Tuesday, Sep 22nd

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Interview with El DeBarge: The Music, The Soul, The Legend

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I sat quietly waiting for the phone to ring in my home office directly in front of my computer-I was still in shock and had the biggest grin on my face that wouldn’t budge. The moment was surreal and on a scale of 1 to 10, my level of excitement had hit the 20 mark. I looked at the clock and noticed the time approaching—it was five minutes to 3 o’clock. My list of questions was well prepared lying on my keyboard and my digital recorder was set in place. Although I was ready, as with any interview I’ve conducted, this one was major for me. As I mentally debated on which question I would ask first, my palms began to sweat as my nervousness made its appearance, hence the butterflies in my stomach as well. When the phone rings and I exchange pleasantries with the manager, it dawns on me like a bolt of lightning, even though I was confirmed for this teleconference one week prior—-I am interviewing Mr. El DeBarge.

“Eleanor?” a sweet, soft spoken voice asked. “Hi, they got me running. They told me to hurry up, let’s talk baby!!!” I burst into laughter and greet Eldra Patrick DeBarge– the man of whom I grew up watching sing, dance and flirt with the camera as he and his siblings made appearances on popular hit syndicated television shows such as ‘Soul Train’ and the show headed by the world’s ‘oldest teenager’ Dick Clark, ‘American Band Stand’. It was at that moment that I also remembered playing ‘Rhythm of the Night’ as a child who already had a love jones for soul music and then flipping the 45 record over to the ‘B’ side and falling head over heels with a slept on slow cut entitled ‘Queen of my Heart’ on my grandmother’s record player.

DeBarge—everyone knows that name. The music united us and still does to this very day, especially since most R&B and hip hop artists have showcased their love and admiration for the quintet by sampling their music. El, Bunny, Randy, Tommy and James DeBarge collectively gave us classics that send waves of euphoria as soon as you hear the first few notes of the rhythm pattern–‘All This Love,’ ‘Time Will Reveal’, ‘Love Me In A Special Way’, ‘A Dream’-and of course ‘I Like It’, one of the biggest timeless hits of all time. We all know the story. We’ve seen the episode of TVOne’s ‘UnSung’ series that profiled the group—the real story of the DeBarge family and how they’ve coped with and persevered through the negative impact of domestic violence, sexual abuse and held on for dear life to the eternal power of prayer. With the world at his fingertips, El DeBarge was deemed the next superstar of Motown Records after the group’s demise and earned solo success until he became lost in the pitfalls of fame and descended into a life of drug abuse and other destructive patterns landing him in prison serving a two year sentence.

But now, fans across the world can exclaim to the top of their lungs with pride and joy that El DeBarge is back, which we all knew deep down in our hearts once we saw him energetically perform and interact with the audience as a surprise guest at the 2010 BET Awards back in June. After 16 years of not hearing a single falsetto note, his new album ‘Second Chance’ gives insight and allows us to see that the raw, God-given talent never left him, even though he left it for a while. “I got outta prison and God handed me my second chance right there with my manager Pete Farmer who said ‘El, come on, I got the right record company for you. They see it, they get it, they’ll understand what to do and they’ll embrace you and reintroduce you to the world’ and he was right. Interscope/Geffen (his record label) was who God had in mind for me. I went there, they took me in the studio and they sent me out with a great album that’s full of love and passion for the world and it is my second chance,” said El proudly. With the single ‘Second Chance’, you hear the sincerity in El’s voice-so pure, and within the authentic lyrics showcases his love letter to God, and even to the fans, praising Him for turning his life around. In the midst of his return to the spotlight, there are also talks of a reality show based solely on his life and family. “Yeah, I guess you can call it that. They’ve been filming me and we’re working on it,” he chuckled. “So far we’re calling it ‘Second Chance’, ‘El DeBarge-Second Chance’, we’ve been meeting with some of my children and some of the babies’ mommas and trying to get everything to be like it should be. They’ve been following me on the road, going various places and yeah, they’ve been putting something together,” he continued.                                               

 In reference to what he’s gone through in his 49 years on earth-being musically anointed, the dream killing decision to try cocaine, a few arrests, the shame and embarrassment of each mistake-it is obvious that God has given back to him the glory and vision of a musical instrument which is that of a voice to touch the world yet again, which was demonically stifled over 16 years ago, and he speaks to those who may have fallen short due to life’s circumstances resulting from horrendous choices. “To everyone out there, you need to know God. You need to know Him. If you don’t wanna go to church, then don’t let nobody make you go to church. But don’t ever think that you can’t know God just because you don’t go to church, He’s right there waiting, just reach out to Him.  Don’t let nothing stop you from knowing God, if you don’t like the preacher, if you don’t like paying offerings in church…whatever your hang up is, don’t let that stop you from knowing God,” said El passionately.

As I bring the interview to a close, I just had to ask him how ‘I Like It’ was created and he graciously explained to me the conception. “My brother Randy was really responsible for it. He plays bass guitar and he sings, and he is a good songwriter and he was just playing ‘ooooh and I like it ‘ over and over and over again-he had that bass line and he was going around singing that so loud all day..’oooh and I like it’…it got on my nerves…I said Randy, you wanna make a song outta this or something, because I’m tired of hearing you just say ‘ooooh and I like it’ from sun up to sun down,” El comically explained while I couldn’t help but laugh. “He said ‘yeah man, can you help me? And I sat down on the piano and helped him make a song out of it, Bunny was around and that is what we do, we all sit around and put our two cents in here and there…and so, oooh and I like it!”, he gleamed. The family is 100 percent in support of him and they are actually talking about doing another project together as a group again for the fans sometime in the future reassure him that our conversation was indeed not only an honor, but an absolute pleasure and I tell him that I will be at the Harold Washington Cultural Center show to see him perform. I can hear him smile quietly over the phone as he says, “Thank you, Eleanor.” I tell him that I love him. “I love you too,” he responds. Talk about a full circle moment in my life.


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