Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade” Lyrics Meaning

“Lady Marmalade” is set in New Orleans, Louisiana, which would explain why its most-famous line is actually in French. More specifically the titular character, as in the one who actually utters those words, is a Creole. Creoles are commonly understood as being a subset of the populace of Louisiana. And considering that the Creole State (as Louisiana is sometimes called) was once colonized by the French, Creoles themselves are also well-known to be at least partially fluent in that language. So succinctly put “Creole Lady Marmalade”, after whom this song is entitled, is a prostitute working in New Orleans. Also, as is hinted throughout the song, she is a Black lady, i.e. one of African descent.

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Labelle's Lady Marmalade at

Narrative relayed from Lady Marmalade’s Customer

Now even though she is main subject of the track, its lyrics are being relayed from one of her customers, i.e. a john. The first verse is actually based on him, seemingly for the first time, meeting her “on the street”. Then in the second verse we find them chillin’ in “her boudoir”, with the john enjoying “Magnolia wine” before “he started to freak”. And even though the exact definition of freak within this context is not specified, colloquially the term is commonly associated with wild bedroom activity

Then in the third verse, amongst him admiring Lady Marmalade, it is revealed that they did indeed have a memorable experience together. In fact after the john returns back to his normal life, which is completely devoid of any signs that he enjoys the company of working girls, he keeps thinking about that interlude with Lady Marmalade.


Meanwhile it is the post-chorus of this song which is actually the most-outstanding part of the tune. Here, Labelle chants the words voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir? This is, as aforementioned, French. And what the phrase translates to in English is “do you want to sleep with me tonight?” 

So basically, in the post-chorus instead of singing in the third person, Patti Labelle actually takes on the role of Lady Marmalade herself. And what she is doing is advertising her services to the previously-mentioned john.


So conclusively, this is a song about a working girl and her customer, with most of the narrative being relayed from the latter’s perspective. It doesn’t seem to contain any type of moral lesson or underlying message. Rather it is simply based on a memorable hookup a certain individual had with a working girl in New Orleans. Indeed if anything the lyrics are critical of the john, not Lady Marmalade. For he is one who is depicted as “living his… life of lies”. Meanwhile based on the intro to the song, we can conclude that Labelle is actually bigging up “Lady Marmalade”.

But again, judging the characters featured herein is not the point. Rather for all intents and purposes we can classify this as a bedroom fun song. For even its chorus, which contains some unintelligible utterances, gives off the impression that it is meant to mimic intimate excitement. And indeed, outside of the fact that he may not be keeping it real with himself afterwards, the john very much enjoyed his experience with the titular character.

Lyrics of "Lady Marmalade"

What Patti Labelle has said about “Lady Marmalade”

Patti Labelle has sworn that when she first recorded this tune, she did not know what the aforementioned French phrase actually meant. However, even after discovering its meaning, she was not ashamed of “Lady Marmalade”. In fact she went on to state that she actually had a friend who was a working girl. And considering that said friend never criticized her for being a musician, she likewise never felt the need to condemn her choice of a profession. 

Or another way of looking at it is that Miss Labelle perceived this track as sort of a humanitarian song. Basically a song which embraced an individual (Lady Marmalade) who under conventional circumstances would be looked down upon.

Release Date of “Lady Marmalade”

This track came out on 3 August 1974 via Epic Records. It served as the lead single from an album entitled “Nightbirds” by a musical group called Labelle. This is an outfit which was fronted by none other than legendary songstress Patti Labelle.

The particular members of Labelle which recited this song are Patti Labelle, backed by Sarah Dash and Nona Hendrix.              

Writing Credits

The writers of this song are Kenny Nolan and Bob Crewe (1930-2014). It was Crewe in particular whose personal recollections, as a visitor in New Orleans, that the lyrics are based on.

First Recording of “Lady Marmalade”

And the first group to actually record and release this song, also in 1974, was a collective of session musicians called The Eleventh Hour. This is a group which vocally was led by Kenny Nolan. And that particular rendition of “Lady Marmalade” did not become famous.

Labelle’s Version

However, Labelle’s version was a big hit, in fact being the song which really put them on the map. For instance, it topped the Billboard Hot 100 as well as Canada Top Singles. And it also charted in a few other countries, including peaking at number 17 on the UK Singles Chart.

Moreover “Lady Marmalade” went on to be certified Platinum in the United States. And in 2012, it was given a place in the Grammy Hall of Fame. 

And FYI, Labelle’s version of this classic was produced by Allen Toussaint (1938-2015) and Vicki Wickham.

Covers of “Lady Marmalade”

Indeed this song was so successful that a number of other artists couldn’t help but cover it. Many of the covers ended up meeting with great success themselves.

For instance, in 1998 another band consisting entirely of females, All Saints, released a version of this tune. All Saints’ version actually topped the UK Singles Chart.

Then in 2001, this song was famously covered by another female collective consisting of American musicians Mya, Pink, Lil Kim and Christina Aguilera.  This version also had renowned hip-hop artist Missy Elliott as its producer.  They did so as part of the soundtrack for the movie “Moulin Rouge!”.  \And their rendition was even a bigger hit than Labelle’s original, topping the Billboard Hot 100 and UK Singles Charts as well as music charts in over 10 other countries.

Media Appearances

The Masked Singer, Season 2 Episode 8. The American reality singing competition TV series features celebrities donning costumes to cover their identities while the judges guess who’s behind the mask.

After Life, Season 1 Episode 3. The British comedy-drama TV series was created, written, produced, directed by Ricky Gervais.

Pitch Perfect 2. This 2015 American musical comedy film starred the likes of Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson.

Friday Night Lights, Season 1 Episode 22. This 5-season American sports drama TV series aired from 2006 to 2011.

The Girl Next Door. The 2004 American rom-com film is about a high school senior falling in love with the girl next door. He then faces issues after learning she used to be a pornographic actress. The movie stars names such as Emili Hirsch and Elisha Cuthbert.

Angel, Season 2 Episode 11 and Season 4 Episode 3. This 1999-2004 American supernatural fiction TV series starred David Boreanaz, Charisma Carpener and Glenn Quinn.

Carlito’s Way. A 1993 American crime drama movie starring Al Pacino, Sean Penn and Penelope Ann Miller.

Labelle’s “Nightbirds” Album

“Nightbirds” was released on the 13th of September, 1974. It features the group’s hit single, “Lady Marmalade”, a song that has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. “Nightbirds” is regarded as the group’s most successful album.  

The album was produced by Allen Toussaint, an American songwriter and record producer from New Orleans. Sony Music’s Epic Records was responsible for the album’s release.

The album sold over one million copies in the United States earning it a Platinum certification there. It peaked at No.7 and No.8 on charts in the US and Canada respectively.

On Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of all Time”, “Nightbirds” was placed at No.272. It however fell two places to No.274 when the list was re-published in 2012.

1 Response

  1. Anonymous says:

    The only thing I don’t agree with here is your contention that it is a bedroom party song. On the contrary, as you say, it’s about a john who can’t forget his hookup with a Creole prostitute and is haunted by it and can’t comfortably go back to his normal life. One other thing to note is that the Creoles are a mixed race people, typically with light skin, not “black.” They are like “mulatto/s” in the Cuban/Santana song “Oye como va.” Creoles were very important in the history of the city and the development of jazz.

  2. Brian says:

    But why the name “Marmalade”?

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