a gig because I can sing. But to have a young, hip record company come and fall in love with my singing and help me? I never thought that would happen. Why would I think that? It hadn’t happened to me in 40-something years.”

But perhaps the crowning honor to LaVette’s career comeback took place just over a month after the Kennedy Center Honors. At Kennedy Center, she sang for a president. In late January she sang at the inauguration of another. With a somewhat unlikely duet partner, Jon Bon Jovi, she sang the Sam Cooke civil rights meditation A Change is Gonna Come on the day Barack Obama was sworn into office.

“This is exactly what I’ve cried all night for, gotten drunk all night for, begged all nght for. People keep telling me to say how exciting all of this is. But it’s more satisfying than anything. I feel so worthwhile. Success feels different for me than it does than it does for, say, Kanye West. It feels completely different.”

Bettye LaVette performs at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Singletary Center for the Arts as part of the Alltech Fortnight Festival. Tickets are $20, $25 and $28. Call (859) 257-4929.


The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, NM) June 30, 2004 Byline: PANCHO EPSTEIN Russian artist paints unique pieces under a microscope You can now use a pen decorated by a Russian artist to write your friends about Russian Summer in Santa Fe.

Pens from Krone, painted by Russian artists, are featured at Santa Fe Pens, 500 Montezuma, Suite 111 in Sanbusco Market Center.

“Each piece is expertly painted by a Russian miniaturist artist, using a single sable hair under a microscope, rendering a completely one-of-a-kind pen,” owner Neal Frank said.

Prices range from $3,500 to $10,000.

Store hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday.

For more information, call 989-4742.

Then, in the would-you-believe category, we have Art in the Streets.

Some visitors leaving “Nicholas & Alexandra: At Home with the Last Tsar and His Family” are attaching the “V” stickers they get when they enter the exhibit to the city trash can under the Spitz clock. The can is taking on an artistic look.

“People are now really getting into decorating the can,” museum director Marsha Bol said. art in the streets

The site brings back memories of the good, old 1960s, when artists were decorating trash cans in Venice, Calif., and trash-can art shows were held.

And this is what is going on through next Tuesday during Russian Summer in Santa Fe:

Thursday through July 31 Artistas de Santa Fe Gallery, 228 Old Santa Fe Trail, entrance on Alameda.

Photography exhibition by Virginia Lee Lierz, “Russian Rendezvous: Traveling the Trans-Siberian Railroad.” “I was in Russia in 1978 on a bus-camping trip, and in 2000 I traveled the Trans-Siberian Railroad from Vladivostok to Moscow to photograph changes that perestroika and the 1991 coup brought,” Lierz said. “These include smiling faces, courteous clerks, fashionably dressed women, current international publications available to everyone, newly renovated buildings, renovated churches with worshipers of all ages, flowers growing in public places, cars on the road instead of military vehicles, police and soldiers that allowed themselves to be photographed and best of all, western toilets, some that actually had toilet seats.” Opening reception, 5-7 p.m. Friday 982-1320 Friday-Aug. 31 Anahita Gallery, 312 Sandoval St. in our site art in the streets

“History of Russian Photography” The more than 100 photographs cover the 1880s through the 1990s.

These photos, both in content and artistry, are fascinating.

Opening reception, 4-7 p.m. July 2 820-2323 Friday Pushkin Gallery, 550 Canyon Road Opening champagne reception 5-7 p.m. for “Collection of Twelve,” the works of Leah Ostrova.

“Ostrova is considered to be the first lady of Russian Impressionism,” said gallery director Caroline Morgan. “After studying at the famed Repin Institute in St. Petersburg, she became recognized for combining the power of light with a refined color palette, creating a dynamic emotional range stemming from her own life experiences and insights. Her portraits, landscapes, still lifes and genre paintings reflect a world of joy and sunshine showing the human being as an inseparable part of nature. The consistency of Ostrova’s sunlit subjects distinguishes her from other Soviet Era art and is a testament to her unique and uncompromising spirit. At the age of 90, she celebrates 85 years of painting and representation in many Russian and international museums as well as private collections throughout the world.” 982-1990 Friday and Saturday Andreeva Fine Art Portraits, 217 W. San Francisco St.

Oleg Chapkine, the Russian lacquer-box artist, will be conducting demonstrations from noon until 5 p.m. Friday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Chapkine’s work is part of the permanent collections at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and the State Museum in Moscow.

982-7272 Saturday-Aug. 16 Andreeva Fine Art Portraits, 217 W. San Francisco St.

Opening reception for “Contemporary Russian Portraiture” exhibition from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday. Evgeniy Monahov, voted one to the top 10 artists in Moscow in 2004, will be in Santa Fe from today through July 20 and will attend the reception. Music by Matthew Andre.

982-7272 Russian Summer in Santa Fe revolves around the Museum of Fine Arts’ exhibition “Nicholas & Alexandra: At Home with the Last Tsar and His Family.” The exhibit, which runs through Sept. 5, includes more than 260 artworks and never-before-seen family treasures of Nicholas II, who was assassinated with his wife, Alexandra, and their five children in 1918.

The museum is at 107 W. Palace Ave.; 476-5059.

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