Darlene Love (Darlene Wright; born July 26, 1941) is an American popular music singer and actress. She gained prominence in the 1960s for the song “He’s a Rebel,” a No. 1 American single in 1962, and was one of the Phil Spector artists who produced a celebrated Christmas album in 1963. She is included among Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Singers.
Darlene Love grew up in a community that was almost numb to the racial divide, at least in her family. Her father always told her to shoot for the stars and have your voice be as loud as possible. Darlene reflects on her childhood: “we didn’t know we were poor”; she adds, “if we didn’t know we were poor, we didn’t ‘know’ we were black either.”
As a minister’s daughter, she grew up listening to gospel music and was a dedicated member of her church in San Antonio, Texas. She began singing in her church choir at age ten. During choir practice she caught the attention of choir director Cora Martin. After singing for Martin she was asked to go to the Music Mart where she sang and did some broadcasts; Love’s career began there. As it was her first musical experience, it was also the main influence for her to pursue a music career. Those who knew her described her vocals as “a voice of a nightingale.” She claimed, “(singing in) the choir was a big influence on my life. I call it my learning ground. Singing in the choir, I learned harmony.”
She appears in the documentary film 20 Feet from Stardom (2013), which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and went on to win the Academy Award for best documentary. As an actress, she is perhaps best remembered for playing officer Roger Murtaugh’s (Danny Glover) wife in the Lethal Weapon film series.
She was born on July 26, 1941 in Los Angeles, California as Darlene Wright to Ellen Maddox and Reverend Joe Wright.
She began singing with her local church choir in Hawthorne, California. While still in high school (1957) she was invited to join a little-known girl group called The Blossoms, who in 1962 began working with producer Phil Spector. With her powerful voice she was soon a highly sought-after vocalist, and managed to work with many of the legends of 1950s and 1960s rock and soul, including Sam Cooke, Dionne Warwick, Bill Medley, The Beach Boys, Elvis Presley, Tom Jones and Sonny and Cher; Darlene and the Blossoms sang back-up for Sharon Marie (Esparza) (a Brian Wilson act), as well as John Phillips’ solo album John, Wolfking of L.A., recorded in 1969. They also appeared on Johnny Rivers’ hits, including “Poor Side of Town” and Motown covers “Baby I Need Your Loving” and “The Tracks of My Tears”. (The Blossoms recorded singles, usually with little success, on Capitol 1957-58 [pre-Darlene Love], Challenge 1961-62, OKeh 1963, Reprise 1966-67, Ode 1967, MGM 1968, Bell 1969-70, and Lion 1972.)
The single “He’s a Rebel” was hurriedly released by Spector in November 1962 by having The Blossoms record the track in order to get his version of the Gene Pitney song onto the market before that of Vikki Carr. The single “He’s a Rebel” actually featured Love singing lead for the first time on a Spector recording, although the track was credited to The Crystals. The ghost release of this single came as a total surprise to The Crystals who were an experienced and much traveled girl harmony group in their own right, but they were nevertheless required to perform and promote the new single on television and on tour as if it were their own.
With The Blossoms, Love contributed backing vocals behind many of the biggest hits of the 1960s including The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”, Shelley Fabares’ “Johnny Angel”, Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s “Monster Mash”, Frank Sinatra’s version of “That’s Life”, and the Crystals’ “Da Doo Ron Ron”. As a solo artist, Love also contributed backing vocals to The Ronettes’ “Baby, I Love You”.
In the 2013 Oscar-winning documentary 20 Feet from Stardom, Love revealed that she had signed with Spector as a solo artist after the success of “He’s a Rebel”, and had recorded “He’s Sure The Boy I Love” with the impression it would be released as her first single as a solo artist. However, Spector instead used Love’s recording and released it as the newest single for The Crystals without informing Love. She only learned of the switch when she heard a DJ on the radio announce that the single was “the newest Crystals record”.
Subsequently, Love recorded “Today I Met The Boy I’m Gonna Marry” which was released as a single by Spector, and now featured Love’s name as the artist. She says that Spector offered $3,000 for her rights to the song. And though he said it was going to be a hit, she took the money. But, in spite of that decision, she said that she has continued to have a career because people have loved hearing her sing her songs.
She was also part of a trio called Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, who recorded a cover version of “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”, an Oscar-winning song from the 1946 Walt Disney film Song of the South, which got into the Top 10 in 1963. The Blossoms landed a weekly part on Shindig!, one of the top music shows of the era. They were part of the highly acclaimed Elvis Presley’s ’68 Comeback Special, which aired on NBC.
“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” is a song by Darlene Love from the 1963 holiday compilation album, A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector. The song was written by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, along with Phil Spector, with the intention of being sung by Ronnie Spector of The Ronettes. According to Love, Ronnie Spector was not able to put as much emotion into the song as needed. Instead, Love was brought into the studio to record the song, which became a big success over time and one of Love’s signature tunes.
Into the 1970s Love continued to work as a back-up singer, before taking a break in order to raise a family. In 1973, she recorded vocals as a cheerleader along with Michelle Phillips, for the Cheech & Chong single “Basketball Jones”, which peaked at No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.
In 1995 Love won the Rhythm and Blues Foundation’s Pioneer Award.
On December 15, 2010, it was announced that Love had been chosen for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. On March 14, 2011, Love was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with a speech by Bette Midler.
Bette Midler said “she changed my view of the world, listening to those songs, you had to dance, you had to move, you had to keep looking for the rebel boy.” Near tears, Love noted that she will turn 70 later this year, and thanked Spector “for recognizing my talent and making me the main voice in his Wall of Sound.” Her speech elicited a standing ovation. Later, she sang “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” with Springsteen playing a lowdown solo on a Telecaster.
During a performance on August 10, 2014 at Stern Grove in San Francisco, CA., she shared with the world, “what people have to understand is that if you’re getting more good than bad out of something, it’s always worth it. But you have to keep on, you have to see to your goals and your dreams, and keep moving forward. We all have bumps in the road. We have barricades. But my whole thing about that is this: A barricade is nothing but something you have to get over. That’s what I’ve done most of my life. Once you get over it, the joy on the other side is very fulfilling. So you just have to keep pressing on.
Darlene Love alongside Rob Haerburger, editor and writer for the New York Times wrote her autobiography “My Name Is Love”. In her memoir, Love tells all about her life in the music industry, her years of struggle, and her present projects. “The only rule was that I wanted to be completely honest,” says Love. “I’ve been around a long time, so I have a lot of anecdotes and stories, and the publisher liked that. But I wanted it to be funny, too – even some things that weren’t funny at the time.
In August, 2014, The Oprah Winfrey Network(OWN) announced that it is producing a biopic for the big screen based on Love’s life, starring singing icon Toni Braxton.
Love’s most recent performance came on September 26, 2015, when she provided the inaugural performance to christen the opening of the Clermont Performing Arts Center in Clermont, Florida.