DeBarge was an African American sibling music group, whose repertoire included R&B, soul, funk, and later gospel. Active as a professional recording group between 1979 and 1989, the group was one of the few recording acts to bring success to the Motown label during the 1980s.
Hailing from Detroit, Michigan and later from Grand Rapids, Michigan, the group is named for their shared surname, and included the brothers Mark (or "Marty"), James, Randy, and Eldra (or "El"), and their sister Bunny. Younger siblings Chico, Darryl, and Carol "Peaches" DeBarge are also singers (though they were not with the group), with Chico later becoming a solo star in his own right. Two older brothers, Robert Jr. (Bobby) and Tommy were members of another popular Motown group named Switch. The DeBarges signed with the Motown record label in the 1970s, and became one of their few successful acts during the 1980s.
The band had a string of R&B and pop hits in the early to mid 1980's, including "All This Love," "I Like It," "Love Me in a Special Way," and "Rhythm of the Night." Many of these hits were ballads, spreading the band's appeal into the adult contemporary market as well. However, in 1986, both El and Bunny DeBarge left for solo careers. The remaining brothers soldiered on with their older brother Bobby (who'd long since left Switch) now joining the band to release the album Bad Boys in 1987, but it didn't achieve nearly the success of previous releases. Meanwhile, El went on to have a moderately successful solo career, and Bunny would score a minor hit with "Save the Best for Me (Best of Your Lovin')" from her only solo album before being abruptly dropped by her label. Overall, 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, a number-one single on the dance chart and three number-one hits on the adult contemporary chart.
In 1977, elder siblings Tommy DeBarge and Bobby DeBarge formed a group called Switch along with Jody Sims, Greg Williams, Phillip Ingram and Eddie Fluellen. They were discovered by Motown artist Jermaine Jackson, and signed to the Motown label that same year. Switch recorded several hits for Motown's Gordy label, including "There'll Never Be" and "I Call Your Name". The managers of Switch also became aware of Bobby and Tommy's younger brothers including Randy, Marty and El, whose vocal talent was often compared to Bobby's, as was that of eldest sister, Bunny. After an impromptu audition in front of Jermaine Jackson, Switch's producer, the group was signed to Motown's Gordy imprint in 1979 as a quartet of Bunny, Randy, Marty and El (younger brother James would join in 1982). As "The DeBarges", they released their self-titled debut in 1981 featuring the first single, "What's Your Name." Neither the album nor the single charted, and the group was later determined to produce themselves on the next record.
Following a new lineup - now featuring James DeBarge in the fold - the newly christened quintet, DeBarge, record a mostly self-penned and produced album titled All This Love in 1982. After releasing the dance single, "Stop! Don't Tease Me", the group released the smoother "I Like It", in January 1983. Featuring lead vocals from Randy and El, the song raced up to number two on the Billboard R&B singles chart while also crossing over to pop radio eventually peaking at number 31 on the Billboard Hot 100. A second single, the sole El DeBarge composition, "All This Love", became an even bigger hit reaching number one on the R&B chart and peaking at number 17 on the pop chart and also becoming the group's first number-one hit on the Billboard AC chart. Its success helped its parent album reached gold status. DeBarge made their first live appearance on Motown 25, where they performed a number with fellow Motown band High Inergy.
In 1983, the group quickly issued a third album, In a Special Way, which would end up becoming a memorable album for R&B music lovers due to El's smooth vocals and songwriting approach. The album yielded the hits "Time Will Reveal" (another R&B number one) and "Love Me in a Special Way" (which featured a rare harmonica solo from Stevie Wonder) and matched the success of its predecessor going gold. Following the album's release, the group went on the road in 1984 as Luther Vandross' opening act but according to an article about the DeBarge family on VIBE magazine, James DeBarge recounts how the group used to get mobbed everywhere they went and that's what made them realized how famous they had become. Following a successful touring year, in 1985, the group issued the Rhythm of the Night, including the "title track", originally featured on the Motown film, The Last Dragon, which granted the group their biggest pop success reaching number three on the Billboard Hot 100 becoming their biggest-selling and most successful single to date. Another hit, "Who's Holding Donna Now", also went to the pop top ten helping the album to also hit gold status.
By now, Motown was building El DeBarge as the focal point of the group and some singles were released under the moniker, DeBarge featuring El DeBarge, bringing back memories of when Motown CEO Berry Gordy had changed the names of some of his famous Motown groups including The Supremes, changing their name to Diana Ross and the Supremes to reflect the rising star of its lead singer. Etterlene "Mama" DeBarge, the group's mother, said that Motown had El "believing he would be a superstar" saying later that the label "didn't realize (Gordy) was dividing a family and not a group". After the releases of "The Heart Is Not So Smart" and "You Wear It Well", which they performed on The Facts of Life tv show, El DeBarge promptly left DeBarge to become a solo artist, prompting Bunny DeBarge to follow him out of the group. While El achieved substantial solo success with the singles "Who's Johnny" and "Love Always", he didn't become the solo star Motown had hoped, Bunny only released one solo album and retired from show business after that to deal with a substance abuse problem.
The Miami Vice TV Show Episode "Bought and Paid For" (1985) also featured DeBarge (although not all members) singing their two songs "You Wear It Well" and "Rhythm of the Night".
Following the exits of El and Bunny, DeBarge struggled to find a hit. Leaving Motown for Striped Horse Records in 1987, they recruited older brother Bobby, who had been mentoring the group following his split from Switch in 1981, as a member releasing their final album, Bad Boys. Featuring the singles "(Bad Boys) Dance All Night" and "I Got You Babe", with James and Bobby taking lead on the respective songs, the album did not sell well, due to inadequate promotion. Following a tour and an appearance on the Punky Brewster show, Bobby and younger brother Chico DeBarge, then riding high off the success of his single, "Talk to Me", was arrested in Grand Rapids, Michigan for drug trafficking serving five years in prison in Milan. The conviction promptly ended DeBarge's career as they disbanded shortly thereafter in 1989 leaving the remaining members to deal with their substance abuse problems. James, who had made headlines for marrying singer Janet Jackson in 1984, had long struggled with drug and alcohol abuse and, later, successfully completed a rehabilitation program in the mid-1990s. Randy, Marty and elder brother Tommy also recovered from drug abuse, but, suffered unforeseen physical consequences, as Tommy currently, reportedly, endures kidney dialysis, Randy has an incurable unknown disease, and Marty suffers from chronic debilitation in his legs. After Bunny became sober, she became a born-again Christian. El continued a modestly successful solo career recording vocals for the 1990 Quincy Jones hit, "Secret Garden", and Fourplay's 1991 cover of Marvin Gaye's "After the Dance". In 1994, Bobby and Chico were released from prison after serving their five-year sentences. During the prison intake process, Bobby found out he had AIDS which he contracted through heroin use. In 1995, Bobby DeBarge died from complications of the disease at the age of 39. Bobby's death reportedly devastated El, who his mother said, wasn't the same after his brother's death.
In September 1996 when Tupac Shakur was murdered, "I Ain't Mad At Cha" (featuring artist Danny Boy) -- the third single from his LP, All Eyez On Me (the first original double-CD/double-cassette/quadruple-vinyl Hip-Hop album ever released) -- introduced the world to and was the first tune to popularize the melody of "A Dream" Written by Motown studio, keyboardist Joseph Robinson for Debarge, which was replayed for the recording. Within a span of no less than one month later toward the end of 1996, BLACKstreet released "Don't Leave Me" (also replayed) from their second album Another Level. "Don't Leave Me" became a smash hit, mainly on account of the Tupac single, and thus popularized the melody even more. To date, the BLACkstreet tune, whose popularity remained vital throughout 1997, remains the most definitively popular song to implement the melody from "A Dream". Later in 1997, R&B singer Mary J. Blige covered "A Dream" song for the soundtrack to the Chris Tucker film, Money Talks. That same year, during a scene in the hit movie Soul Food, Miles (portrayed by Michael Beach) played a variation of the song's instrumental intro for his wife's cousin Faith (played by Gina Ravera) for a dance audition. In 2003 Keshia Chant? used a sample of it in a song titled Unpredictable. It was also used in 2008 by Lady Gaga on the song "Paper Gangsta."
In 1998, the DeBarge brothers - El, Marty, Randy and James - reunited for several shows including Sinbad's Summer Jam concert in Aruba where they performed "I Like It" and "All This Love". Around this time, records released by DeBarge were being played again due to hip-hop singers and rap acts sampling the group. The band's album track, "Stay with Me" was first sampled in 1994 by The Notorious B.I.G., who used the ending instrumental of El playing piano for his remix of the single, "One More Chance". The same instrumental loop was used in Big L's "MVP" and Ashanti's "Foolish". More recently, Mariah Carey used samples from this song for "I'll Be Lovin' U Long Time", track included in her latest album "E=MC?". "Time Will Reveal" is often covered by R&B groups such as Blackstreet, who interpolated the song into a gospel ballad, "The Lord Is Real (Time Will Reveal)", while Boyz II Men did an a cappella version of the song on one of their more recent albums. "Love Me In a Special Way" was covered by IMX and singer Tamia and was sampled by Ashanti and rapper AZ. "I Like It" is probably the group's most beloved single, as certain elements of the song have been either sampled or repeated (El's bridge in the song, "I like the way you comb your hair/I like the stylish clothes you wear...", has been constantly repeated over and over again) while "All This Love" was also sampled by AZ and covered by Patti LaBelle. In 2007, DeBarge was famously sampled again when Bobby's band Switch's hit, "I Call Your Name", was sampled for Rich Boy's hit, "Throw Some D's".
In the following years, Chico DeBarge emerged as a solo star with a repertoire of neo soul and hip-hop soul with hits such as "Iggin' Me", "No Guarantees" and "Soopaman Lover" while the group's youngest sibling, Darrell "Young" DeBarge released his first album, The Hunt, in 2007. While Carol "Peaches" DeBarge has no intention to try a secular solo career, she did participate in a 1991 album featuring members of her family including some of her brothers, sister Bunny and mother Etterlene titled Back on Track. As of 2008, the surviving members of DeBarge have lived quiet lives though they are still contemplating releasing albums. In November of 2007, El, Marty and James sang together during a Thanksgiving special service at the Destiny Community Church in Whittier, California. In 2008, Etterlene DeBarge released the autobiography, Other Side of the Pain, which documented her family's troubled childhoods, their rise to fame and their troubles while under the glare of the spotlight. Daughter Bunny is also planning an autobiography about her family titled The Kept Ones and is working on a gospel album. In 2008 story was told on TV One's Unsung
Etterlene "Bunny" DeBarge (1979?1986): vocals
Mark "Marty" DeBarge (1979?1989): vocals, trumpet, saxophone
Randy DeBarge (1979?1989): vocals, bass guitar
Eldra "El" DeBarge (1979?1986): vocals, piano/keyboards
James DeBarge (1982?1989): vocals, piano/keyboards
Bobby DeBarge (1987?1988): vocals