El DeBarge. Courtesy photo.
The life of El DeBarge is a classic story of climbing the ladder of success, falling down and getting back up. However, it is his distinctive voice, passionate performance and relatable lyrics that makes him a unique success story.
Born Eldra Patrick DeBarge on June 4, 1961, he took on the nickname of El during his childhood. He discovered his musical talents at a very young age and began singing in the choir at age 7. He also received private vocal and keyboard lessons.
During the 1970s, a few DeBarge siblings formed a singing group, with him as the lead singer. They named the band after the family sir name, DeBarge. After an audition in front of Jermaine Jackson, they signed with Motown in 1980. The group consisted of El, his brothers Mark “Marty,” Randy, James, and sister Bunny.
Last modified on Thursday, 17 February 2011 03:35
In 1981, the group released its first album, The DeBarges. The album saw some success, but failed to make the charts. The second album, All This Love, credited El as the writer, producer, and lead singer. It topped the charts with the singles All This Love and I like It.
Their next album, Love Me in a Special Way featured a harmonica solo by Stevie Wonder. By this time, they were on their way to becoming one of the leading R&B/pop bands. During the mid-80s, DeBarge went on tour to open for Luther Vandross. The group began topping the Billboard charts with hit singles such as Rhythm of the Night and Who’s Holding Donna Now.
As El maintained his credits on the albums, Motown began to push him into the lead position. Billing him on albums and singles as either DeBarge, featuring El DeBarge or El DeBarge with DeBarge, the other group members were not pleased.
“Motown saw a different work ethic in myself than they did in that of my other siblings,” El explained. “So they wanted to see how it would be to launch a solo career for me, but still be in the group at the same time. And, it didn’t work out that way. It ended up me staying solo.”
By 1986, Motown decided to feature El as a solo performer. That year, he released his first solo album, self-titled El DeBarge featuring Who’s Johnny. The song was later used in Short Circuit, a science fiction comedy film. But the success was short-lived. Soon, DeBarge was began losing his career momentum. With his music career deteriorating, El turned to drugs. He soon found himself engulfed in an addiction to cocaine.
“The hardest part for me was having it consume all my time and all I was doing,” El recalled. “I wasn’t doing music anymore. I didn’t have a relationship with my children. That was hard for me. I really wanted to get off of that.”
In 2008, the media reported his arrest for drug possession and a sentence of two years in prison. El took that time to get clean and think about his life and his future. He also continued to work on getting his music career back on track.
“Music soothed me during the rough times. And, it gave me incentive to want to get normal again,” El said.
After his release last year, he was driven to fight for his second chance to be back on top. He appeared on several talk shows to tell his story and do a solo performance.
“My drive behind my journey is that I was so lost. I didn’t have any confidence. I didn’t have any joy. I didn’t have any peace of mind. And now that I have that, I’m so grateful for that,” El stated. “I’m just grateful that I still have my voice, my fans still love me. My drive is just out of me being grateful.”
In December, he performed at the Verizon Theater in Grand Prairie during his tour with Fantasia.
As El continues his journey, he also hopes that his story will serve as a lesson and inspiration.
“Don’t give up,” El encourages others. “You’re stronger than what you may think you are. And, remember to always pray and believe God will help you. I want the world to know that everybody deserves a second chance.”