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An Intimate Evening with Bettye LaVette

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Saturday, October 6 at 8:00 PM
Smith Opera House

Featuring Evan Mercer on Keyboards

Bettye LaVette is not a song writer. She is a singer in the tradition of great vocalists who have come before her: Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Dinah Washington to name just a few. Bettye is an interpreter of the highest order. Her gift is being able to take a song from any genre, whether well known or obscure, and making it completely her own. She will take a writer’s lyric and alter it so that the words come out sounding like something that she would say. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and Bruce Springsteen are just a few of the artists who have had their work re-imagined by Bettye. To quote another great vocalist, the late George Jones, “Bettye is truly a ‘singer’s singer’ “.

The Bettye LaVette Duo features Bettye and her keyboard player, Evan Mercer. These intimate shows allow her voice to be the complete center of attention. They feature Bettye performing songs from throughout her 55 year career, including songs that she used to perform in small Detroit clubs before her 21st Century resurgence began. Many of these songs she does not perform with her full band. Bettye has always said that just a voice and one instrument is all you need to sell a song. Hearing Bettye in this intimate setting, stripped down to just her voice and a piano, is a very intense and moving experience.

Her career began in 1962, at the age of 16, in Detroit, Michigan. Her first single “My Man – He’s a Loving Man”, was released on Atlantic Records.  She recorded for numerous major labels, including Atco, Epic, and Motown, over the course of the 1960s through the 1980s.

The 2000’s started what she calls her “Fifth Career”. Her CD, A Woman Like Me, won the W.C. Handy Award in 2004 for Comeback Blues Album of the Year. She was also given a prestigious Pioneer Award by The Rhythm & Blues Foundation. She has received Blues Music Awards for Best Contemporary Female Blues Singer and Best Soul Blues Female Artist. She recorded 4 CDs for hipster indie label ANTI- Records over the course of 8 years, 2 of which received Grammy nominations. Her 2015 CD, Worthy, was also nominated for a Grammy.

Now, in her 55th year in show business, she has been signed to Verve Records, and has recorded an album consisting of all Bob Dylan songs. Things Have Changed is a masterpiece of interpretation of the songs of one of the greatest songwriters alive, by one of the greatest soul singers alive.

Fans, critics and artists have nothing but high praise for her live show and her vocal prowess. Now 72 years old, she is still performing with the ferocity of a woman half her age. She is one of very few of her contemporaries who were recording during the birth of soul music in the 1960s and is still creating vital recordings today.

Syracuse jazz legend Ronnie Leigh will open the show.


“For the past five decades, he’s wowed audiences everywhere from Istanbul to Winnipeg and from Detroit to Philly to the Big Apple, in theaters, arenas, stadiums, gazebos, concert halls, nightclubs, and dance halls.

He’s also played a balcony over a bowling alley, and a sandwich shop opening on a converted gas station’s rooftop. If you can imagine a venue, Ronnie Leigh has probably played it. And over the course of those five decades, at thousands of gigs, concerts and performances, Ronnie has never come up short. If this was baseball, this guy’s the musical equivalent of Hank Aaron,…. a guy who hits it out of the park every night, and never fails to delight audiences wherever he performs. His multiple-octave vocal range, engaging stage presence, singular style and his love of the music always comes across, and whether he’s interpreting Monk, Al Jarreau or Duke, the man’s consistently sensational!

After 40 years in the music biz, working with everyone from Smokey to Aretha to Ray Charles, and after 30 years of watching this guy, all I can tell you is that he’s one of the finest song stylists working in jazz today. But it doesn’t stop there. He’s also one of the finest Soul and R & B stylists I’ve ever heard and an amazing entertainer. The guy’s the complete package. And it’s not even remotely hype to mention him in the same sentence with the great Lou Rawls and the amazing Donny Hathaway.

In Ronnie’s first CD, Live at Apple Jazz, Leigh puts his signature spin on 11 classics from the Great American Songbook that you know and love.

If you’re wondering who the incredible vocalist is on these tracks, his name is Ronnie Leigh. And if you’re wondering why you’ve never heard his CD’s before, I’ve been wondering about that very thing for the last 30 years. Some debuts obviously take a bit longer than others. Not sure why that is, but the wait has been worth it.”

~ Frank Malfitano, founder, Syracuse Jazz Fest


Tickets:$29.50-$49.50 (plus service fees)
Picture shows singer Bettye LaVette in black hat.