*There was a lot of hype leading up to the September 13 Verzuz Battle between veteran R&B legends Gladys Knight and Patti Labelle. (Watch it go down via the YouTube player above.)
There was competition before the competition, with both legends, who are also known for their cooking abilities, whipping up something in the kitchen and showing it off on Instagram.
By the time the ladies appeared together at the Fillmore in Philadelphia, the fans were revved and ready, waiting to hear their favorite songs, by their favorite legends.
The evening began with Gladys and Patti reminiscing, like the two old friends that they are. They talked about their early years, growing up together, having children at the same time, their shared love of cooking, which they learned to do on the road, their grandchildren and great-grandchildren (Gladys) as well as their losses; Gladys’ son and Patti’s sister. They urged people to vote, and although they said they were not going to get into politics, a little crept in anyway. It was obvious these two women have nothing but love and admiration for each other.
I think many will agree that, to a certain extent, legends have earned the right to a little latitude in their speaking, which explains why most of the audience didn’t gasp (via the comment field) when Patti said, “that heffa sang me under the table” referring to Jennifer Hudson or when she said, “gay people keep us pumped” or when they told Monica and Brandy to, “stop it!”
The battle began, with Patti going first and then the two legends going back and forth. From Patti’s catalogue, we were treated to, “If You Ask Me To,” “Stir It Up,” “When You’ve Been Blessed,” “Love, Need and Want You,” “Right Kinda Lover,” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “Somebody Loves You,” “New Attitude,” “On My Own,” and “Lady Marmalade,” among other hits. Gladys countered with, “You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me,” “Make Yours a Happy Home,” “On and On,” “License to Kill,” “Midnight Train to Georgia,” “Neither One of Us”, “Friendship Train” and “Love Overboard,” among others. Patti dedicated, “You Are My Friend” to Gladys, one of the best songs of the evening. The absolute highlight of the songfest was when another legend, Dionne Warwick, joined them to sing, “That’s What Friends Are For” and “Superwoman.”
These two women, who are now deep into their 70s, can still sing! Gladys’ tone was incredible, and Patti was hitting those high notes as good as ever. They both had their moves together, with Gladys and her bop and Patti with her signature arms flap when she sang, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” We will not mention when she did her trademark kicking off the shoes, she kicked herself in the leg. The only singing drawback, if it could be considered one, is they were singing with the songs and sometimes they did not know the words and other times they were singing over or under the song. Patti mentioned she could not remember the words and stressed that they needed to be put on the teleprompter. Gladys then admitted she too cannot recall the words to some of her songs. I don’t think anyone cared; we were all too busy enjoying the love, camaraderie and authenticity of these two beautiful legends.
All the listeners were in awe and the flurry of comments were extremely complimentary, mentioning the joy the evening was bringing.
The verzuz battles typically bring out its share of celebrities lending their support to the featured artists, and this battle was no exception. Some of the people who checked in included Jill Scott, Snoop Dogg, Brandy, Monica, Missy Elliott, DJ Khaled, Fat Joe, Diddy, Tyrese, Viola Davis, Queen Latifah, Niecy Nash, Gabrielle Union, Mariah Carey, Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama. Patti Labelle told Michelle Obama she is, “married to the best man in the world.”
By the end of the night, Patti had changed shoes three times and said, “They can have these,” as she left her shoes on the stage when she was leaving.
Who won the battle? Gladys Knight’s tone and clear, clean vocals impressed me enough that I am giving her the nod. That is not to say Patti Labelle did a bad job; Gladys Knight was just vocally better and more prepared. The fans, however, were the biggest winners, because we were treated to two hours of some of the best music ever made, by two of R&B’s iconic treasures…make that three treasures. We are so lucky to still have them.
Yep, there really were no losers in this battle.
Marilyn Smith is a Los Angeles based writer/reviewer. Contact her via [email protected].