It was barely sun-up. A chill was still in the air, and on the highways, headlamps lighted the fading dawn. In the line of more than 200 outside Bibelot books, Lorraine Mackey, 27, held the No. 2 spot. She had claimed it at 2: 15 a.m.
By yesterday evening, the bookstore's list had reached more than 1,000 people, each one wanting a few cherished moments with Patti LaBelle, time enough to get an autograph, a smile, perhaps a quick snapshot of themselves with their beloved diva as she closed another copy of her book, "Don't Block the Blessings: Revelations of a Lifetime," freshly signed, "Love, Patti."
The signing didn't start until 7: 30 p.m., and by then, another line had formed. Mackey had come for a ticket in that line. And after nearly six hours of waiting, she was ready.
"Girl," she says, turning to Vicki and Kimmi Kufel, who claimed the No. 1 spot at 1: 45 a.m., "when I leave here, I'm going to get my hair done, get my face done and be rejuvenated from this night."
LaBelle, 52, is in the midst of a whirlwind swing through Baltimore-Washington -- Bibelot in Pikesville yesterday; Sam's Club in Woodlawn today; Northwestern High School in Hyattsville tomorrow. Her just-released book, written with Laura B. Randolph, tells the often painful story of how she went from being Patsy Holte, a self-described shy, plain-Jane girl from Philadelphia to Patti LaBelle -- star, then superstar, then icon. The book will debut at No. 3 tomorrow on the New York Times' non-fiction bestseller list.
The people waiting on line yesterday morning spoke of a powerhouse performer whose voice was honed in the gospel choirs of her youth. They say it is a voice everyone should hear at least once. Some seemed to have reached a spiritual connection with LaBelle. They treasure her honesty, her "realness."
"We love you, Patti," they shouted last night.
She has been in the spotlight since the 1960s, picking up fans along the way, some catching on when she was lead singer of the girl group, Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles, others joining in during her 1970s spin as LaBelle with Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash. The trio of bold soul sisters wore over-the-top disco-meets-glam rock outfits, their voices powering through "Lady Marmalade." You remember the line, "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?" (Translation: Do you want to sleep with me tonight?)
Phil Howard, a 40-ish fan, remembers a LaBelle performance at the Lyric Opera House. It was not too long after the death of LaBelle's sister, Jackie.
"She got very real," he says. "She kicked her shoes off. She took her eyelashes off." He pauses."She kept her wig on," he adds. "She was very real though."
LaBelle, who had been pleasantly surprised to hear of the morning crowd, found herself engulfed by the hundreds waiting to see her last night.
"I just take it as the highest form of flattery, as a compliment," she said earlier from her room at the Harbor Court Hotel. "It just makes me feel like a queen."
The book recounts some horrid scenes, such as her being sexually abused by a family friend and the time the great Jackie Wilson tried to rape her backstage. Those events and others brought on a near-paralyzing anger. For her, writing the book became a cathartic experience.
"It was very hard for me to talk about some of the things in my life," she says. But, she says, she realized she had to be honest and say to herself, "It's just going to be all real and I'm going to have to out some people."
And there was a greater lesson.
"Holding onto anger and resentment is a waste of time and energy," she writes. "It blinds you to the beauty and joy in your life. It's like putting a vise on your heart, surrounding it, squeezing it, stopping the flow of love -- blocking your blessings."
Mackey says LaBelle's rendition Ashford and Simpson's "There's a Winner in You," pulled her out of a suicidal depression 10 years ago. Since then, she has become a devoted fan, even leading a campaign in the Afro newspaper to have LaBelle win a Grammy.
"I go from any city, from here to L.A., anywhere she performs," jTC says Mackey, who claims a friendship with LaBelle. The star calls her "my Grammy baby," she says.
"I would say that she's a messenger of God. The message is real, nothing fake about it," says Mackey. "If people were having trouble, she is definitely someone I would send them to."
Brenda Giles, 40-ish, thinks of herself as a fan, not a fanatic. No way would she show up at 6: 30 a.m. just for a ticket. That's the kind of thing her sister would do, but her sister lives in Harford County. So Giles came. She was No. 13. The ticket was her Christmas gift to her sister. "That's one person off my list," she says.
Lois Carter, who also admits to being over 40, ran up to the line just as the doors opened at 8: 05 a.m. She had dreamed of being No. 2, but by the time she arrived, she had a better shot at being No. 202.
"I started to get here around seven, but I just couldn't make it," says Carter, clutching a copy of LaBelle's book. "Oh well."
She need not have worried. Everyone got a ticket. Everyone got their chance. Susan Weis, events coordinator at Bibelot, even found a plus in not being first in line.
"If you have a higher number you get to see her longer," she says. "That poor guy who was number one at Cindy Crawford was out of there so quick, he barely had a chance to see her."
Saturday: 1 p.m., book signing at Sam's Club, 1718 Woodlawn Drive (club members only)
Sunday: 6 p.m., "A Conversation With Patti LaBelle," on-stage interview and book signing, Northwestern High School, 7000 Adelphi Road, Hyattsville. $5 admission. Call: Vertigo Books (202-429-9272) or Prince George's County Library (301-699-3500).
Pub Date: 10/26/96