Music

Darlene Love: Not A Back-up Singer Anymore

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(Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for BFCA)

(Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for BFCA)

By Bill Dudley/CBS Radio

She was born in Hawthorne, and raised in South Los Angeles. The daughter of a minister with the voice of a nightingale, she is singer/actress Darlene Love. Sometimes it takes a very long time to get proper recognition. You have heard her on the radio for decades without ever hearing her name. You have seen her as Danny Glover’s wife in the ‘Lethal Weapon’ movies. Finally, after 50 years, there is redemption.

The long overdue film study of back-up singers, ’20 Feet From Stardom’ won the Academy Award for Best Documentary. Who can forget Darlene’s wonderful acceptance speech/song ? One of the many great ladies featured in the film who started as a back-up singer was Darlene Love. In 1962, Darlene formed ‘The Blossoms,’ a girl group who later would sing behind many great stars including Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, The Righteous Brothers, The Beach Boys,Frank Sinatra, and Elvis Presley. ‘The Blossoms’ also appeared on the mid 1960’s TV music show ‘Shindig’.

In 1962, 20 year old Darlene was paid $3,000 to sing a song for producer Phil Spector, with the understanding that if the record became a hit, she would get royalties and credit for it. The song went to # 1, and sold over 3 million copies. The group credited on the label was an East coast group (signed to Spector) called ‘The Crystals’. Darlene didn’t get her name on the next Crystals song either, “He’s Sure The Boy I Love.”

A year later, Darlene also contributed strongly to what is considered one of the greatest Christmas albums of all time, ‘A Phil Spector Christmas’. Some two decades after its release, Darlene heard what has since become her signature song ‘Christmas Baby Please Come Home’ on the radio, while cleaning another person’s house. This inspired her to begin a long challenge to get both royalties and recognition from Phil Spector.

To quote Darlene directly from the stage of ‘The Palm Springs Follies’, ” Am I bitter. Do I hate Phil? NO! Look where I am, and look where he is.” Her reference is to her being ON STAGE, and Phil Spector being IN JAIL, convicted for murder.

I’ve wanted to see Darlene in person all of my life and finally got to see, hear, and meet her last week. She is a gorgeous 72, and still has that powerful and dynamic voice that amazed me as a child.

Darlene belted out “He’s A Rebel” not missing a note just as she had done some 50 years ago. My favorite Darlene song is “Today I Met The Boy I’m Gonna Marry.” Before performing it, she said “please tell me how long YOU have been married”, and many couples did after the show. Darlene herself has been happily married to the same man for 30 years, unheard of in Hollywood.

Curiously, she wrapped her set with an incredible version of a song that is primarily known as a Tina Turner classic, “River deep – Mountain High.” The song was originally intended for Darlene, as most songs of that era should have been.

You can catch Darlene as part of the final ‘Palm Springs Follies‘ until May 18th, (if you can get a get a ticket.) As she has done every Christmas since 1986,Darlene will also sing ‘Christmas Baby Please Come Home’ for the 29th and final time on ‘Late Night With David Letterman’ this December, as Dave is retiring in 2015.

Darlene also has a new book, ‘My Name Is Love’ which accurately documents her long career. Thanks to the success of ’20 Feet From Stardom’, which is now on DVD, Darlene is very busy these days. In fact, her phone is ringing off the hook. ‘Cher’ once said: “Darlene is one of the most talented artists I have ever heard” and I totally agree!

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