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Singer Darlene Love sang backup for hit artists including Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin but struggled to gain fame for her solo endeavors.
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Born in Los Angeles, California, in 1941, Darlene Love began performing as a backup singer for artists including Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin and Frank Sinatra after being discovered by producer Phil Spector in 1962. Despite her success as a backup performer, however, she struggled to gain fame for her solo endeavors.
Born Darlene Wright on July 26, 1941, in Los Angeles, California, Darlene Love began performing at a very early age. The daughter of a minister and one of five siblings, Love first began singing in her church choir.
Love grew up in South Central Los Angeles long before the racial tension, crime and violence for which the area later became infamous had taken over the community. Love later remembered the Los Angeles of her childhood as "a city that existed mostly in people's imaginations…. But for us, Los Angeles had nothing to do with movie stars or stubbly, hard-drinking gumshoes trying to piece together broken dreams after hours. For us, Los Angeles was contained in about 20 blocks, bookended on one side by our projects and playgrounds and on the other by church."
When her father received an offer to lead his own church in San Antonio, the family moved to Texas, where Love first discovered the power of her voice. The family relocated back to California in 1956; soon after, Love—still in high school at the time—was invited to join a girl group called The Blossoms. The trio performed locally and also sang in backup sessions for the likes of Sam Cooke and Bobby Day. Even greater success in the music industry waited just around the corner.
In 1962, a 20-year-old Love caught the ear of legendary producer Phil Spector, who immediately recognized the immense potential in her voice and brought her into his new direction for 1960s music: the "girl group sound." One of Spector's biographers remembers Love's impact on the producer: "She had a peculiarly young voice, which made it suitable for the songs Spector liked best—the ones dealing with adolescent emotional experiences. However, unlike most of the kids around, she was also a solidly professional singer with exemplary technique, control and flexibility. She had real power and genuine dynamic range…. In a word, Darlene was a godsend."
Through the rest of the 1960s, Love performed in a wide variety of venues, recording with The Blossoms and as a solo artist, while also singing backup for the likes of Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Frank Sinatra, Dionne Warwick, The Beach Boys, and many, many more. As Love later recalled, "One time I had to make a list of all the people I've worked for ... The list was unreal, with over 200 famous people we had actually backed up over 15 years."
Despite her impressive resume, Love never quite attained the level of stardom she sought. Instead she became the decade's most sought-after session singer, providing backup vocals for some of the era's greatest hits: "River Deep, Mountain High" by Tina Turner, "He's a Rebel" and "He's Sure the Boy I Love" by The Crystals, "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" by The Righteous Brothers and many more.
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American society experienced a revolution in the late 1960s and early 70s, especially for African-Americans and women. Janis Joplin was the finest white blues singer of her generation; female singer-songwriters like Carole King and Joni Mitchell shared their innermost thoughts and feelings; Aretha Franklin emerged as the Queen of Soul; and Bonnie Raitt established herself as both a strong vocalist and a brilliant guitarist. Through their music, the women of this era created the soundtrack of social progress.
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