The mutual admiration between Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight owned the night Sunday in the latest installment of the #Verzuz series. Knight proved she still has the vocal chops of earlier years, and LaBelle proved she’s still one of the best performers in the business.
The two reminisced, danced, belted, and bantered their way through a 2½-hour show before at least 500,000 Instagram viewers. The show was livestreamed from the Fillmore Philadelphia on the Verzuz Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Apple Music accounts.
The concert opened with a short set of R&B favorites by Philly’s DJ Aktive. Then LaBelle and Knight took their seats on stage: Knight on the left, LaBelle on the right, and a bouquet of white lilies between them.
Before any songs were played, the two singers talked at length about their friendship, which dates back to the 1960s. “We’ve been together for many, many, many years,” said LaBelle. “Even before we had a baby.”
After a lengthy catch-up about cooking with a hot plate on a tour bus and how Knight affectionately referred to LaBelle as “Little Belle,” the music started.
LaBelle, wearing a black pantsuit with slit details in the sleeves and trouser, chose a deep, energetic cut from 1992, “All Right Now," for her first selection, and she had moves to match. Knight, in a rose-colored sequined suit, responded with her 1973 hit with the Pips’ “You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me,” which she sang through impressively.
From there, it was round after round of their best work. Among other songs, Knight delivered “On and On,” “Licence to Kill,” “Midnight Train to Georgia," "Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye),” "I’ve Got to Use My Imagination,” and “Love Overboard.” Knight’s 1971 classic “If I Were Your Woman,” was noticeably missing from the night’s selections.
LaBelle brought a litany of her hits including, “If You Asked Me To,” “When You’ve Been Blessed (Feels Like Heaven),” "Love, Need and Want You,” “Right Kind of Lover,” “Somebody Loves You Baby (You Know Who It Is),” and her 1998 rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” during which she kicked off her Christian Louboutin pumps — a move that has become her signature and a crowd favorite.
“That’s not my right song," LaBelle said at the start of “Love, Need and Want You.” “Put my right song on the teleprompter.” After the song was finished, LaBelle explained that she has a hard time remembering the lyrics to her 30-plus-year-old songs. “I’m serious as a heart attack,” she said.
The flub reminded us of LaBelle’s 1996 performance of “This Christmas," in which her cue cards were in the wrong order and her background singers were missing in action.
The correct lyrics still weren’t on the teleprompter during LaBelle’s following turn, and R&B singer Monica came to her defense in the comment section.
“Do I need to pull up?” Monica wrote. “That’s the last time my auntie asking for her lyrics and that’s that on that.”
Oprah, Michelle Obama, Jill Scott, and dozens of other celebrities gave shout-outs from the comment sections, but a surprise appearance from Dionne Warwick was the highlight of the night. Warwick took the stage with Knight and LaBelle to sing her 1985 hit “That’s What Friends Are For.”
“This is our other sister right here,” Knight said after Warwick joined her and LaBelle on stage. The trio then eased into a performance of their 1991, Grammy-nominated “Superwoman," a cover of Karyn White’s 1988 single.
“You remember this?” Warwick asked Knight during the song’s lead-in. “Anyone have words to this anywhere?”