Michael McDonald Recounts First Meeting with Patti LaBelle After Their Hit Duet ‘On My Own’ Was Released

Michael McDonald reveals he first met Patti LaBelle months after their duet “On My Own” hit the radio, reflecting on their unique recording experience in his new memoir.

Michael McDonald and Patti LaBelle in New York City in June 1986. (PHOTO: VIA PEOPLE, RON GALELLA, LTD./RON GALELLA COLLECTION VIA GETTY)
Michael McDonald and Patti LaBelle in New York City in June 1986. (PHOTO: VIA PEOPLE, RON GALELLA, LTD./RON GALELLA COLLECTION VIA GETTY)

In a delightful revelation, Michael McDonald shares in his new memoir, “What a Fool Believes,” the surprising circumstances surrounding his iconic duet with Patti LaBelle, “On My Own.” The Doobie Brothers member and legendary vocalist recounts the serendipitous nature of their collaboration, emphasizing how they had not met in person until months after the song became a radio hit.

Released in 1986, “On My Own” was an unexpected triumph for both artists. However, in a time when digital collaboration was less common, McDonald and LaBelle recorded their parts separately, leading to a unique dynamic that McDonald now views as fortuitous. He reflects on this in his memoir, explaining how the separation allowed each artist to bring their best to the table without the pressure of immediate in-studio collaboration.

“I was telling [Patti] just the other night how it was so funny how we hadn’t met. The song was recorded and it was out on the radio. We still hadn’t met until we had to do The Tonight Show [months later]. That was the first time we actually met and did the song together,” McDonald, 72, tells PEOPLE exclusively.

McDonald, known for his smooth, soulful voice and profound musicality, admits that performing live alongside LaBelle, a powerhouse of improvisation and live performance, might have been intimidating. “Patti’s such a formidable live performer and such an artist at improvisation. And that’s pretty much her thing. I don’t think she sings any song the same way twice,” he says. This recognition of LaBelle’s dynamic performance style led McDonald to appreciate the benefits of recording separately. 

The Doobie Brothers in Amsterdam in January 1975. (PHOTO: VIA PEOPLE, GIJSBERT HANEKROOT/REDFERNS)
The Doobie Brothers in Amsterdam in January 1975. (PHOTO: VIA PEOPLE, GIJSBERT HANEKROOT/REDFERNS)

“Ad-libbing is not one of my favorite things because I don’t know that I’m that good at it. But I was kind of happy I didn’t have to go one-on-one with her in the studio and try to keep up with her at the microphone!” he confesses.

After receiving LaBelle’s recorded vocals, McDonald shaped his part around hers, allowing him to complement her style effectively. This method, he believes, resulted in a more polished and harmonious final product. “I think in the end, it really gave me some ideas on how to sing the song with her at a later date,” he says.

Their initial live performance together on The Tonight Show was a significant milestone, marking the first time the two vocal titans shared the same stage. The chemistry they displayed captivated audiences and solidified “On My Own” as a timeless duet.

Fast forward to April of this year, and McDonald and LaBelle reunited for a special three-night R&B cruise. Performing “On My Own” together again, McDonald shared a mixture of excitement and apprehension.

Patti LaBelle in the 1980s. (PHOTO: VIA PEOPLE, ANTHONY BARBOZA/GETTY)
Patti LaBelle in the 1980s. (PHOTO: VIA PEOPLE, ANTHONY BARBOZA/GETTY)

“We sang, ‘On My Own’ together both nights. Although I had wished I was in a little better voice, I hadn’t sung that much in a long time,” McDonald admits. Yet, despite his self-doubt, he was once again mesmerized by LaBelle’s performance.

“It was wonderful. She’s in such great form, it’s just amazing to hear her sing. She hasn’t lost a thing and she was killing it.”

This reunion was particularly meaningful for McDonald, who revealed that performing the duet with LaBelle remains a highlight in his career.

“I almost broke and run on the first show. I was thinking, ‘I don’t know if I can go out there and hold up under the pressure.’ But she was fantastic. It was wonderful to do that song with her a couple more times,” he concludes.

Michael McDonald's What a Fool Believes. (PHOTO: VIA PEOPLE, DEY STREET BOOKS)
Michael McDonald’s What a Fool Believes. (PHOTO: VIA PEOPLE, DEY STREET BOOKS)

Though McDonald has performed “On My Own” solo over the years, he underscores that singing it with LaBelle is a unique and cherished experience. “I always look forward to those moments,” he says, reflecting on the special bond they share through their music.

Michael McDonald’s memoir, “What a Fool Believes,” offers fans an intimate look into his life and career, filled with anecdotes like his collaboration with LaBelle.

The book, now available, is a testament to his philosophy of embracing life’s unpredictability and finding joy in the unexpected. For more on McDonald’s reflections and stories, readers can pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, available on newsstands everywhere.

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