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From the moment she starts to sing, you feel Patti LaBelle’s passion for life coursing out of that miraculous larynx and into our hungry ears. Her respect and reverence for living brings LaBelle here as headliner for Fashion Cares, the AIDS Committee Of Toronto benefit.

LaBelle is absolute in her conviction to help out. “I said yes right away. I always say yes to anything dealing with that issue,” says the long-time AIDS activist. “And Canada is one of my favourite places.”

LaBelle has a new album in tow, Timeless Journey, which contains 13 impressive tracks, with no less than nine songs penned by the diva herself.

And girl, the woman has something on her mind.

With lyrics like, “So I’m giving you up ’cause there ain’t enough love in this world to change my mind – we’re out of time, the dream is over,” we’re reminded that lady LaBelle is much more than just that stunning four-octave voice; she’s a survivor.

On beautiful songs like “Two Steps Away,” and “Hear My Cry,” she tells us about her life with an honesty that is both refreshing and richly rewarding. “The moment I heard ‘Two Steps Away,’ oh, that song is awesome,” she says, “we started working on lyrics and we just did it.”

LaBelle credits her increased songwriting contribution to recording in her son’s studio, giving her time to craft each song carefully without the financial strictures of high-cost facilities. “I had no clock on my back,” she says, “no thousand dollars per second. I was free to be me.

“I took time and did demos,” she says – 44 of them, which LaBelle then had to whittle down to just 13. She is very pleased with the process. “It gave me a chance to find myself.” On the highly entertaining CD, her voice is seemingly unchanged from her 1970s recordings with disco soul group LaBelle.

In a redux of the classic “Lady Marmalade” on VH1’s recent Divas Las Vegas, LaBelle demonstrates that her unmistakable power and range are virtually indistinguishable from the original recorded some 30 years ago. The Christinas and Pinks of this world are faded copies of the original powerhouse.

Listening to that strength and clarity, it’s hard to believe that she’s celebrating her 60th birthday this month. “They’re planning a big surprise party,” she says, chuckling. When asked how she’s maintained that laser precision and thrilling power, she says, “I have no clue. I don’t do any warm-ups. I’ve never had a lesson.”

2004 is shaping up to be a busy year for LaBelle, with a television show in the works called Living It Up With Patti LaBelle, and even a Home Shopping Network clothing line bearing her name. And you just know that Patti-hose is going to be the next big fabulous hit for drag queens everywhere.

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