Born Eldra DeBarge, c. 1960, in Grand Rapids, MI; formed band DeBarge with siblings Marty, James, Randy, and Bunny, 1978, and moved to Hollywood, CA; signed with Motown Records; released three albums, 1983-85; group disbanded, 1985; El DeBarge signed with Motown Records for his solo project; released two albums on Motown, 1986-89; signed with Warner Bros., 1991.

Eldra "El" DeBarge and his nine brothers and sisters all displayed musical talent at an early age. They sang in the gospel choir at the Bethel Pentecostal Church, where their uncle James Abney led the choir and another uncle, Reverend William Abney, served as pastor. Belting out gospel songs stimulated a love for music in the members of the DeBarge family, including Eldra. In time, however, the siblings outgrew the Bethel Pentecostal Church and looked to the recording industry to further their musical aspirations.

In 1978, when Eldra was just 18 years old, he moved from his home state of Michigan to Hollywood, California, with his three older brothers--Marty, James, and Randy--and his older sister, Bunny. They planned to impress the executives at Motown Records enough to land a record contract. Two other older brothers, Tommy and Bobby, already had a contract with the label as part of the funk group Switch, which was managed by Jermaine Jackson of the famous Jackson clan.

Under the name DeBarge, Eldra and his bandmates sent Jackson their demo tape; apparently, he didn't even listen to it. But the group didn't give up on their dream that easily. They found out when Jackson had his next scheduled meeting with Switch at the Motown offices and mounted an impromptu concert for him in the hallway. A few months later, DeBarge signed a contract with Motown. Label founder Berry Gordy, Jr., made DeBarge his own special project and personally worked with El DeBarge on his songwriting

Five years after DeBarge landed in Hollywood, they released their first album on Motown Records, All This Love. The title track became the band's first hit, and they received their first gold album. Comparisons between DeBarge and the Jacksons flew from everywhere, including the band's management and label. DeBarge's youngest member--producer and star performer El DeBarge--was tagged the next Michael Jackson.

DeBarge didn't perform live until they had cut their second album, In a Special Way, and once again sent sales soaring into gold status. In 1985, just two years after their first effort, DeBarge released Rhythm of the Night, their last album as a band. That same year, El DeBarge set out to prove to the world that he could make it on his own, without his brothers and sister: He decided to move on to a solo project with Motown Records. "I don't think people other than my most sincere fans are aware of just how much I had to do with those earlier DeBarge albums," the singer noted in Billboard.

El DeBarge released his self-titled solo debut in 1986, which produced the hits "Who's Johnny?" and "Love Always." Then he took his time before releasing his next effort, Gemini, three years later. After Gemini hit the stores, DeBarge's professional life took a sharp turn into turmoil. He went through a bankruptcy hearing that resulted in his release from his Motown contract and was forced to start on a new path. "It's like the beginning of a new era for me," he told David Nathan in Billboard, "and like one of the songs on the album [Gemini] says, it's all about turning the page. The storyline of that song 'Turn the Page' is actually more about a relationship. But you know what that song really means to me? It means that I am turning the page in my life. All that has passed is behind me."

DeBarge returned to Michigan and spent the early 1990s working on other artists' music. He performed on industry mogul Quincy Jones's Secret Garden with Barry White, James Ingram, and Al B. Sure! He also added guest performances to Fourplay's hit "After the Dance" and Tone Loc's Cool Hand Loc.

In 1991 DeBarge signed a recording contract with Warner Bros. Records. He admitted that Motown had stifled some of his creativity. "I was made to feel insecure," he said in Billboard, "because every time I would do something [musically], it would end up being changed.... It kinda made me shell up, made me to the point where I didn't want to create anymore." The following year he released In the Storm on Warner Bros., which he coproduced with Earth, Wind and Fire producer Maurice White. The first single, "My Heart Belongs to You," debuted on Billboard's Hot R&B Singles Chart at Number 70. In the Storm also includes a song DeBarge cowrote with Prince called "Tip of My Tongue." After the album's release, DeBarge went on tour with singer Chaka Khan. Suddenly, the creative spark he felt he had lost at Motown came back with a vengeance.

DeBarge kept on working after the tour and started recording his next solo album in 1993. A year later, Heart, Mind & Soul--with its first single, "Can't Get Enough"--arrived in stores. DeBarge coproduced the album with luminaries Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, Jermaine Dupri, and Tony Dofat. Edmonds and DeBarge combined their talents with a duet on the track "Where Is My Love?"

"When I first began the album, I wanted to do some really hip music, music that was current, stylish," El DeBarge said in his Warner Bros. biography. "There's a whole new generation out there that I want to introduce to my music." DeBarge said of Heart, Mind & Soul, "Musically, it's where I am today. And everything on here is me speaking from my heart."

by Sonya Shelton

El Debarge's Career

Addresses: Record company--Reprise, 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505-4694.

Famous Works

Further Reading

Sources

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 3 years ago

And I absolutely LOVE your new CD "Second Chance" every song on there is a winner! I play it so much I may have to buy another one. Diane/Phoenix AZ

over 3 years ago

El is going to be alright! Do you know why? The bible says "He (God) that began a good work in you will complete it! God gave El musical talents and gifts that no enemy can take away from him. He just have to have a willing heart to give his problems to God and let God fix them. He's going to be alright! What the enemy set out to mean for his bad, it's going to work out for his good! He knows it because he has FAVOR (it's like a halo over his head)on his life! I love you El! The world don't own you, God does! Lisa

over 3 years ago

He's sooooooooooooo fine and o can he sing .I falls everytime I hears his voice.I 'm forever his biggest fan.

over 3 years ago

I 'm one of El's big fan /i've been in love with him since my high school year.oooooooooooooooo he's so fiiiiine and his singing makes me fall.

almost 4 years ago

El Debarge is one of mi favorite artists other than Micheal Jackson.. I really really like it!:-}

over 5 years ago

I just would like to add something to this comment board. I know El and he is doing good. He still can sing and play the piano. I made him yes MADE him play every song. LOL!! You are welcome to come my house again to have dinner with my family and I. We had fun singing and eaten Garlic Crabs, Salad, French Bread Baked Potatoe's. xoxo Kita Kat

over 5 years ago

I was recently in L.A. in October and had the chance to meet El Debarge. It seemed to me as if he was still in good spirits. I don't believe half of what I read about him. I spoke with him a couple times after returning to Ohio, he should be making his way back to the music industry soon I think it would be a good look! There are artist out here that he can give a chance.

almost 6 years ago

I just saw the 'Unsung' show on TV One. You never know where a person comes from or what they've gone through to get to where they are. I would really like to see what El is up to now and he needs to know that he still has fans (ME!!!) out there that love and support him.

almost 6 years ago

I hope to see him draw closer to God and have a bible study. and sing one day on stage with my spritual brother prince El has the most beautiful voice just like his older brother bobby

almost 6 years ago

I want address the comment earlier about wet dreams about el Debarge I do not think he would like that nasty comment because he is not gay! at all, that fine Debarge brothers El moves your heart when he sings I hope Jehovah God moves his heart and draws him just like he drew my spritual brother Prince because Jehovah reads the heart. I hope to see him doing well spritualy and keep singing with that beautiful voice

almost 6 years ago

I remember having this huge crush on El Debarge when I was in high school. I thought he was so cute and seeing some of his old performances, all those feelings came rushing back. I am hurt about how rough a life he has had, but the bible says trouble don't last always. El, please start praying, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start a new lease on life. Whatever you're feeling, whatever you're going through; it will pass. People are going to talk, but trust me; put it in God's hand and the world can't do you no harm.

about 6 years ago

i fell in love with el debarge from the time i knew myself and from the time i knew of el debarge. I've had many nights of wet dreams thinking of him.i am still in love with him to this day. i want to see him again and hear his wonderful voice and music.don't let anyone keep you down. u are to sweet and i believe that u have a good heart.stay sweet, take good care of yourself.and please bounce back!

over 6 years ago

i fell in love with el DeBarge from the time i was a child. his so cute and sexy and he has an exceptional voice. i am still in love with him to this day.

over 6 years ago

I'd like to know if the DeBarges plan to make any other albums- shall I say, now DVDs