“It’s just an all-girl band, dealing with the facts and the pain,” the iconic vocal group LaBelle sing on this, their most commercially successful album. Nightbirds is certified gold, features the proto-disco Billboard No. 1 “Lady Marmalade,” and landed them on the cover of Rolling Stone, making them the first Black vocal group awarded that distinction—by any account, the zenith of their career as an ensemble. Yet none of that has been enough to get the trio a solid place in funk and rock’s male-centric canon. In the moment, though, it seemed like Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx, and Sarah Dash were finally on the cusp of world domination. Their forceful innovation and radical inclusion, manifested through glittery, ambitious, and groovy funk rock, was finally finding an audience. But unlike their adoring peers—The Who, The Rolling Stones, and Laura Nyro among them—LaBelle had superproducer Allen Toussaint and his rock-solid Meters on their side for Nightbirds, bringing a sweaty Creole bounce not just to “Lady Marmalade” but the entire album. The sultry, liberated fun of “Marmalade” and “You Turn Me On” are just one side of the release, though, which has plenty of the same calls for justice as its precedents. “Somebody somewhere will hear our cries for freedom if we never, never stop,” they sing on the album’s second track, one of five on the album written by Hendryx. “We need power and we need peace,” is the refrain to Nightbirds’ second hugely influential single, “What Can I Do For You?”, which reached No. 48 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Their purpose was as clear as the myriad obstacles they were pushing against—but at least for the span of Nightbirds, the wildly talented and visionary trio were space children, ascending to a better, bigotry-free world and taking their listeners with them.

Audio Extras

Select a country or region

Africa, Middle East, and India

Asia Pacific


Latin America and the Caribbean

The United States and Canada