DeBarge circa 1983.
The DeBarge Family
|Origin||Detroit, Michigan, U.S.|
Bobby DeBarge (deceased)
DeBarge was an American musical recording group composed of several members of the DeBarge family, a family of musical talent often compared to the Jackson family. In addition to various solo projects completed by members of the family, DeBarge was active between 1979 to 1989. As an R&B group, they enjoyed popularity throughout that time with a popular musical sound that has been compared to a mix pop-oriented whose repertoire included R&B, soul, funk, and pop music. The group originally consisted of Mark, Randy, and El. Bunny, James, and Bobby joined later.
DeBarge released six studio albums, four of them with Motown's Gordy Records: The DeBarges (1981), All This Love (1982), In a Special Way (1983), and Rhythm of the Night (1985). The latter became the group's best-selling album and garnered the single "Rhythm of the Night", which hit #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it their highest charting single in the United States. DeBarge entered its decline in 1986, when Bunny and El were offered solo deals with Motown and departed the group, and DeBarge was dropped from Motown soon afterward. The remaining members signed with Stripe Horse Records, an independent label, in 1987, which released their final studio album, Bad Boys. The group continued to perform for an additional two years, with Chico DeBarge joining the group in 1988. Two members of the group, brothers Bobby and Chico were arrested for drug trafficking in 1989. Legal issues, compounded with the ever changing musical tastes of the public led to the group's dispersion in 1989, 10 years after its inception.
The DeBarge family are the children of Robert DeBarge, Sr. (d. 2009), a white man of French descent, and Etterlene DeBarge (née Abney), a black woman born in Michigan in 1935. They married when Etterlene was 17, a year after the death of her father James Abney, a church choir leader and peanut retailer. They separated in the mid-1970s and divorced in 1974. Etterlene remembers Robert DeBarge, Sr. as physically and emotionally abusive to her and the children, and said he used her youth, the absence of her father, and continuous pregnancy to control her. DeBarge, Sr. has been characterized as "domineering and physically abusive to his wife," and some of the DeBarge children have accused him of having sexually abused them.Bunny Debarge, the eldest, recalls being sexually abused by him between the ages of 7 to 13.
The group, named for their shared surname, hailed from the East Side of Detroit, Michigan, where the siblings were born and raised; they later relocated to Grand Rapids, Michigan. Members included sister Bunny and brothers Mark (or "Marty"), William (or "Randy"), Eldra (or "El"), and James (younger siblings Chico, Darell, and Carol "Peaches" DeBarge are also singers though not with the group).
The siblings who became DeBarge started performing in various groups together in the Detroit, Michigan area in the mid 1970s. In 1979, brothers Randy, Mark, and El were part of the SMASH band, which was a release on Source Records/MCA in the USA/Canada before it was released as Pall Mall Groove HOT ICE in Germany by Polydor. Bernd Lichters, who rented a home in Cerritos, CA, bought them instruments, and they were mentored by members of the Motown group Switch, including their elder brothers Tommy and Bobby and co-founding member and family friend Gregory Williams. Bunny DeBarge had joined her younger brothers in 1979 as well, and they formed as The DeBarges in 1980. That year, because of Bobby's success with Switch, younger brother El was able to perform live on the piano and sing for Motown CEO and founder Berry Gordy, who was impressed by the group and agreed to sign them that year. For a year the group worked alongside members of Switch, helping to add background vocals, instrumentation, arranging, and musical and lyrical composition to the band's works, most prominently in "I Call Your Name", "My Friend in the Sky", and "Love Over and Over Again".
By 1981, Bobby and Tommy had left Switch and returned the favor to their siblings working with them on their debut album, which was released that year with Bobby, Bunny, and El as main producers. The only single, the Bobby-led ballad "What's Your Name", failed to chart.
In 1982 they added their 18-year-old brother James to the lineup and worked on their second album, All This Love, produced by El and Iris Gordy. The album launched them into R&B stardom with the records "I Like It" and "All This Love". Both songs also became crossover pop hits with "All This Love" later going to number one on Billboard's adult contemporary chart. In 1983, the group made an impression after appearing on Motown 25, where they performed alongside High Inergy. Their performance together ended in a standing ovation. Later in 1983, the group issued their third album, In a Special Way, which spawned two further hit singles, "Time Will Reveal" and "Love Me in a Special Way". Like All This Love before it, the album reached gold status in the United States.
Following that album's success, DeBarge were handpicked by Luther Vandross to open for him on his "Busy Body Tour" to support his album of the same name. Vandross discovered the band's popularity while waiting for his set to begin, shocked at the attention the group got, which group members later compared to "Beatlemania" and Motown's early phenomenon, The Jackson 5, which DeBarge was molded to follow after by its staff.
When the tour ended in late 1984, the group recorded the Diane Warren composition, "Rhythm of the Night", for the soundtrack to the Motown-produced film, Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon from 1985. The song was released in early 1985 and became a smash single, eventually reaching the top five in several countries, mainly in the US and UK, becoming the band's biggest-selling hit and their best-known hit.
Sensing that El DeBarge was emerging as the "star" of the group, Motown had El working on the group's next album primarily by himself, with the label failing to call on the other siblings' help. It's hinted Motown was fearful of the other members' growing dependencies to drug addiction, only trusting El as he seemed to be the most reliable.
The Rhythm of the Night album became the band's best-selling work, going platinum and featuring further hits such as "Who's Holding Donna Now" and "You Wear It Well". Following the end of its very successful promotion, however, both El and Bunny DeBarge departed from the group after Motown offered them lucrative solo deals. Without the powerful harmonies of the brother and sister duo, the rest of the DeBarges were not considered commercial enough to keep going, and they were dropped from the Motown label in 1986.
(Meanwhile, El found immediate solo success with the single, "Who's Johnny?", which appeared on the soundtrack to the 1986 hit film Short Circuit. Bunny would score a minor hit with "Save the Best for Me (Best of Your Lovin')" from her only solo album, but due to poor sales was abruptly dropped by her label.)
In 1987 Bobby joined the group, and failing to find deals with major labels, the group (still known as DeBarge) signed with the independent label Striped Horse Records, later releasing what turned out to be their final studio album, Bad Boys. Since Striped Horse had financial problems promoting the album and without the help of Motown, and although two singles were released - "Dance All Night", which peaked at number 33, and the ballad "I Got You Babe", which only reached number 73 - the album itself failed to chart.
DeBarge continued their career into 1988, even bringing along younger brother Chico (who had a successful hit "Talk to Me") with them as their opening act. The brothers made a guest appearance on the television show Punky Brewster in 1988.
Later in 1988 Bobby and Chico were arrested for drug trafficking in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They were eventually convicted of the charges and sentenced to two different prisons to serve their sentences. The arrests and subsequent convictions brought an end to the group as a musical entity and it was disbanded in 1989.
In the end the group DeBarge released nine Top 40 R&B singles, five top 40 pop singles, two Pop top ten hits, five top ten R&B singles, two number-one R&B singles, one number-one single on the dance chart, and three number-one hits on the adult contemporary chart.
Despite the group's highly-publicized drug addictions and several members serving jail time for drug offenses, the siblings have continued to perform together occasionally.
In 1991, Randy and James contributed to a gospel album featuring their mother Etterlene and younger siblings Darryl (Young DeBarge) and Carol (Peaches DeBarge), billed as "the DeBarge Family."
Several members of the family made several solo albums during the 1990s and 2000s, but never reached the fame and popularity of their original group.
In 2010 El, after a six-year sabbatical of releasing solo albums, and following a period of drug addiction and several arrests, released the well-received Grammy-nominated album, Second Chance and went on tour in support of R&B singer Mary J. Blige in 2011, but relapsed and went back to drug rehab to address his continuing issues.
In 2011, James, Randy and Bunny appeared on Dr. Drew's Lifechangers to discuss their troubles with drug addiction, later agreeing to attend a rehabilitation facility. While Randy and James left the facility on a follow-up episode, Bunny still attended and told Dr. Drew of her recovery, even performing a gospel song on the show.
Drug abuse has also brought various group members several tragedies and setbacks over the years: Bobby DeBarge died at a hospice in Grand Rapids after contracting AIDS following years of heroin addiction; Tommy DeBarge, who also suffered drug addiction, is on kidney dialysis but has nonetheless continued to perform, sometimes with surviving members of Switch and with his family members; Randy DeBarge and Mark DeBarge are said to have "incurable diseases," according to their mother. James DeBarge was sentenced to prison for drug offenses.
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Though the band was together for only several years, the group's material has been either frequently sampled or covered: