With her powerhouse voice and dynamo energy Darlene Love is one of the all time great singers. She is also one of the greatest Late Bloomers although an unusual one since from a young age she seemed to be headed straight for stardom. While still in high school producer Phil Spector invited her to join a little known girls group called The Blossoms. By the time she was twenty, in the early sixties, she was singing lead on such monster hits as “He’s a Rebel” and “He’s Sure the Boy I Love” except nobody knew her name; she was hidden behind Spector’s legendary “Wall of Sound” and The Crystals and the Blossoms got all the credit. Phil Spector let her go and because of a contract snafu she was unable to sing lead. Her powerful voice got her work singing backup for the likes of Tom Jones, Sonny and Cher, Dionne Warwick, and Elvis. In the seventies the music buisness changed and she ended up cleaning homes in Beverly Hills.
Dave Letterman deserves credit for helping to revive her career; in 1986 she appeared on his Christmas show to sing her signature hit, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and it became an annual tradition. She found work singing on Broadway (Grease) and acting in films. Then in the early nineties the owner of the Bottom Line (in New York City’s Greenwich Village) created a show called “Portrait of a Singer.” In those days I still owned my restaurant on 10th Street in the West Village. One of Darlene Love’s backup singers, who was a regular customer, gave me tickets and I went. I was blown away and returned a dozen times. Like many in the audience I had grown up with her songs (“Today I Met the Boy I’m Gonna Marry,” “Don’t Make Me Over,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “River Deep, River High”) but never knew who sang them. It’s hard to imagine that one woman had so many hits. A few years later she sued Phil Spector and won; now when they play her songs on the radio she gets credit and royalties. She also wrote a biography (My Name is Love) and began recording.
There is a new documentary entitled “20 Feet from Stardom” about the talented women who sing backup but Darlene Love is clearly the focal point and the star. Recently she appeared on the Late Show with Dave Letterman, not merely to sing but to sit beside Dave and be interviewed. Another milestone. In the recent July 1 issue of The New Yorker there was an article about the documentary and Love’s appearance on Letterman. “The leap from backup to star is no larger than the gulf between singing on Letterman’s show and chatting by his side.” She has come a long way.
Most people go from cleaning houses (or waitressing, etc.) to singing backup and then (if they’re lucky) rising to lead singer. Darlene Love went from lead singer, to singing backup, to cleaning houses, and then to lead singer and star – and at 72 she’s bigger and better than ever!