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– A Woman Like Me (By Bettye LaVette, with David Ritz)

Boxx Magazine | A Woman Like Me (By Bettye LaVette, with David Ritz)

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A Woman Like Me (By Bettye LaVette, with David Ritz)

Molly Lynch December 27, 2012

Bettye LaVette A Woman Like Me

Delve only a few pages into soul singer Bettye LaVette’s memoir, A Woman Like Me, and one thing is clear from the get-go—you won’t find any apologies for the ups and downs of this dynamic woman’s 66 years of life thus far.

Though she exercised her vocal chops with legends like Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and James Brown, in addition to garnering herself the hit single “My Man – He’s A Lovin’ Man” at age 16, LaVette didn’t achieve the same level of notoriety as her cohorts until much later in life. For those who weren’t avid followers of LaVette, this recognition didn’t happen until 2008’s Kennedy Center Honors when she brought down the house with a rendition of The Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me,” and again at the Lincoln Memorial in 2009 at President Barack Obama’s pre-inaugural concert.

A Woman Like Me takes readers on a poignant, funny and heartbreakingly honest roller coaster that is LaVette’s life. It is a journey rife with her colorful experiences with sex, prostitution (though it was a short-lived stint, she states that her only regret wasn’t being a very good one), booze, poverty, violence and morality, as well as her ups and downs with breaking into the music industry. In the book, LaVette refers to many years of her music career as “buzzard luck,” never achieving the status of sustained success for one reason or another, despite her Top 10 hit on Atlantic in 1962.

Born Betty Jo Haskins in Muskegon, Michigan in 1946, the singer was pregnant by 14 and recorded her first single two years later, followed by intermittent fame for another 40-ish years. LaVette’s one-of-a-kind candor is evident early on in the book—as early as page 5—when she recounts her free-spirited Detroit childhood. “I was born into a heavy-drinking family,” LaVette writes. “Early on I became—and remain—a serious drinker. I make no apologies for this. It’s who I am.”

Although some might find LaVette’s anecdotes and life stories veering on the racy side at times, you can’t help but fall in love with the singer’s fearless and raw nature throughout the book, particularly her musings on sex. “I wanted to do what adults did,” LaVette writes. “I wanted to drink and dance and smoke and, when I learned about sex, I wanted to do that, too.” And that she did. LaVette is anything but shy when it comes to spilling the details on her many trysts with some of music’s biggest names, and she definitely isn’t afraid to admit her willingness to use sex as a tool to get what she wanted, whether it was for money, advancing her career or, in some cases, for love.

“As I approach 67, I’m still not where I want to be, but I sure as hell ain’t where I was,” LaVette reflects at the end of the memoir. Despite its unfiltered, and sometimes quite crass, tone, A Woman Like Me is (put simply) the no-holds-barred real deal—much like LaVette herself.

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