The song was written by music business heavyweights Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan. The story behind the song, so it goes, comes from Crewe’s travels to New Orleans and its red light disctrict. Lady Marmalade is one of the ladies of the night. The refrain “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?” translates from the French to English as “Do you want to sleep with me tonight?” The song was first recorded in 1974 by a group of studio musicians with Nolan on lead vocals under the name of The Eleventh Hour. It did not chart. Crewe shows the song to producer/musician Alain Toussaint, and he chose, along with producer Vicki Wickham, to record the song with the girl group Labelle.
Labelle was formed from two Philadelphia/Trenton area girl groups, that is, The Ordettes and The Del-Capris. They changed their name to The Blue Belles, then Bluebelles, then Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles, and then Labelle from 1970-1976. They were Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx, and Sarah Dash.
On the track “Lady Marmalade” are the Labelle ladies with Patti LaBelle on lead vocals, Allen Toussaint (keyboards, percussion), Art Neville (organ), George Porter Jr. (bass), Leo Nocentelli, Rev. Edward Levone Batts (guitar), Herman Ernest (drums), James “Budd” Ellison (piano), Earl Turbinton (alto sax (Alvin Thomas (tenor sax), Clyde Kerr, Jr. (trumpet), Lester Calliste (trombone), Carl Blouin (baritone sax), and Clarence Ford (alto sax). And that is one hot track!
In 1974-75, the song rose to #1 on the U.S., Canada, and The Netherlands. It was #5 in Italy, #2 in Belgium, and #17 in Austria. It sold more than one million copies and earned an RIAA gold record. “Lady Marmalade” was also on Labelle’s 1974 album Nighbirds.
There have been numerous very successful covers of “Lady Marmalade,” including versions by All Saints, Sabrina, and the one for the 2001 film Moulin Rouge!, which was sung by Christina Aguilera, Mýa, Pink and Lil’ Kim.