The singer discusses the gossip, the lies, the sex, the affairs, and the answers to some curious circumstances the industry presented, including putting her on the backburner for her big break.
“A Woman Like Me” (Blue Rider Press), was written with David Ritz. The book relates her early struggles in the seedy R&B world of New York and Detroit, a world that she said was full of “producer-pimps,” whom female singers like herself felt compelled to sleep with to further their careers.
“A Woman Like Me” details the long journey to success, but is also filled with frank gossip and stories told about the star singers LaVette met on her way, says the Daily Beast.
Here are some juicy tidbits from the book:
1. She Was Briefly a Prostitute
Any doubts that LaVette’s rise to the top was glamorous are dispelled in the first sentence of A Woman Like Me: “A vicious pimp was precariously holding on to my right foot as he dangled me from the top of a twenty-story building at Amsterdam and Seventy-eighth Street.” What follows is a brief summary of her affair with a charming pimp who convinced her to start turning tricks. She only managed to bring in one steady client: Johnny Desmond, the popular crooner then starring opposite Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl on Broadway. She finally tried to get out of the trade, a decision that led to her being dangled from a roof and beat up. She ran away through the streets of Manhattan wearing just a bra and a pair of shorts.
2. She Slept With Otis Redding and Ben E. King
When LaVette was just 16, she was introduced to a Detroit producer, who she says she seduced for his connections in the music business. He helped her record her first single, “My Man—He’s a Loving Man,” which quickly burned up the charts. While touring the country, she encountered a talented singer from Macon who flirted with her. She took a shine to him, even though “he wore mohair suits and red socks. Tacky!” The singer was Otis Redding, just before he broke out himself. To LaVette, their affair was a tryst, but Redding wanted to marry her, even though his girlfriend at home was pregnant. It wasn’t LaVette’s only fling with burgeoning stars on that tour. She also had a brief affair with “Stand By Me” singer Ben E. King, though he “had both a home wife and a road wife.”
3. She Slept With Aretha Franklin’s Husband
In 1963, LaVette had an affair with a pimp named Ted White, who also happened to be Aretha Franklin’s husband at the time. LaVette says she and Franklin were friends, and she’s not sure if she ever knew that she was sleeping with her husband. “Either way we didn’t have problems getting high together and shooting the breeze.” White shepherded Franklin to the top of charts, but, writes LaVette, “When it comes to the history of Aretha, Ted has been unfairly maligned.” He was an abuser. But LaVett, in her characteristically nonchalant (perhaps even naive) way, claims, “In the context of the Detroit showbiz culture of the sixties, men slapped their women around … But without Ted’s grooming, Aretha would never have been a superstar.”
4. Tina Turner Tolerated Ike’s Beatings
Even more controversially, LaVette claims the situation was the same with Ike and Tina Turner. “Hundreds of men would have whisked her off in a hot minute,” but she claims she stayed because she wanted to learn the lessons his beatings taught. “Those lessons resulted in her becoming a millionaire many times over.”