Even if you don’t know her name, you know Darlene Love’s voice. The singer, who began her career in backup for artists including Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin and Bruce Springsteen, is embedded in some of the most iconic pop and rock albums of the last 50 years.
Last year, she appeared in the documentary 20 Feet from Stardom, which pays tribute to the backing singers who bring albums and live performances to life; from Love’s support on hits such as “Monster Mash”,“The Shoop Shoop Song” (It’s in His Kiss) and Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life”,to Merry Clayton’s haunting appearance on The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”.
In the film, Love revealed that when she was working for Phil Spector (the producer behind the Wall of Sound and hit albums including The Beatles’ Let it Be) in the 1960s, she recorded the song “He’s Sure the Boy I Love”,which was intended to be her debut solo single. Love felt she had a hit on her hands and would be shot to stardom. But several weeks after the recording, she heard her own voice performing the song on radio, credited to girl group The Crystals. It wasn’t the first time Love had “ghost-sung” for other artists (The Crystals’hit “He’s a Rebel”was actually sung by Love), but it was the first time one of her recordings had been released under another singer’s name without her knowledge. 20 Feet to Stardom gave Love the chance to get several of those stories off her chest.
“It was really great for people to know a lot of the truth that’s never been told before,” Love told Daily Review. “People are surprised. They come up to me now and say, ‘That’s so great to know it was you singing that’.”
Although her treatment by Phil Spector saw her retreat from public life for several years (she cleaned houses for a living when out of the music industry), she says she’s now made peace with the situation.
“It was about 50 years ago, and I wasn’t going to drag that behind me all these years. I sing those songs in my show and I’ve moved on. A lot of people, when they hear those songs, they now know that I recorded them, so I don’t feel bad about it at all.”
Love is one of relatively few singers who managed walk those 20 feet into the spotlight to a solo career. Since the 1980s, she’s released solo albums, starred in Broadway musicals and appeared in all four Lethal Weapon movies as Trish, Danny Glover’s character’s wife. In 2011, Bette Midler inducted her into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Bruce Springsteen performed back-up.
This month, she’s heading to the Adelaide Cabaret Festival to perform her show An Evening with Darlene Love. She sings a variety of material, including a tribute to Marvin Gaye, gospel and the hits she’d recorded with Phil Spector, including those that were released under different singers’ names.
“I open my show with those songs. I don’t really say anything about them. I sing those songs and I just say, ‘those are songs written by Phil Spector’, and I let the audience figure it out for themselves.”
Love comes to Australia after a brief but show-stopping Oscar moment. 20 Feet from Stardom won this year’s Academy Award for Best Documentary, which Love accepted alongside director Morgan Neville. She performed an impromptu, a capella rendition of “His Eye is on the Sparrow”,winning a standing ovation from Hollywood’s A-list. Mega-producer Harvey Weinstein had asked her to sing at a party on Oscar eve, if they won.
“I thought he was kidding,” she says. “He told me I should sing ‘Lean on Me’, and I said, ‘No, I don’t think that’s the right song’. I didn’t tell anybody, but I said I’d think of something. Then at the last minute, that song came to me to do. We had 45 seconds between me and the other producer, and he said, ‘They’d better not cut you off’, and they didn’t dare!”
The rest of Love’s year is filled with appearances, including her annual performance of her own hit carol, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”on the Late Show with Dave Letterman. Love says it may be her last year, as Letterman is moving on from the show, but she hopes to be invited back by new host Stephen Colbert.
She’s also busily working on her own biopic, which she’s co-producing with Oprah Winfrey. Love has already found the actress to play herself in singer Toni Braxton, but says the biggest challenge is trying to fit all of the highlights from her career into one film.
“We have two writers right now who are writing what they call an ‘outline’ which they should have ready in the next couple of weeks. Then we’ll know where we’re starting. Right now we don’t know where we’re starting this movie. So much has happened to me over the 50 years I’ve been in this industry.”
An Evening with Darlene Love is at the Festival Theatre on June 20 as part of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, which opens on Friday and runs until June 21.
This article was first published on The Daily Review.
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