"20 feet from Stardom's" Darlene Love on being a backup singer, finally getting credit

Darlene Love is the voice behind dozens of Top 40 tracks, but because she was a backup singer, Love didn't get much credit, until being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.

She sang in her father's church before joining a vocal group called The Blossoms. The women sang backup for singers like Sam Cooke and Bobby Darin before being hired by then-unknown music producer Phil Spector.

Spector wanted to use Love's roof-raising voice to voice to capture the sound of the times and in 1962, He asked Love and The Blossoms to record "He's a Rebel" for The Crystals. Although the song went to number one, she never got credit, but that wasn't unusual for Love.

Love tells her story in this year's Oscar-nominated documentary, "20 Feet from Stardom.” She told the “CBS This Morning” co-hosts that she was hesitant to do the movie at first.

“Over the years people ask you to do things all the time … and you never get any credit for it. So, two of my very good friends, Lou Adler and Richard Donner told me ‘Talk to this man. He’s for real,’” she said.

While she has said in the past that the job of a background singer is to support, she said that there is “absolutely” part of her that felt she could have been the lead vocalist.

“There are times where I was working behind Sonny Bono – who was a very good friend of mine – [I thought] I could be doing that and he could be back here doing what I’m doing,” she said.

However, the roles cannot always be reversed.  Love said that background singers really “have to be on their toes” because most lead singers “cannot do background and most background singers can’t do lead.”

Love sang backup for some of the best, including, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Dionne Warwick.

She said that hardest thing about being a background singer is being seen and not heard. “You have to blend in and make them better,” she said.

Despite decades of chart-topping songs, Love never knew fame and eventually quit singing and became a maid to support herself. She said that she realized she needed to go back to singing when someone recognized her song, "He's a Rebel," not know it was her singing it.

“You have hurdles. Hurdles are meant to go over and not to keep you back,” she said. "So, I just kept on going and didn’t look back.”

At 72 years old, Love now feels like she’s finally coming into her own.

“I can now work places that I was not working before because when a promoter highers you,  they want to know you can put butts in the seats,” she said. “So I wasn’t a Crystal and they didn’t really know me as Darlene Love. So finally, now that I’ve gotten this recognition. I’m working places … We’ve been all over the place and that’s my joy – singing.”

  • Shoshana Davis

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