Success delayed, not denied for 72-year-old soul singer Bettye LaVette

MANHATTAN, New York (WABC) -- For Bettye LaVette, success may have been delayed, but it hasn't been denied. LaVette was signed to her first record deal as a teenager, but she had to wait until she was a senior citizen before finding fame as a singer.

At the age of 72, LaVette is finding truth in an old maxim that success is "better late than never," earning praise for new music more than half of a century after her first recording.

"It's hard to excite an old woman, but I'm real, real close," LaVette said.

We found her rehearsing at Manhattan's City Winery, where her grandson is the manager. She says some guys might look at her and say something sexy, but her grandson will quickly jump in and say, "Don't even try it, that's my grandmother."

And with that, she lets loose a throaty and very appreciative laugh.

She's done a lot of laughing, sometimes to keep from crying in the long years since she grew up in Detroit. She was across the street from Smokey Robinson when Diana Ross was still in school, and Aretha Franklin was singing in her father's church.

"To see everybody that you started before suddenly become world renowned, oh my goodness, it was heartbreaking," LaVette said.

A string of bad luck left her behind, but she always had devoted fans. And luckily for her, a few of them ended up owning record companies.

Her new album is entirely devoted to the music of Bob Dylan, and she takes pleasure in quoting the Rolling Stone review of it: "Betty LaVette takes Bob Dylan where he's never been before. Love that."

"It's pure satisfaction," LaVette said. "I still may die broke, but I won't die obscure."

And LaVette is no nostalgia act. Her album, called, appropriately enough, "Things Have Changed," is by a dynamic artist who just keeps getting better.

At times, LaVette did think about throwing in the towel. But then, something would happen that would cause her to go and "get that towel back."

* More Manhattan news
* Send us a news tip
* Download the abc7NY app for breaking news alerts
Copyright © 2019 WABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.