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DeBarge group photo (ca 1983).jpg
DeBarge in 1983. (From left to right) Mark DeBarge, James DeBarge, El DeBarge, Bunny DeBarge, Randy DeBarge
Background information
Also known asThe DeBarges
The DeBarge Family
Origin Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S.
Years active1979–1989
  • Gordy
  • Striped Horse
  • RT Bis
  • Truth Ministries
Associated acts
Past members El DeBarge
Bunny DeBarge
Marty DeBarge
Randy DeBarge
James DeBarge
Bobby DeBarge (deceased)

DeBarge was an American musical recording group composed of several members of the DeBarge family. In addition to various solo projects completed by members of the family, DeBarge was active between 1979 and 1989. The group originally consisted of El, Mark, Randy, and Bunny. James joined the group a year later for their second album. Bobby and Chico joined in 1987 and 1988 respectively, replacing Bunny and El.


DeBarge released six studio albums, four of them with Motown subsidiary Gordy Records. These albums included The DeBarges (1981), All This Love (1982), In a Special Way (1983), and Rhythm of the Night (1985). The latter became the group's best-selling album and contained the single "Rhythm of the Night", which hit No. 3 on the US Billboard Hot 100, making it their highest charting single in America. In the mid-1980s, El and Bunny each went solo and DeBarge was subsequently release from its contract.

The remaining members signed with Stripe Horse Records, an independent label, in 1987, which released their final studio album, Bad Boys . The group continued to perform for an additional two years, with Chico DeBarge joining the group in 1988. Two members of the group, Bobby and Chico, were arrested for drug trafficking in 1989. Legal issues and personal problems, compounded with the changing musical tastes of the public, led to the group's dispersion in 1989, 10 years after its inception.


Family background

The DeBarge family are the children of Robert Louis DeBarge, Sr. (1932-2009), an American soldier of French and English descent born in Cicero, Illinois, and Etterlene DeBarge (née Abney), a Black American gospel singer born in Royal Oak, Michigan in 1935. [1] [2] They married when Etterlene was 17, a year after the death of her father James Abney, a church choir leader and peanut retailer. [2] They separated in the mid-1970s and divorced in 1974. [2] [3] Etterlene remembers Robert DeBarge, Sr. as physically and emotionally abusive to her and the children, and said he used her youth, the absence of her father, and continuous pregnancy to control her. [2] DeBarge, Sr. has been characterized as "domineering and physically abusive to his wife," and some of the DeBarge children have accused him of having sexually abused them. [1] Bunny Debarge, the eldest, recalls being sexually abused by him between the ages of seven to 13. [4]

The group, named for their shared surname, hailed from the East Side of Detroit, where the siblings were born and raised; they later relocated to Grand Rapids, Michigan. Members included sister Bunny and brothers Mark (or "Marty"), William (or "Randy"), Eldra (or "El"), and James (younger siblings Chico, Darell, and Carol "Peaches" DeBarge are also singers though not with the group). [5]

Early years of the group and Switch

The siblings who became DeBarge started performing in various groups together in the Detroit, Michigan area in the mid 1970s. In 1979, brothers Randy, Mark, and El were part of the SMASH band, which was a release on Source Records/MCA in the USA/Canada before it was released as Pall Mall Groove HOT ICE in Germany by Polydor. Bernd Lichters, who rented a home in Cerritos, CA, bought them instruments, and they were mentored by members of the Motown group Switch, including their elder brothers Tommy and Bobby and co-founding member and family friend Gregory Williams. Bunny DeBarge had joined her younger brothers in 1979 as well, and they formed as The DeBarges in 1980. That year, because of Bobby's success with Switch, younger brother El was able to perform live on the piano and sing for Motown CEO and founder Berry Gordy, who was impressed by the group and agreed to sign them that year. [5] For a year the group worked alongside members of Switch, helping to add background vocals, instrumentation, arranging, and musical and lyrical composition to the band's works, most prominently in "I Call Your Name", "My Friend in the Sky", and "Love Over and Over Again".

By 1981, Bobby and Tommy had left Switch and returned the favor to their siblings working with them on their debut album, which was released that year with Bobby, Bunny, and El as main producers. [5] The only single, the Bobby-led ballad "What's Your Name", failed to chart.


In 1982, they added their brother James and cousin Cameron to the lineup and worked on their second album, All This Love , produced by El and Iris Gordy. The album launched them into R&B stardom with the records "I Like It" and "All This Love". [5] Both songs also became crossover pop hits with "All This Love" later going to number one on Billboard's adult contemporary chart. In 1983, the group made an impression after appearing on Motown 25 , where they performed alongside High Inergy. Later in 1983, the group issued their third album, In a Special Way , which spawned two further hit singles, "Time Will Reveal" and "Love Me in a Special Way". [5] Like All This Love before it, the album reached gold status in the United States.

Following that album's success, DeBarge were handpicked by Luther Vandross to open for him on his "Busy Body Tour" to support his album of the same name. [5] Also in 1984, James DeBarge made headlines when he secretly eloped with Janet Jackson of the famed Jackson family, but their marriage was quickly annulled the following year. [5]

When the tour ended in late 1984, the group recorded the Diane Warren composition, "Rhythm of the Night", for the soundtrack to the Motown-produced film, Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon from 1985. [5] The song was released in early 1985 and became a hit single, eventually reaching the top five in several countries, mainly in the US and UK, becoming the band's biggest-selling and their best-known hit. [5]

Siblings leave and the end of the group

Sensing that El DeBarge was emerging as the "star" of the group, Motown had El working on the group's next album primarily by himself, with the label failing to call on the other siblings' help. It's hinted Motown was fearful of the other members' growing dependencies to drug addiction, only trusting El as he seemed to be the most reliable.

The Rhythm of the Night album became the band's best-selling work, going platinum and featuring further hits such as "Who's Holding Donna Now" and "You Wear It Well". [5] Following the end of its successful promotion, however, both El and Bunny DeBarge departed from the group after Motown offered them lucrative solo deals. Without the powerful harmonies of the brother and sister duo, the rest of the DeBarges were not considered commercial enough to keep going, and they were dropped from the Motown label in 1986. [5]

In 1987, Bobby joined the group, and failing to find deals with major labels, the group (still known as DeBarge) signed with the independent label Striped Horse Records, later releasing what turned out to be their final studio album, Bad Boys . [5] Since Striped Horse had financial problems promoting the album and without the help of Motown, and although two singles were released – "Dance All Night", which peaked at number 33, and the ballad "I Got You Babe", which only reached number 73 – the album itself failed to chart.

DeBarge continued their career into 1988, even bringing along younger brother Chico (who had a successful hit "Talk to Me") with them as their opening act. The brothers made a guest appearance on the television show Punky Brewster in 1988.

Later in 1988 Bobby and Chico were arrested for drug trafficking in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They were eventually convicted of the charges and sentenced to two different prisons to serve their sentences. The arrests and subsequent convictions brought an end to the group as a musical entity and it was disbanded in 1989. [5]

By the time of its disbanding, the group DeBarge had released nine Top 40 R&B singles, five top 40 pop singles, two Pop top 10 hits, five top 10 R&B singles, two number-one R&B singles, one number-one single on the dance chart, and three number-one hits on the adult contemporary chart.

Setbacks, solo projects, and some success

Despite the group's highly publicized drug addictions and several members serving jail time for drug offenses, the siblings have continued to perform together occasionally.

In 1991, Randy and James contributed to a gospel album featuring their mother Etterlene and younger siblings Darryl (Young DeBarge) and Carol (Peaches DeBarge), billed as "the DeBarge Family."

Several members of the family made several solo albums during the 1990s and 2000s, but never reached the fame and popularity of their original group.

The DeBarges' story of their rise and fall was documented in late 2008 as the debut episode of the TV One show, Unsung .

In 2010 El, after a six-year sabbatical of releasing solo albums, and following a period of drug addiction and several arrests, released the well-received Grammy-nominated album, Second Chance and went on tour in support of R&B singer Mary J. Blige in 2011, but relapsed and went back to drug rehab to address his continuing issues.

In 2011, James, Randy and Bunny appeared on Dr. Drew's Lifechangers to discuss their troubles with drug addiction, later agreeing to attend a rehabilitation facility. While Randy and James left the facility on a follow-up episode, Bunny still attended and told Dr. Drew of her recovery, even performing a gospel song on the show.

Drug abuse has also brought various group members several tragedies and setbacks over the years: Bobby DeBarge died at a hospice in Grand Rapids after contracting AIDS following years of heroin addiction; Tommy DeBarge, who also suffered drug addiction, is on kidney dialysis but has nonetheless continued to perform, sometimes with surviving members of Switch and with his family members; Randy DeBarge and Mark DeBarge are said to have "incurable diseases," according to their mother. James DeBarge was sentenced to prison for drug offenses.[ citation needed ]

Musical legacy

The group's material has been either frequently sampled or covered:

Re-release of their classic albums and usage of their music in film



See also

Related Research Articles

James Curtis DeBarge is an American R&B/soul singer. DeBarge was one of the members of the singing family vocal group DeBarge, who became famous with their mid-1980s songs "All This Love", "Love Me in a Special Way", "Rhythm of the Night", and "Who's Holding Donna Now".

Eldra Patrick "El" DeBarge is an American singer-songwriter, musician and producer. He was the focal point and primary lead singer of the family group DeBarge. Popular songs led by El DeBarge include "Time Will Reveal", "Who's Holding Donna Now", "Stay with Me", "All This Love", and "Rhythm of the Night". As a solo artist, he is best known for his unique high tenor register, strong falsetto and hits like "Who's Johnny" and "Love Always". He's also collaborated with artists such as Dionne Warwick, Al Green, Lalah Hathaway, Tone Loc, Babyface, Faith Evans, Quincy Jones, Fourplay, and DJ Quik. DeBarge is a five-time Grammy Award nominee.

Etterlene "Bunny" DeBarge is an American soul singer–songwriter, best known as the lone female sibling of the Motown family group DeBarge. She is also best known as the lead vocalist behind the classic R&B ballad, "A Dream" from the group's In a Special Way album and is also the co-writer of the group's 1982 breakthrough hit, "I Like It" and the number-one hit, "Time Will Reveal".

Bobby DeBarge Musical artist

Robert Louis "Bobby" DeBarge, Jr. was an American singer and musician. DeBarge was the lead singer of the Motown R&B/soul vocal group Switch and was noted for his falsetto vocals. Later on, he served as both mentor and a co-producer of his siblings' band, DeBarge, eventually joining them to fill in for departing members El and Bunny. Personal problems, including substance abuse which eventually led to drug trafficking charges in 1988, plagued DeBarge in later years, taking focus away from his musical career. He contracted HIV in the 1980s, and died of AIDS complications in 1995, at age 39.

Switch is an American R&B/funk band that found fame recording for the Gordy label in the late 1970s, releasing hit songs such as "There'll Never Be", "I Call Your Name", and "Love Over & Over Again". Switch influenced bands such as DeBarge, which featured the siblings of Switch band members Bobby and Tommy DeBarge.

<i>Bad Boys</i> (DeBarge album) 1987 studio album by DeBarge

Bad Boys is the fifth studio album released by R&B group DeBarge in 1987, after both El DeBarge and Bunny DeBarge had left the lineup.

<i>Rhythm of the Night</i> (album) 1985 studio album by DeBarge

Rhythm of the Night is the fourth studio album by DeBarge, released by Gordy Records on March 14, 1985. It reached #19 on the Billboard 200 and #3 on the R&B Album Chart. The album was also certified Gold by the RIAA.

I Like It (DeBarge song) 1982 single by DeBarge

"I Like It" is a 1982 R&B/Soul song by American family band DeBarge. Released on August 20, 1982 by Motown Records (Gordy), It was the second single from their second studio album, All This Love.

All This Love (DeBarge song) 1982 single by DeBarge

"All This Love" is a single by DeBarge, released on October 17, 1982. The song was released as the third and final single from their second studio album of the same title on the Gordy label. The single would help DeBarge rise to R&B stardom. A cover version of the song was recorded by Patti LaBelle on her 1994 gold album Gems. A video for her version was also filmed.

Time Will Reveal (song) 1983 single by DeBarge

"Time Will Reveal" is a single by DeBarge and released in September 1983 as the first single off the group's third album, In a Special Way on the Gordy label. It was also the group's biggest hit prior to the group's 1985 hit, "Rhythm of the Night".

<i>All This Love</i> (album) 1982 studio album by DeBarge

All This Love is the second studio album by DeBarge, released by Gordy Records on April 22, 1982.

<i>In a Special Way</i> 1983 studio album by DeBarge

In a Special Way is the third studio album by American R&B group DeBarge, released by Gordy Records on September 24, 1983. It was recorded at Kendun Records in Burbank and Westlake Audio in West Hollywood; written and produced by lead vocalist El DeBarge with additional writing by Mark, James and Bunny DeBarge.

William Randall DeBarge is an American R&B/soul singer and bass guitarist, best known for being one of the original members of the popular Motown singing family group DeBarge. Randy is also known for singing co-lead and penning lyrics with brother El on the group's first hit, "I Like It" (1982).

Mark "Marty" DeBarge is an American R&B/soul singer–songwriter, drummer, percussionist, and plays a variety of wind instruments, such as the saxophone, flugelhorn, trumpet, and flute. He is best known for his work as member of 1980s Motown singing family group DeBarge. He is also known for writing the group's popular album track, "Stay With Me", later covered by the likes of The Notorious B.I.G., Ashanti and Mariah Carey.

Etterlene Louise Rodriguez is an American gospel singer, songwriter, and matriarch of the American R&B/Soul vocal group DeBarge. She is also the author of Other Side of the Pain, which talked about her struggles in her marriage to her children's father and also documented her children's rise to fame as well as their struggles under the glare of the spotlight.

The DeBarge family is a family of rhythm and blues artists from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

<i>Ultimate Collection</i> (DeBarge album) 1997 greatest hits album by DeBarge

The Ultimate Collection is the eighth album released on Motown Records by the group DeBarge. The album is the second compilation of their greatest hits. In addition to the group numbers, it also includes solo singles from El DeBarge and Bunny DeBarge. It also includes a track from Chico DeBarge, who was never part of the family group. Also Motown was able to get the rights to the song "Dance All Night" from their Striped Horse Records album Bad Boys for this collection.

<i>The DeBarges</i> 1981 studio album by The DeBarges

The DeBarges is the debut album of DeBarge, released by Gordy Records on April 6, 1981. It saw limited success and stalled on the charts; the group felt it was not properly promoted. As a result, they revisited The DeBarges by including two songs on their subsequent recordings: "Queen of My Heart" was included on their third album, In a Special Way, while "Share My World" would be included on their fourth, Rhythm of the Night.

Phillip Ingram Musical artist

Phillip Ingram is an American musician. He is perhaps best known as one of the founding members of the Motown Group "Switch" and is the younger brother of James Ingram.

Iris Gordy is an American songwriter, producer, and music executive. She is a former vice president at Motown, where she helped launch the careers of DeBarge, Teena Marie, and Rick James, Mandre, Bobby Nunn and Tata Vega. Her credits include albums by Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, Rick James, Four Tops, DeBarge, Diana Ross, and Tata Vega.


  1. 1 2 Holsey, Steve. "The continuous rise and fall of the DeBarge family". The Michigan Chronicle. Retrieved November 23, 2015.
  2. 1 2 3 4 "Profile: Musical family matriarch Etterlene DeBarge". June 20, 2011. Retrieved November 23, 2015.
  3. "Chance : Bobby and the Debarge Family Legacy". Retrieved October 14, 2019.
  4. DeBarge - Unsung episode (TVOne).
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 355. ISBN   1-85227-745-9.