Sure, the gay community loves a diva. But more than big voices and over-the-top outfits, there’s an elevated appreciation for stars who overcame the odds. Perhaps it’s particularly poignant given the parallels to the LGBT community’s struggles for acceptance and equality. Even for performers with less overt ties to the gay community, fans feel connected to underdog stories.
One of the most captivating examples of an artist whose talent is only matched by their perseverance and spirit is singing superstar Darlene Love.
A well-respected back-up singer as a member of the girl group The Blossoms, Love was the powerhouse vocalist behind (and in some cases, the forefront) of many hits from (now disgraced) producer Phil Spector. As if it wasn’t enough of a shame keeping Love’s vocals from the spotlight, Spector attributed some of Love’s recordings to other artists, like The Crystals. Her voice appeared on some of the best known songs of all time, including “Be My Baby,” “Monster Mash” and “Da Doo Ron Ron.”
The years that followed Love’s work with Spector have since given Love the accolades she deserves. She’s been a fixture on The Late Show with David Letterman, appeared on Broadway and was featured in the Academy Award-winning documentary 20 Feet From Stardom. She released her most recent album, the cheekily titled Introducing Darlene Love, yesterday.
Through it all she’s maintained an indefatigable spirit and a passionate gay following. Speaking to PrideSource in 2014, she discussed her relationship with her gay fans:
“If it weren’t for them in my audience, I wouldn’t have one. They’ve always supported me over the years. Ninety percent of my audience is white – it’s not black – and gay. So, you know, thank god! They know more about the background singers than anybody. They saw how we looked, they saw how we dressed, they saw how we moved around. They were looking at that too. A lot of people have come up to me, even before the movie, saying, “I saw you when you sang with Dionne Warwick” or “I saw you when you were with Tom Jones” or “I saw you with Elvis,” so they watch that. They don’t just watch the lead singer; they watch the whole thing – the whole performance in front of them.”
Check out some of our favorite Love songs and performances, below.
Love started working with Spector in the early ‘60s, and it didn’t take long for her distinct voice to land her gigs singing alongside legends like Dionne Warwick, Elvis, the Beach Boys and Cher. The first time Love sang lead for Spector was on the 1962 track, “He’s A Rebel.” The song reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, but Spector credited the track to The Crystals despite being recorded by The Blossoms. The Crystals would incorporate the song into their live shows, but over time Love reclaimed the tune. You can see her perform it with Bette Midler here.
Most people are familiar with Love’s holiday classic “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” which was the standout on the 1963 album, A Christmas Gift For You from Philles Records. Love performed the track, a favorite of Paul Shaffer, on Late Night with David Letterman in 1986. The performance was such a memorable moment, she’s played it every year on Letterman’s Late Night and then The Late Show since (save for 2007, during the Writers’ strike). Check out her first appearance above, and then watch her perform it for the last time on The Late Show here.
Love’s talents extend beyond just singing. She’s also done some acting on stage and screen. On Broadway, she’s played herself in the Tony Award-nominated musical Leader of the Pack, based on the songbook of Ellie Greenwich. She’s also appeared in the musical based on Stephen King’s Carrie and as Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray, which you can see above. You have also caught her as Trish Murtaugh, the wife of Danny Glover’s characters in the Lethal Weapon films.
Along with other legendary vocalists, Love was featured in the documentary 20 Feet From Stardom. The film chronicled the lives of back-up singers, including Love, Merry Clayton (whose isolated vocals from the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” is guaranteed to give you chills every time) and others. More than just a reminder of these incredible voices’ contributions to rock ’n’ roll history, the documentary showcased Love’s irresistible personalty and shining smile, all of which were on display along with her undeniable talent when she broke into song while accepting the film’s Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
At 74, Love has — pardon the pun — blossomed from back-up singer to bonafide superstar. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011, and was recognized by Rolling Stone as one the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. Her most recent album, Introducing Darlene Love, features songs written by Steve Van Zandt and Bruce Springsteen. Watch the star-studded video for lead single “Forbidden Nights” above.
What’s your favorite Darlene Love track?