fter American Idol alum Leah LaBelle was killed last week along with husband Rasual Butler in a car accident in Los Angeles, there was an outpouring of celebrity support, with everyone from Pharrell to JoJo posting their condolences to social media. One of those expressing their grief was Andreao “Fanatic” Heard, a Grammy-winning producer who worked with LaBelle early in her career.
Heard met Labelle after she exited American Idol in 2004. He was immediately drawn to her after a video was sent to him of LaBelle singing in her local church choir. “I’m hearing the vocals, and I’m like, 'Who is that singing in the choir?' And it was Leah," he says.
The pair worked on a demo track for LaBelle to shop out to major labels, and she ended up signing a joint deal with Jermaine Dupri's So So Def Records and Pharrell’s I Am Other in 2011. Her debut single, “Sexify,” was released in 2012 and reached No. 23 on the Adult R&B Songs airplay charts in 2012. Her second single, “Lolita,” peaked at No. 7 on Dance Club Songs in 2013.
Heard last saw LaBelle a year ago, after bumping into her at a Grammys party. They spoke over dinner, he says, about her trouble in the industry. “She went through this dark period in her life during that time,” he says of that dinner conversation. “She wanted to make this music that she couldn’t get out.”
Heard won his first Grammy in 2004 in the best contemporary R&B album category as a producer on Beyoncé’s debut album, Dangerously in Love. He was nominated in 2012 in the best R&B album category as a producer on Anthony Hamilton’s Back to Love. He also had previously worked with Michael Jackson for his song “Heaven Can Wait” in 2001. LaBelle, he says, had a “God-given gift” that separated her from every other superstar he had worked with. “You could just tell that soul music was in her and was a part of her.”
Heard blames “the business side of the industry” for him and LaBelle ultimately parting ways. He says that Labelle was “trapped” once her debut singles didn’t do well and that she’d given up hope on her music career. “The whole purpose of us making music is to touch people and make people feel something,” he said. “I thought we were able to do that with the music that we created, but then the business got in the way.”
Heard still believes he will be able to release the music that he and LaBelle worked on together. “Hopefully one day I’ll be able to put that music out and people will be able to see what I saw in Leah and how special she was.”