Betty Lavette grew up in Michigan, the child of occasional bootleggers who also hosted travelling R&B musicians in their home. Add in the fact that they also owned a jukebox stocked with R&B, blues and country music and you have an environment primed to cultivate a musical interest.
Lavette took up singing and by sixteen was good enough to become a professional. Her first manager suggested that her given name Betty Jo Haskins was not exciting enough, so she adopted the Betty Lavette stage name. Her first single, recorded for a small regional label, was heard before release by an executive for Atlantic records, and she had a deal with them to distribute the new record. Although Lavette had several top 10 R&B songs in the 60s, successive issues with record companies limited her sales success.
The pattern of failed record deals would persist and it was not until the early 80s that Lavette reappeared – this time in the cast of a touring company for a Broadway revue. After spending the following years performing mostly in Europe, Lavette’s profile began to rise in the US around the turn of the century.
2005’s I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise finally brought Betty Lavette the critical acclaim and success she had long deserved, and her new status brought more work, including an appearance at the Kennedy Center to perform Love Reign O’er Me at the Honors event for the Who. This led to a 2010 album covering classic British rock.
Betty Lavette celebrated her 50th anniversary as a singer with an album of folk and roots oriented covers and an autobiography. Since then Lavette has received two Grammy nominations and taken two artist of the year awards from the Blues Music Association.