Born Darlene Wright on July 26, 1941, in Los Angeles, CA; daughter of Ellen and Joe (a minister) Wright; married Leonard Peete (a supermarket manager), 1959 (divorced, 1968); married Wesley Mitchell (a security guard), 1971 (divorced, 1981); married Alton Allison, 1984; children: three. Addresses: Publicist--Miller Wright, Miller Wright and Associates, Inc., 1650 Broadway, Ste. 1210, New York, NY 10019.
Singer Darlene Love has one of the best-known voices, and one of the least-known names, in the rock music industry. During the 1960s, she recorded a string of hits for legendary rock 'n' roll producer Phil Spector, but very few were credited to her name. Instead, the songs were credited to groups such as "The Crystals," and "Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans." Love also worked as a backup singer during the 1960s and 1970s, performing with Sam Cooke, Elvis Presley, the Righteous Brothers, Tom Jones, and Dionne Warwick, among many others. All the while, she struggled to launch a solo career, but had little success. In the early 1980s, her career hit an all-time low, when she was forced to clean houses to help support her family.
"The music business just isn't that nice to people--and it hasn't been anywhere near that nice to Love," David Hinckley wrote in the New York Daily News. "She has always had a great voice. She has the personality. She has the looks. Yet she has never become a star of the magnitude she deserves." In the 1980s, however, baby boomers began to rediscover the music of the early 1960s, and Love was able to make a stunning comeback. After performing solo in a few small venues, she was cast in the Broadway musical Leader of the Pack. This led to other acting jobs, most notably the role of Danny Glover's wife in all four Lethal Weapon films.
In 1998 Love released Unconditional Love, an album of gospel standards and original songs, and published an autobiography, My Name is Love. Ironically, Love is probably better-known now than at any point in her forty-year career. However, she is not bitter about her long struggle for recognition. "Life is an obstacle course. It's for you to get over the barricades and move on," she told Essence.
Joined All-Girl Group, The Blossoms
Love was born Darlene Wright on July 26, 1941, in Los Angeles, California. One of four children, she was the daughter of Ellen Wright, a domestic, and Joe Wright, a Pentecostal minister "on God's payroll"--meaning he was not paid for his services. To make ends meet, Wright's father earned money as a janitor and road construction worker. "There's an old cliché that goes, 'We didn't know we were poor,' and in our case that was true enough," Love recalled later in My Name is Love.
In 1951, Love's father was offered his first paid position as a pastor at a church in San Antonio, Texas. The family packed up all the belongings they could carry, and left everything else behind because they lacked the money to ship it. "Once my daddy had his own church, he really came into his own as a preacher," Love wrote in her autobiography. "You've heard of fire and brimstone? Lord, the Devil himself never saw this much fire!"
Love had sung in the church choir from an early age, but had never thought she had any special talent for singing. When she was 13 years old, she discovered a stack of her mother's gospel records, and began to imitate the sounds she heard. "I was shocked, embarrassed, and secretly in thrall to what was coming out of my mouth," she recalled in her autobiography. Soon afterward, Love began performing solos during church services. When the family moved back to Los Angeles in 1956, Love continued to perform in church. "Later I'd realize that Baptist and Pentecostal choirs were something of a farm system for the pop-music big leagues: Aretha (Franklin), Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight, and Merry Clayton all cut their teeth in the choir loft," she wrote in My Name is Love.
While she was still in high school, Love performed at a friend's wedding, and afterward the bridesmaids asked her to join their all-girl singing group, the Blossoms. At the time, religious people did not look very favorably upon popular music, "I knew my mother and father thought that singing with the Blossoms would take me right down the path to perdition," Love recalled in her autobiography. She persevered, however, and within a few weeks her parents gave their permission, if not their complete approval.
Just a few months after Love joined the Blossoms, the group landed a job singing backup for teen movie idol James Darren. Soon, the Blossoms had steady backup work, performing with Sam Cooke, Bobby Darin, and other well-known singers. "The people who were doing background in those days were groups of people--choirs. They were not just three girls," Love told Chris Morris of Billboard years later. "There were anywhere from 10 to 15 singers, and it was all white. We actually started doing something in this business that was unheard of."
In 1959, Love married supermarket manager Leonard Peete. Two years later, their first son, Marcus, was born. In 1964, the couple had another son, Chawn. Despite the demands of motherhood, Love continued to sing backup with the Blossoms--sometimes doing three recording sessions a day. "There were so many sessions that it's impossible to remember all or even most of them; what I remember most from those days is that almost overnight, we were making boatloads of money," Love recalled in her autobiography.
Recorded Hits Under Other Names
In 1962, Love was introduced to legendary producer Phil Spector, who asked her to sing lead vocals on the song "He's a Rebel." Love leapt at the chance, and recorded the song for a flat fee of $3,000, a huge sum of money at the time. The single was not released under Love's name, but was credited to "The Crystals," a New York group that was signed to Spector's record label. The song was a number one hit and sold more than 3 million copies, but Love received no royalties. It marked the beginning of a trend that would continue throughout most of her singing career.
Nevertheless, Love continued to record for Spector, sometimes under a band's name, sometimes anonymously. She struggled to persuade Spector to give her a contract, and to allow her to record under her own name. In 1963, Spector promised Love that the single "He's Sure the Boy I Love," would have her name on it--except that he wanted to call her "Darlene Love," after one of his favorite gospel singers, Dorothy Love. "I didn't mind because I didn't think the name would last. I figured Phil would just decide to call me something else again two or three records down the road," Love wrote in her autobiography. "And that was one of the last times Phil Spector and I ever saw eye to eye on anything." When the record was finally released, Love discovered that it was again credited to The Crystals. Of the hundreds of recordings Love made for Spector, the few credited to her name include "(Today I Met) The Boy I'm Gonna Marry," "Wait Til My Bobby Gets Home," and "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)."
In 1964, the Blossoms landed a job as house backup on Shindig, one of the first TV shows to showcase rock 'n' roll performers. Although the show was a hit, its producer, Jack Good, had to fight the network to keep the Blossoms."You can have blacks as guest performers, but the prime-time audience, Jack was told, just wasn't ready to see blacks as regulars every week," Love recalled in My Name is Love. During the show's two-season run, the Blossoms sang back-up for Aretha Franklin, the Righteous Brothers, the Kinks, the Rolling Stones, and many others.
In 1968, Love and Leonard Peete divorced. Soon afterward, she began a long-running relationship with Bill Medley, one of the Righteous Brothers. "A lot of people don't know that me and Bill Medley almost got married," Love told Chris Morris of Billboard. "It was a very controversial thing then, back in the sixties. It just wasn't publicized that blacks and whites were in love, especially in our business."
Meanwhile, Love was feeling increasingly frustrated with her inability to build a solo career. Recently divorced, and with two sons to support, she could not afford to turn down jobs as a backup singer. "I wanted to be a star in my own right, but I was more concerned with survival," Love recalled in My Name is Love.
In 1971, the Blossoms were selected over better-known girl groups for the NAACP Image Award. "It was the only real recognition we'd received in our career," Love recalled in her autobiography. Two years later, after performing together for more than 15 years, the Blossoms broke up. That same year, Love married her second husband, security guard Wesley Mitchell. In 1974, the couple had a son, Jason.
Launched Belated Solo Career
By the early 1980s, Love realized that time was running out for a solo career. "If I was ever going to have a career of my own, a name that said more than just 'the most overqualified backup singer in the business,' I had to make my move," Love wrote in her autobiography. She made her debut as a solo performer at Medley's, a Los Angeles nightclub owned by her old friend, Bill Medley.
Love was soon divorced from her second husband, and was forced to take any job she could get--including housework--to support her family. "I was cleaning a bathroom in a house in Beverly Hills when one of my songs came on the radio," Love was quoted as saying in Essence. "As the song was playing, I looked in the mirror and said, 'This is not what the Lord wants me to do.'" Finally, Love phoned up another old friend, Dionne Warwick, who agreed to loan her some money until her career was back on track. Soon after, Love landed the only singing job she could find--performing on a Carnival Cruise liner called The Love Boat.
At around the same time, the music of the 1960s was regaining in popularity. Soon after the release of The Big Chill in 1982, which featured a sixties-era soundtrack, Love landed a role in the musical Leader of the Pack. The show, based on the work of the 1960s pop songwriter Ellie Greenwich, was later performed on Broadway and earned a Tony Award nomination. This job led to other acting work for Love, including a part in the musical version of Stephen King's Carrie--which she described in her autobiography as "one of the unmitigated disasters in Broadway history"--and the role of Danny Glover's long-suffering wife in the Lethal Weapon films.
Won Historic Court Case
Meanwhile, Love's songs had begun attracting renewed interest on the radio, and were included in the movie soundtracks for GoodFellas and Father of the Bride. In 1991, Spector released a four-CD set, Back to Mono, which featured eleven solo songs by Love, as well as songs by The Crystals, Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, and other groups that featured Love's vocals. Two years later, when her career was finally secure, Love decided to take Spector to court for a share of royalties.
Spector denied that he had ever signed a contract with Love--until she was able to produce a decades-old royalty statement. In 1997, a New York Supreme Court jury ruled that Love had indeed signed a contract with Spector, and awarded her $263,000 in royalties. Because the statute of limitations in New York is six years prior to the date the suit was filed, this sum included only royalties dating back to 1987. However, the case was hailed as a landmark victory not just for Love, but for other veteran musicians who were paid a flat recording fee and then watched their records go on to make millions. "Other people of my time will be able to go into court," Love was quoted as saying in Billboard. "The fallout from this is going to be great, I feel."
In the late nineties, Love made major strides back into the public eye as she released a notably acclaimed autobiography, a new record, and began touring. From December of 1997 to January of 1998 Love starred in her own Christmas cabaret show, Love for the Holidays, at New York's Rainbow and Stars. According to New York Times critic Stephen Holden the show was "a euphoric mixture of 1960's hots and Christmas songs expertly arranged in the spacious jangling Spector style." In 1984, Love also started a continuing television tradition that has lasted for more than 18 years, when at the request of the host, she began singing her famous hit single "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" annually on the Late Night with David Letterman show. In October or the same year, the ambitious star made her first Los Angeles appearance in twenty years when she appeared in a short revue at the Cinegrill.
The year 1998 stood as a major marker for Love as she was finally nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Although she was ultimately not inducted that year or the ones immediately following, many thought Love, a major contributor to sixties rock and roll, was especially deserving of the honor. In fact, her Lethal Weapon co-stars, including Hollywood heavyweights Danny Glover and Mel Gibson, wrote a letter directly to executives at the Hall on her behalf. Being overlooked for induction was also considered an especially hard blow, as Phil Spector, Love's nemesis and impresario was inducted in 1989, and many of his "Wall of Sound" artists were not.
Regardless, Love did not let the snub stop her from delighting audiences by continuing with a string of very successful live performances. In 2002 famed producer Michael Feinstein put Love together with her friend of over thirty years, Freda Payne (famous for her 1970 hit "Band of Gold") for a very successful cabaret show in New York appropriately titled Love and Payne. The show had both vocalists covering a wide range of styles including Motown, pop, and jazz numbers individually and in a series of duets. As Love explained to the New York Sun, "We've both covered a lot of ground in our lives so far and want to share with the audience a perspective on what we have, what we've lost and what we desire." In 2003, Love put on a Christmas show, with both a backing rock band and a choir hoping to start a new seasonal treat. As she explained to the New York Daily News, "I want this show to be a Christmas tradition like the tree lighting. I love this music and it's especially wonderful because I can bring in the choir and sing a gospel." Shortly thereafter the versatile legend took on the role of sister Mary Hubert, in the touring all-star 20th anniversary of Nunsense.
Love continues to set ambitious goals for herself. She intends to record a Christmas album, wants to have another hit record, win a Grammy award, and work on Broadway. "I may never be a household name like Tina Turner or Diana Ross," Love wrote in the final paragraph of My Name is Love. "To so many people, in fact, I'm still the anonymous legend, the voice without a name, the singer on the side. But whenever I hear the question 'Who's Darlene Love?' what's important now is that I know the answer. And so does God."
by Carrie Golus and Nicole Elyse
Darlene Love's Career
Sang lead vocals on the songs "He's a Rebel," and "He's Sure the Boy I Love," 1962; recorded solo singles "(Today I Met) The Boy I'm Gonna Marry," "Wait Til My Bobby Gets Home," and "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," 1963; worked as a backup singer, 1960s-70s; performed on Broadway in Leader of the Pack, 1985; appeared in Lethal Weapon, 1987; appeared in Lethal Weapon 2, 1989; appeared in Lethal Weapon 3, 1992; contributed to the Home Alone 2 soundtrack, 1992; Lethal Weapon 4, 1998; released album Unconditional Love, 1998; wrote My Name is Love: The Darlene Love Story, 1998; co-starred in cabaret show, Love and Payne, 2002; starred in 20th anniversary touring performance of musical Nunsense, 2003-04.
Darlene Love's Awards
Pioneer Award, Rhythm & Blues Foundation, 1985.
- Selected discography
- Darlene Love Live Rhino, 1985.
- Paint Another Picture Columbia, 1988.
- The Best of Darlene Love ABKCO, 1992.
- Bring It Home Schanache, 1992.
- The Best of Darlene Love Marginal, 1997.
- Unconditional Love Harmony, 1998.
- Age of Miracles Love Songs, 1998.
- Singles (with others)
- (With the Crystals) "He's Sure the Boy I Love," Phillies, 1962.
- (With the Crystals) "He's A Rebel," Phillies, 1962.
- (With Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans) "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah," Phillies, 1962.
- (With Bobby "Boris" Pickett and the Crypt Keepers) "Monster Mash," Garpax, 1962.
- (With Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans) "Why Do Lovers Break Each Other's Hearts?," Phillies, 1963.
- (With The Ronettes) "Be My Baby," Phillies, 1963.
- (With Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans) "Not Too Young to Get Married," Phillies, 1963.
- (With Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans) "The Bells of St. Mary's," Phillies, 1963.
- (With Betty Everett) "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's In His Kiss)," Vee-Jay, 1964.
- (With Ronnie Spector) "Rockin Around the Christmas Tree," A&M, 1992.
- Singles (solo)
- "Chapel of Love," Phillies, 1963.
- "(Today I Met) The Boy I'm Gonna Marry," Phillies, 1963.
- "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," Phillies, 1963.
- "Wait Till My Bobby Gets Home," Phillies, 1963.
- "A Fine, Fine Boy," Phillies, 1963.
- "All Alone at Christmas," Fox, 1992.
- Selected writings
- My Name Is Love: The Darlene Love Story William Morrow, 1998.
- Billboard, April 5, 1997, p. 9.
- Essence, March 1999, p. 76.
- Hartford Courant, January 15, 2004.
- Jet, April 3, 1995, p. 34.
- Journal News, September 2002.
- New York Daily News, October 8, 1998; December 12, 2003.
- New York Post, June 2, 1998.
- New York Resident, September 16, 2002.
- New York Sun, September 18, 2002.
- New York Times, December 12, 1997.
- New York Times Magazine, June 20, 1993.
- People, November 16, 1998, p. 225.
- Star Ledger, December 12, 1997.
- Variety, October 9, 1998.