Bettye LaVette does The Who

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at
Sat Dec 27 13:23:15 UTC 2008

Ready for Bettye LaVette
Susan Whitall / Detroit News Music Writer

Bettye LaVette's year started with a Grammy nomination and ended with the girl from Detroit's North End decked out in a sleek red gown,riding in a limo to perform for the president of the United States

LaVette didn't win the Grammy (more on that below), but she's still aglow from her performance of the Who song "Love, Reign O'er Me" in front of President and Mrs. Bush, Barbra Streisand, Aretha Franklin, the Who and other luminaries at the Kennedy Center Honors gala on Dec. 7. A telecast of the show will air at 9 p.m. Tuesday on CBS, Channel 2. The show also includes artists like Beyoncé, Queen Latifah, Shelby Lynneand Ne-Yo (yes, Ne-Yo) interpreting songs by the musical honorees. 

LaVette readily admits she'd never heard the Who song, although her manager/husband knew it well. 

"Love, Reign O'er Me" is one of the Who's most passionate, romantic songs, with a soaring vocal by Daltrey, but LaVette still tweaked it to suit her expressive voice, and Americanized one word in particular.

"I said, there is no 'o'er' in the North End of Detroit, so I will be saying 'over,' " LaVette relates. "I wouldn't try to destroy the song, but there aren't any situations where I've ever sung 'o'er,' exceptmaybe 'Jingle Bells.' " 

The music director was fine with having a Bettye-ized version of the song.

"My performance was the only one in the whole thing changed from what (the song) originally was," LaVette says. "Everybody else just stepped into George Jones' place or Barbra Streisand's place, and sang the song the way they did. My rendition was totally different. The music director said, 'I particularly wanted one thing to stun them, and that was whywe chose you.' " 

It worked. Pete Townshend told LaVette that her performance of "Love, Reign O'er Me" moved him to tears. And Townshend told her that Streisand turned to him while LaVette was singing and remarked, "You wrote that?" Townshend said yes and started to say more, but Streisand put her hand over his mouth so shecould hear the rest of the song. 

Later, Townshend urged LaVette to record the song, and offered to write her another. 

-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!


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