Unrepentant, unpleasant memoir by the well-traveled R&B vocalist.
Kicking off with a lurid recollection of being dangled from the top of a building by her lover/pimp, the singer’s autobiography charts one missed chance and blown opportunity after another on the way to belated renown 40 years into her career. Born Betty Haskins in Michigan, she was a high school dropout, married and a mother by the age of 15, and ran wild through the Motor City clubs. Rechristened Bettye LaVette, she dove into the music scene, notching a top-10 national R&B hit on Atlantic in 1962. While she reached the top 40 several more times through the early ’80s, LaVette never experienced sustained success. Her latter-day albums for the independent label Anti- finally brought her the audience she coveted. She rings up her limited career to “buzzard luck” and the apathy of her record-industry associates (who are usually condemned with a coarse epithet). Her own recounting suggests she was the victim of her own monumentally misguided judgment. She indulged heartily in alcohol, cocaine, marijuana and sex—she counted Otis Redding, Solomon Burke and Jackie Wilson among her many paramours, sustained a decades-long affair with record exec Clarence Paul, had a long-term female lover and worked off and on as a prostitute. She praises her mentor Jim Lewis for broadening her musical reach and repeatedly steering her back on track, but rewards most other music-biz pros with suspicion and undisguised contempt. There’s no denying LaVette’s great interpretive gifts, but she emerges here as a petty, self-deluding and ungrateful figure.
Listen to the records and give this self-serving, embittered book a wide berth.