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Patti LaBelle in spotlight, out of sun

It's appropriate that Patti LaBelle's new NBC comedy series is called Out All Night. She has an aversion to daylight.

"I don't like L.A. Too much sun," says Miss LaBelle, who hides behind heavy drapes during the day, preferring the dark casinos she inhabits at night as a Grammy-winning rock singer.

And, on the whole, she'd rather be back home in Philadelphia.

Miss LaBelle was reluctant to go to Los Angeles to make Out All Night, in which she plays a nightclub owner who takes two young men under her wing.

"It was hard to leave my roots," she said. "But listen to the way I talk! I'm really happy. Many people would love to have this job. I get to work and tour. I just don't like the sun."

Miss LaBelle has appeared occasionally as Kadeem Hardison's mother in NBC's A Different World, but Out All Night, which airs Saturdays at 8:30 p.m., is her first starring role in a series.

She expressed some boredom with the rigid production schedule of a sitcom.

"I don't want to sound like an ingrate," said the singer. "I just have to get used to it. The great thing is that my son Zuri is a student at UCLA, and I can see him every day and cook for him. I just never saw myself as an actress. I always thought I'd be doing rock 'n' roll."

In Out All Night Miss LaBelle plays Chelsea Paige, a former singing star who runs a club in Los Angeles. She has a grown daughter, played by Vivica A. Fox, but just can't suppress her maternal instincts, so she takes in two of her daughter's friends in an apartment building she owns.

"I bought the building because I'm so attached to my daughter," she said of the show's plot. "Which seems to be the way it is with my son. He came here to school and I got a sitcom and moved here. He'll be an extra on the show once in a while."

Miss LaBelle describes Chelsea as a bighearted busybody who looks after everybody.

"That's a lot like Patti," she said as she scurried about her dressing trailer making sure everyone was seated comfortably and had plenty to eat and drink.

"Chelsea wants to help people survive," she said, "sometimes by driving people crazy. That's the way I am. I worry about people. I'll stop and give the homeless money. I have so much, and I want to see that everyone has something."

Miss LaBelle began her musical career in the 1960s with the all-girl group Patti LaBelle and the Bluebells. In the 1970s, she had the all-female band LaBelle. In the 1980s, she became a solo artist with such hits as I Sold My Heart to the Junkman, New Attitude, If You Asked Me To, On My Own and Feels like Another One.

Earlier this year, she won a Grammy for Best R&B Female Vocal Performance for her album Burnin', and she currently is working on a new album, Patti LaBelle Live, recorded at the Apollo Theater.

She has appeared in the theatrical movies A Soldier's Story and Sing and in the TV movie Unnatural Causes.

Her role in A Soldier's Story came about when she met director Norman Jewison through a mutual friend and he asked her to join the all-male cast. The role of Big Mary, who ran a bar, was created for her.

"I sang a duet with Larry Riley," she said. "If you blinked, you missed my appearance. They helped me a lot because it was my first movie."