Darlene Love: A Prominent Star, Born In The Background

  • Darlene Love, born Darlene Wright in Los Angeles in 1941, is one of the 2010 inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. After a career of ups and downs, her name often being overlooked, today her wall-of-sound voice is scarcely forgotten.
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    Darlene Love, born Darlene Wright in Los Angeles in 1941, is one of the 2010 inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. After a career of ups and downs, her name often being overlooked, today her wall-of-sound voice is scarcely forgotten.
    Courtesy of Darlene Love
  • The daughter of a Pentecostal minister, Love (center) grew up in Los Angeles with three siblings. She began singing in the church choir as a teen.
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    The daughter of a Pentecostal minister, Love (center) grew up in Los Angeles with three siblings. She began singing in the church choir as a teen.
    Courtesy of Darlene Love
  • Love (center) was a high school sophomore when she became the lead singer of a girl group called "The Blossoms" in 1958, produced by music giant Phil Spector. Spector changed Darlene's name to Love to better suit the stage.
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    Love (center) was a high school sophomore when she became the lead singer of a girl group called "The Blossoms" in 1958, produced by music giant Phil Spector. Spector changed Darlene's name to Love to better suit the stage.
    Courtesy of Darlene Love
  • The group remained hitless until they recorded the #1 hit "He's A Reble." But Spector issued the song as the work of the Crystals, another one of his girl group projects. But soon after, the group had steady backup work.
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    The group remained hitless until they recorded the #1 hit "He's A Reble." But Spector issued the song as the work of the Crystals, another one of his girl group projects. But soon after, the group had steady backup work.
    Courtesy of Darlene Love
  • Love performs with Cher at Fox Theater in 1989. After hitting rock bottom taking up work as a house cleaner, Love made her way back to the stage preforming in New York and Los Angeles and singing backup vocals for Cher and U2.
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    Love performs with Cher at Fox Theater in 1989. After hitting rock bottom taking up work as a house cleaner, Love made her way back to the stage preforming in New York and Los Angeles and singing backup vocals for Cher and U2.
    Taro Yamasaki/Getty Images
  • Love's solo career took off in the 80s and 90s, both on screen and on stage. Apearing in all four "Lethan Weapon" movies as Danny Glover's wife and later in the Broadway productions of "Grease" and "Hairspray."
    Hide caption
    Love's solo career took off in the 80s and 90s, both on screen and on stage. Apearing in all four "Lethan Weapon" movies as Danny Glover's wife and later in the Broadway productions of "Grease" and "Hairspray."
    Photo by Paul Kolnik
  • Love performs at a radio benefit in 2004 after her 80s comeback. Of the hundreds of recordings Love made in early years, the few credited to her name include "(Today I Met) The Boy I'm Gonna Marry" and "Wait Til My Bobby Gets Home."
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    Love performs at a radio benefit in 2004 after her 80s comeback. Of the hundreds of recordings Love made in early years, the few credited to her name include "(Today I Met) The Boy I'm Gonna Marry" and "Wait Til My Bobby Gets Home."
    Stephen Chernin/AP
  • Aretha Franklin (left) poses with Love, at the time a cast member of the Broadway show "Hairspray," in 2007. Once established, Love took Phil Spector to court for a share of the royalties owed to her from the '60s — and won.
    Hide caption
    Aretha Franklin (left) poses with Love, at the time a cast member of the Broadway show "Hairspray," in 2007. Once established, Love took Phil Spector to court for a share of the royalties owed to her from the '60s — and won.
    Shiho Fukada/AP
  • Love performs in 2010 in New York City. Since U2 invited her to sing on their 1987 remake of "Christmas Baby (Please Come Home)," Love's preformance of the song and other Christmas hits has become a holiday staple.
    Hide caption
    Love performs in 2010 in New York City. Since U2 invited her to sing on their 1987 remake of "Christmas Baby (Please Come Home)," Love's preformance of the song and other Christmas hits has become a holiday staple.
    Andy Kropa/Getty Images

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In March, five new performers will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It's an eclectic group of selections, ranging from New Orleans funk giant Dr. John to gravel-voiced skid-row balladeer Tom Waits. But in spite of their differences, each of these singers adopted a special identity or image to stand out from the rest of the pack. Over the next several weeks, Morning Edition will look behind the stage personas of this year's inductees.

Darlene Love's vocal fingerprints are all over the pop music of the early to mid-1960s. As a member of the Blossoms, her "Doo, doo, doo-wahs," "Sha-la-las" and "Ah-woos" provided texture to dozens of songs. The Blossoms, however, never had a hit song under their own name. Love says record companies didn't know what to do with a black girl group that didn't sound black.

"Back in those days, it was the Top 40 and rhythm and blues, and never were the two to meet," she says.

But the group discovered that it was able to establish an identity with record producers by not having an identity.

"We didn't sound black; we didn't sound white," she says. "Our sound could be anything they wanted it to sound like."

The group found itself backing up artists ranging from Doris Day to Sam Cooke. But Love would learn that there was a downside to letting someone else define you. At first, she says, she was thrilled when a young producer named Phil Spector offered her the lead vocal in a new song.

"He wanted me to do 'He's a Rebel,' and he would pay me triple scale to do it, along with the Blossoms, because he said he knew this song was going to be a hit," Love says.

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He was right. "He's a Rebel" shot to the top of the pop charts. But the song was credited to The Crystals — a girl group from New York that Spector had nurtured through several minor hits. He would go on to produce a number of chart-toppers for the Blossoms, sometimes under the name The Crystals, sometimes as Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans. Love says she got tired of the name-swapping.

"I told him, 'This is ridiculous. I know you can make hits, and I ain't making no more hits under nobody else's name but my own,' " she says.

Spector eventually relented, and Darlene Love's name started appearing on record labels. Except Love wasn't really her name. Spector had rechristened the former Darlene Wright in honor of one of his favorite gospel singers, Dorothy Love Coates. Spector essentially created the persona of Darlene Love, and the singer didn't really mind until 30 years later, when hit movies like GoodFellas and the remake of Father of the Bride featured some of those songs on their soundtracks.

"I never got paid for any of it," Love says. "At the end of the movies, with the credits, it said, 'Darlene Love courtesy of Phil Spector.' And I said, 'Wow, courtesy? Isn't that nice.' "

In 1997, Love won a landmark legal case against Spector over unpaid royalties. She and several other artists recently filed another suit.

Love has continued to record, but she'll always be associated with those old Spector songs, thanks in no small part to baby boomer nostalgia. Love says she has finally come to accept the fact that her identity as a performer will be forever linked to the man who gave her her name.

"At least I have that," she says. "Some people, you don't know who they are or where they came from. But at least I have that."

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