Darlene Love: A Doo-Wop Girl Finds Her Song
By Barbara Cornick and Scott Ross
The 700 Club
Scott Ross [reporting]: “He’s a Rebel”! “Da Doo Run Run”! “He’s Sure the Boy I Love”! These are just a few of the classic hits that featured Darlene Love’s powerful, passionate voice. As part of the studio vocal group, The Blossoms, Darlene made history singing with everyone from Frank Sinatra to Elvis Presley.
Former Ronette Nedra Ross is Darlene’s longtime friend, and she also happens to be my wife. I recently sat down with Darlene at a Manhattan restaurant and talked to her about her successes in life and her failures.
Scott: Where’d it all start for you?
Darlene Love: I was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. My father is a minister. So when your father’s a minister and he has a small church, you’re the choir, you’re the Sunday School, you’re everything in the church. That’s how I was raised.
Scott: Where did the leap then come from that background into show biz?
Darlene: I was singing at a wedding. Two of The Blossoms were in the wedding party, and they heard me sing when I was 16. [They] asked me if I would be interested in joining a group. I auditioned for The Blossoms, and I became a member of the group. That was in 1959.
Scott [reporting]: Darlene and The Blossoms broke the color barrier when they became regulars on a popular music show called Shindig. Her big break came when she met legendary producer Phil Spector. He chose her to sing lead on “He’s a Rebel” with his girl group The Crystals. That song rocketed to the top of the charts.
Scott: How did you respond to that when you saw this thing hitting the charts and all the phones started ringing and all the requests started coming in?
Darlene: It was funny because nobody knew it was me. The Crystals were getting all the accolades. The only people that knew it was me were my best friends, my family, and the musicians. So I wasn’t getting any of the: “Whoo, you got a hit record! It’s a No. 1 record!”
Scott: Where’d it go from there for you? Up or down?
Darlene: It continued to go up. I ended up meeting a lot of wonderful people: Dionne Warwick who I worked with back in the ‘60s when I worked with The Ronettes. I worked with The Righteous Brothers, met Elvis Presley, met Tom Jones. All these people wanted us to do background work with them, which was fine. At that time I decided to give a solo career a chance. That’s when it spiraled downhill.
Darlene: The producers said if all those records were under my name it would have been great. But they were under The Crystals’ names. So they couldn’t find me the work I needed.
Scott: Where’d that take you when it went down? How far down did it go?
Darlene: Took me all the way down to doing housework.
Darlene: Oh yeah. Couldn’t find any work at all. I’d been singing since I was 16 years old, and I didn’t really know anything else to do. I just did everything I could think of just to survive. I had two children at that time. My marriage had just broken up. So it was all going slowly downhill, downhill, downhill.
Scott [reporting]: Darlene lived with friends and family members because she couldn’t afford a place of her own. She had to pawn her jewelry to help make ends meet. But just when it looked like things couldn’t get any worse, a familiar voice on the radio gave her hope.
Darlene: I was working at this lady’s house, and it was during the Christmas season. I was cleaning her bathroom and “Christmas, Baby Please Come Home” came on the radio.
Scott: One of your songs?
Darlene: One of my songs that I recorded. The Holy Spirit said to me, “This is not what you’re supposed to be doing. You’re supposed to be singing.” The scripture that came to me was Proverbs the third chapter, the fifth and sixth verse. “In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths, and do not lean to your own understanding.” I knew I was supposed to be singing. Persistence … that was the word that always came to me. Persistence, persistence, persistence.
Scott [reporting]: God honored Darlene’s persistence and faith. She landed a great gig and her future husband on a cruise ship! When Darlene got back on land she made her way to New York where her career took off!
Darlene: The first job I had was at a club called The Bottom Line in New York City. It was because of Steve van Zandt. He got me that job. I could not believe when I got hired. For two days I said, “I don’t know nobody. Nobody don’t know me. Nobody ain’t gonna come see me. And they gonna pay to come see me?” Well, they did an ad in the newspaper, and the place was packed.
Ellie Greenwich, the songwriter, had written most of my songs. They were gonna do a show about her life on Broadway. I said, “I’ve never did Broadway before, I ain’t never wanted to do no Broadway. I’m a singer. I don’t do that stuff.” A year later we went to Broadway with Leader of the Pack. I moved here in 1982, and I’ve been here every since.
Scott: Doing shows?
Darlene: Doing shows.
Scott: That’s brought you right to the point where you’re doing what you’re doing now which is…
Darlene: I’m doing Hairspray on Broadway now, and I play “Motor-Mouth Maybelle.”
Scott [reporting]: It’s not just Broadway. Darlene has also graced the big screen as Danny Glover’s wife in all four Lethal Weapon films.
Darlene: I’m telling you, if you let the Lord lead you, He’ll take you to unbelievable places!
Scott [reporting]: But for as many fans and friends that helped Darlene along the way, there were those who hurt her. Forgiving them was the hardest lesson she had to learn.
Darlene: I had a lot of hatred in my heart for a lot of people for a lot of different reasons. I started going to a church called Redeeming Love Christian Center. This minister was talking on love and it hit me so hard.
After listening to a couple of sermons on love, what God had did for us, and He had forgiven us for all the things that we have done, I didn’t have a choice. I knew I had to forgive them so the root wouldn’t get buried in me. That was a big turning point in my life because it was amazing how I gave it up and it was like whooo! Wow! That wasn’t so hard.
Eyes have not seen, ears have not heard what He can do for you if you stay in His will. I’m not saying I’m the perfect person. I have tried to do what He wanted me to do. I always tell the Lord, “I don’t want to embarrass You, so help me to do the right thing.”
I want to be careful every step I take that I’m letting the Lord lead me into these places. I’ve done things that, on my own, I could have never done.
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