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Bettye LaVette: A long-road performer who’s no stranger to drama

Singer Bettye LaVette performs during the Calgary Folk Music Festival,

LARRY MACDOUGAL/The Canadian Press Images

The parents of Bettye LaVette, 66, were boozing melodramatists. In her new memoir, A Woman Like Me, the soul singer wonders, "how did I weather this world of overwrought emotions." Watching her perform at Toronto's Winter Garden Theatre on Thursday, it was clear that the long-road performer had not endured the drama, but had adopted it. Her finale was the a cappella theatre of Sinead O'Connor's I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, after which she walked to a handler who held open a robe. She had sung hundreds of notes over the night, not one of them trivially. She talked and she sang – a one-woman show, though her band was fine. She did not so much interpret her cover songs as exceed them, the subtly arrogant suggestion being that original versions mattered not at all. On Crazy, Gnarls Barkley's song on the myth of control, she rasped lines about things that seemed fun when she was little, and that by knowing too much now, "does that make me crazy?" Perhaps. A survivor's tactic, no doubt.

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Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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