Patti LaBelle Makes Her Debut On The Pop Charts, Sort Of

Blessed with a fine voice and an engaging stage presence, Patti LaBelle has earned countless hits on the R&B charts as a solo artist, as well as a pair of crossover #1 pop hits in “On My Own” (1986, sung with Michael McDonald) and the timeless “Lady Marmalade” (1975, with the group Labelle). If there is any asterisk that belongs in an assessment of a career that began when her first single hit the pop charts nearly five decades ago, it is this: Patti LaBelle and her group the Blue Belles had never even been in a recording studio when their debut single, “I Sold My Heart to the Junkman,” entered the Billboard Hot 100 on this day in 1962. In a move that was far from unprecedented at this time—the same thing happened with The Crystals’ “He’s A Rebel” (1961), for instance—Patti and her cohorts were credited with a hit record they had nothing to do with creating.

Patti LaBelle was still going by her given name, Patricia Holte, when she first teamed up in 1961 with fellow Philadelphians Cindy Birdsong (a future Supreme), Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash to form a group called the Ordettes. In the meantime, a Chicago group called the Starlets was touring with the likes of Jackie Wilson and the Spinners on the strength of a minor hit called “Better Tell Him No.” While visiting Philadelphia, the Starlets somehow found themselves in a recording studio located on a used-car lot operated by a salesman named Harold Robinson. Among the tracks Robinson had the Starlets record that day was the Leon René song “I Sold My Heart to the Junkman.” While the details of what followed remain murky, the upshot was that while the Starlets went on about their business elsewhere, Newton Records released “I Sold My Heart to the Junkman” in early 1962 under the new name of the former Ordettes: the Blue Belles. After entering the pop charts on this day in 1962, the record went on to peak at #15 on the Hot 100 and #13 on the Billboard R&B charts. Patti LaBelle’s group would earn two more top-40 hits on their own in the next two years, but it would be another 11 years after that before they bested the performance of their so-called debut with 1975’s Lady Marmalade.

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