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El DeBarge, known for his signature falsetto, was the lead singer of the '80s R&B sibling group DeBarge throughout their career, appearing on the hits "All This Love," "Love Me in a Special Way," "Who's Holding Donna Now," and "Rhythm of the Night." After leaving the group in 1985, he launched his solo career in 1986 with a self-titled debut album that featured the number three hit "Who's Johnny?," featured in the film Short Circuit. DeBarge recorded one more album for Motown -- 1989's Gemini -- prior to signing with Warner for 1992's In the Storm and 1994's Heart, Mind & Soul. None of those albums was particularly successful. For over a decade, DeBarge was away from music and battled drug addiction. Shortly after serving a prison term for violating probation, DeBarge resurfaced and released Second Chance in 2010.
Eldra Patrick "El" DeBarge (born June 4, 1961) is an American R&B/Pop falsetto singer and was the focal point and lead singer of family group DeBarge throughout the early to mid-1980s. As a solo artist, he is best known for the hits "Who's Johnny" and "Love Always" and for his collaborations with Tone Loc, Quincy Jones, Fourplay, and DJ Quik.
DeBarge is a three-time Grammy nominee.Nominees and Winners (2010) Nominees and Winners (2011)
Life and career
A native of Detroit, Michigan, El was the sixth of ten children born to Robert Louis DeBarge, Sr. and Etterlene (née Abney) DeBarge. DeBarge was already singing in his local church choir and playing piano as a child. Later after his family moved to Grand Rapids, he and the rest of his family began performing at their uncle's Pentecostal church. When El was thirteen, his parents divorced after a difficult and stormy marriage. El is of African American, English, French Canadian, and Native American descent. Growing up, he was closest to eldest brother Bobby and began imitating his brother's vocal styling.
For several years, El spent time being in private study with music educator Ricky Callier. By 1975, El had begun to express a desire to become a performer. El became a father for the first time at sixteen. He would eventually father eleven more children. In 1977, he dropped out of high school and began performing with his elder brothers in clubs and venues in Michigan. By 1979, Bernd Lichters was able to secure a deal with Source Records/MCA to release the Pall Mall Groove – Hot Ice album as SMASH for the USA/Canada market and moved El from Michigan to Los Angeles, to have him, his brothers Mark and Randy DeBarge, in addition to their cousin Andre Abney, Elliot Townsend, and Stanley Hood, to back up the release as the SMASH band. Eldest sister Bunny joined her brothers in California as well. In 1980, because of the success of their brothers Bobby and Tommy DeBarge with the hit group Switch, he was able to perform live at the piano and singing in front of Motown CEO Berry Gordy, who immediately signed the group, then known as The DeBarges, to the label.
Motown mentored them with members later working and contributing songwriting, arrangements, and production to the recordings of Switch, including the 1980 albums This Is My Dream and Reaching for Tomorrow. El DeBarge's first professional recording was as background vocalist to Switch's 1979 hit "I Call Your Name.". He later helped to arrange music for several Switch songs including "Love Over and Over Again" and "My Friend in the Sky," which he, Bunny, and Bobby wrote. This song would later be sampled by the likes of Queen Pen and Raheem DeVaughn.
Music careerMain article: DeBarge
In 1981, The DeBarges was released after the family had worked in the studio for a year recording it. The album was noted for most of its songs produced and written by all four family members including Bobby DeBarge, who helped end the album track "Queen of My Heart" after El had led the song for most of its tenure. The following album, 1982's All This Love featured younger brother James and saw much success with the compositions "I Like It" and the title track. El would remain the producer and arranger for all of the group's Motown albums.
In 1983, DeBarge released In a Special Way, which spawned the hits "Time Will Reveal" and "Love Me in a Special Way", and in 1984, the band became a sensation while touring for Luther Vandross on the singer's Busy Body tour. Though the group enjoyed much success and appeared to be a family unit, there were growing tensions between El and his brothers, mainly because of Motown's push to have El become the only noted star of the group, repeating a pattern that began with Smokey Robinson and The Miracles. By the end of the tour, El DeBarge was mainly called to handle the production of DeBarge's next album, Rhythm of the Night, without much help from his siblings.
Rhythm of the Night became the group's best-selling album ever, though some contended that El DeBarge was the only member present on the album with the exception of the title track, which became a top five hit in several countries including the US and UK becoming the group's and El's signature song. In late 1985, he appeared on The Facts of Life in the Season 7 episode "Doo-Wah" as himself and performed his single "You Wear it Well" with Lisa Whelchel, Kim Fields, Mindy Cohn, and Nancy McKeon singing backup. In 1986, El DeBarge left the group and began his solo career with the release of his self-titled debut album, which spawned the hits "Who's Johnny" and "Love Always". Three years passed, however, until DeBarge released his second album, Gemini in 1989. The album was a failure. DeBarge's contract with Motown was terminated in 1990, and he signed with Warner Bros.. In the meantime, DeBarge was featured on the Quincy Jones single "The Secret Garden", alongside Al B. Sure!, James Ingram, and Barry White, released in 1990.
In 1992, DeBarge released his third album, the Maurice White-produced In The Storm, which featured the Chante Moore duet "You Know What I Like", which was Moore's first professional recording. Critics noted the album for its Marvin Gaye-styled productions, with El DeBarge later admitting that Gaye was a huge influence on his musical style. He once commented that he had initially written "All This Love" as a song he imagined Gaye doing, even imitating Gaye's ad-libs during his I Want You era near the end. That same year, he had chart success on the R&B charts with a collaboration with Fourplay on their version of Gaye's "After the Dance". DeBarge's next album, 1994's Heart, Mind and Soul, was co-produced with Babyface, yielding modest charted singles such as "Slide" and "Where is My Love" (which featured Babyface on duet vocals).
While DeBarge continued to collaborate on other artists' projects including brother Chico and rapper DJ Quik among others (the duo collaborated on Quik's hit "Hand in Hand"), he didn't release any more albums between 1994 and 2009. In 2010, he finally emerged from a sixteen-year delay with the appropriately titled Second Chance, released after a series of comeback performances and appearances including a well received performance at the 2010 BET Awards. The album yielded two singles, "Second Chance" and the Faith Evans duet "Lay With You", and later resulted in three Grammy Award nominations: Best Male R&B Vocal Performance, Best R&B Song, and Best R&B Album. He remains the only member of the DeBarges to have Grammy nominations outside of the group and in the family altogether."Robert David Louis DeBarge, Sr. (1932–2009) – Genealogy". Geni.com. Retrieved 2014-04-26. Cite error: The named reference grammys2010 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Cite error: The named reference grammys2011 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
El was raised in Detroit and Grand Rapids as a child. El's parents had a tumultuous marriage that involved domestic abuse and child abuse on the part of El's father Robert. El has remained mum on his relationship with his father and many other elements of his family life, later documented in books written by his mother Etterlene, sister Bunny and brother Tommy.
In 1978, El DeBarge became a father to his first child, a daughter named Adris. He eventually went on to father twelve children altogether.
El was close to his siblings, particularly his brothers Bobby and Chico. Bobby DeBarge's death in 1995 had a profound effect on El, family members later saying he has never fully recovered from Bobby's death. Since Bobby's death, he has performed several of Bobby's songs with Switch onstage, sometimes with Chico DeBarge singing along. El and several DeBarge brothers reunited in 1998 performing several DeBarge classics.
Legal problems and drug addiction
In 2001 he was arrested for cocaine possession and was given probation. In 2006 he was arrested again for possession of a controlled substance and was once again given probation. In 2007 he was arrested in a domestic dispute and was held without bail. The charges were later dropped. Later that year he was arrested yet again and charged with cocaine possession and given probation again. However, he was once again arrested in 2008 for possession of crack and drug paraphernalia, breaking the terms of his probation. For this violation he was immediately sentenced to two years in state prison in California.
El has had a history of drug abuse. He stated that his addiction started after he began receiving prescription medication for toothache pain after having a tooth pulled by a dentist. Up until then, El DeBarge had not used drugs, unlike his siblings who began to abuse drugs during the tenure of the group. By the mid-1990s, El had become addicted, and his addiction resulted in his career faltering after its peaks in the 1980s. Following a prison sentence in which he served 13 months, El declared himself born again and announced that he had found sobriety after an addiction that he said had lasted nearly 25 years, stating he had also acknowledged his problems with the law in the past.
However in February 2011, while promoting Second Chance, DeBarge's label announced that the singer was canceling all public dates and appearances as he went back to rehab following a relapse. DeBarge has since returned to work and made an appearance at the 54th Grammy Awards in February 2012.
On May 11, 2013 El appeared in concert with Freddie Jackson, Charlie Wilson, and Jaheim at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City New Jersey.
On New Year's Eve, December 31, 2013, DeBarge failed to show up as the headliner performer in Phoenix, Arizona's Celebrity Theater. Over 2,000 celebrants were offered their money back. DeBarge's explanation for his no show was that he "missed his flight.""El Debarge Enters Rehabilitation, Cancels Tour – Celebrity Circuit". CBS News. Retrieved March 29, 2012.