Bettye LaVette had a hit single in 1962 at 16 with the song My Man, He's a Loving Man.
Fifty years on, that man still makes the soul/R&B singer strut her stuff as she sings his praises for appreciative audiences like the Winnipeg International Jazz Festival crowd that lapped up her singing, stage moves and anecdotes about a life in, and out of, music.
The Detroit native's repertoire runs from Neil Young (two songs) to Joan Armatrading to Tom Waits to Gnarls Barkley to Fiona Apple to Nashville, all delivered with a rich voice, emotion and more than a hint of irony.
LaVette's early promise was stalled by a series of bad decisions and plain bad luck. But she's back on the road and making records and pleasing audiences.
"I just successfully completed the nine-year 'Who the hell is she tour,' she told her jazz fest audience with a wry laugh. "Now I'm on the 50th anniversary tour" of her entry into the music business.
LaVette's opening song was marred by her four-piece backing band playing so loudly that the lyrics were difficult to hear. But that problem cleared itself up and the singer mixed up her 90-minute show with ballads and high-energy numbers.
She covered two Neil Young songs, Everyone Knows This is Nowhere and Heart of Gold, which opened with just vocals and keyboards, highlighting her great version of the song.
Her version of Crazy by Gnarls Barkley was great, and one of the concert highlights. LaVette explained she initially thought the duo was an individual and covered their music to make her grandchildren think she was hip.
Another highlight was her stunning version of The Who's Love Reign O'er Me, which she peformed for Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey at the 2008 Kennedy Center Honors concert. She closed out her encore singing a cappella, proving that the 67-year-old soul survivor still has her stuff.
Opening act the Sojourners, a Vancouver-based gospel trio, took the audience through a little musical history of the role of song in slavery and the 1960s civil rights movement.
Songs such as Wade in the Water, Keep Your Eyes on the Prize, Hold On and the Curtis Mayfield hit People, Get Ready were sung well by the trio, accompanied by a guitarist, but the explanations putting the songs in the context of their times, while informative, were too long and broke the musical flow of their show.
The Winnipeg International Jazz Festival runs through Sunday.