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Darlene Love: A Prominent Star, Born In The Background

Love performs with Cher at Fox Theater in 1989. After hitting rock bottom taking up work as a house cleaner, Love made her way back to the stage preforming in New York and Los Angeles and singing backup vocals for Cher and U2. (Getty Images)

In March, five new performers will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It's an eclectic group of selections, ranging from New Orleans funk giant Dr. John to gravel-voiced skid-row balladeer Tom Waits. But in spite of their differences, each of these singers adopted a special identity or image to stand out from the rest of the pack. Over the next several weeks, Morning Edition will look behind the stage personas of this year's inductees.

Darlene Love's vocal fingerprints are all over the pop music of the early to mid-1960s. As a member of the Blossoms, her "Doo, doo, doo-wahs," "Sha-la-las" and "Ah-woos" provided texture to dozens of songs. The Blossoms, however, never had a hit song under their own name. Love says record companies didn't know what to do with a black girl group that didn't sound black.

"Back in those days, it was the Top 40 and rhythm and blues, and never were the two to meet," she says.

But the group discovered that it was able to establish an identity with record producers by not having an identity.

"We didn't sound black; we didn't sound white," she says. "Our sound could be anything they wanted it to sound like."

The group found itself backing up artists ranging from Doris Day to Sam Cooke. But Love would learn that there was a downside to letting someone else define you. At first, she says, she was thrilled when a young producer named Phil Spector offered her the lead vocal in a new song.

"He wanted me to do 'He's a Rebel,' and he would pay me triple scale to do it, along with the Blossoms, because he said he knew this song was going to be a hit," Love says.

He was right. "He's a Rebel" shot to the top of the pop charts. But the song was credited to The Crystals — a girl group from New York that Spector had nurtured through several minor hits. He would go on to produce a number of chart-toppers for the Blossoms, sometimes under the name The Crystals, sometimes as Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans. Love says she got tired of the name-swapping.

"I told him, 'This is ridiculous. I know you can make hits, and I ain't making no more hits under nobody else's name but my own,' " she says.

Spector eventually relented, and Darlene Love's name started appearing on record labels. Except Love wasn't really her name. Spector had rechristened the former Darlene Wright in honor of one of his favorite gospel singers, Dorothy Love Coates. Spector essentially created the persona of Darlene Love, and the singer didn't really mind until 30 years later, when hit movies like GoodFellas and the remake of Father of the Bride featured some of those songs on their soundtracks.

"I never got paid for any of it," Love says. "At the end of the movies, with the credits, it said, 'Darlene Love courtesy of Phil Spector.' And I said, 'Wow, courtesy? Isn't that nice.' "

In 1997, Love won a landmark legal case against Spector over unpaid royalties. She and several other artists recently filed another suit.

Love has continued to record, but she'll always be associated with those old Spector songs, thanks in no small part to baby boomer nostalgia. Love says she has finally come to accept the fact that her identity as a performer will be forever linked to the man who gave her her name.

"At least I have that," she says. "Some people, you don't know who they are or where they came from. But at least I have that."

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Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Next month, five new performers will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Dr. John, Alice Cooper, Tom Waits, Neil Diamond, and Darlene Love - who we'll talk about this morning. She came to prominence by being in the background.

David C. Barnett of member station WCPN explains.

(Soundbite of song, "Poor Side of Town")

Mr. JOHNNY RIVERS (Singer): (Singing) Doo, doo-doo-doo-wah, shooby-dooby...

DAVID C. BARNETT: Darlene Love's vocal fingerprints are all over the pop music of the early-to-mid 1960s. As a member of The Blossoms, her doo-doo-doo-wahs, sha-la-las, and ah-woos provided texture to dozens of songs.

(Soundbite of song, "Monster Mash")

Mr. BOBBY "BORIS" PICKETTT (Singer): (Singing) He did the Mash. He did the Monster Mash. The Monster Mash...

BARNETT: The Blossoms, though, never had a hit song under their own name. Love says record companies didn't know what to do with a black girl group that didn't sound black.

Ms. DARLENE LOVE (Singer): Back in those days, it was the Top 40 and rhythm and blues, and never were the two to meet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BARNETT: But The Blossoms discovered that they were able to establish an identity with record producers by not having an identity.

Ms. LOVE: We didn't sound black. We didn't sound white. Our sound could be anything they wanted it to sound like.

BARNETT: And the group found itself backing up artists ranging from Doris Day to Sam Cooke. But Love would learn that there was a downside to letting someone else define you. At first she was thrilled when a young producer named Phil Spector offered her the lead vocal on a new song.

Ms. LOVE: He wanted me to do "He's a Rebel," and he would pay me triple-scale to do it, along with The Blossoms, because he said he knew this song was going to be a hit.

BARNETT: And he was right.

(Soundbite of song, "He's A Rebel")

THE CRYSTALS (Pop Group): (Singing) See the way he walks down the street. Watch the way he shuffles his feet. My, he holds his head up high when he goes walking by. He's my guy...

BARNETT: "He's a Rebel" shot to the top of the pop charts. But the song was credited to The Crystals, a girl group from New York that Spector had been nurturing through several minor hits. He would go on to produce a number of chart-toppers for The Blossoms, sometimes under the name The Crystals and sometimes as Bob. B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans.

Love says she got tired of all this name swapping.

Ms. LOVE: And I told him, I said this is ridiculous. I know you can make hits, and I ain't making no more hits under nobody else's name but my own.

BARNETT: Spector eventually relented and Darlene Love's name started appearing on record labels.

(Soundbite of song, "Today I Met the Boy I'm Gonna Marry")

Ms. LOVE: (Singing) Today I met the boy I'm gonna marry. He's all I've wanted all my life and even more...

BARNETT: Except Love wasn't really her name. Spector had re-christened the former Darlene Wright in honor of one of his favorite Gospel singers, Dorothy Love Coates. Spector essentially created the persona Darlene Love, and the singer didn't really mind until 30 years later, when hit movies like "Goodfellas" and the remake of "Father of the Bride" featured some of those songs on the soundtracks.

Ms. LOVE: And I never got paid for any of it. You know, at the end of the movies with the credits, it said Darlene Love courtesy of Phil Spector. And I said, wow, courtesy, isn't that nice.

BARNETT: In 1997, Love won a landmark legal case against Phil Spector over unpaid royalties. She and several other artists recently filed another suit.

(Soundbite of song, "Christmas Baby Please Come Home")

BARNETT: Darlene Love has continued to record, but she'll always be associated with those old Spector songs, thanks in no small part to Baby Boomer nostalgia. Love says she's finally come to accept the fact that her identity as a performer will forever be linked to the man who gave her her name.

Ms. LOVE: At least I have that. You know, some people, you don't know who they are or where they came from. But at least I have that.

BARNETT: For NPR News, I'm David C. Barnett in Cleveland.

(Soundbite of song, "Christmas, Baby Please Come Home")

Ms. LOVE: (Singing) They're singing deck the halls...

INSKEEP: And you can see photos of Darlene Love through the years at NPRMusic.org.

This is the beginning of a series. Over the next several weeks, we will profile other inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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