As a girl belting out gospel songs in her local church choir, Darlene Love could never have envisioned the pinnacle she’ll reach on March 14.
That’s when she will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other music greats as a 2011 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York.
This story first appeared in the December 23, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Now 72, Love earned her chops performing with Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, the Beach Boys, Tom Jones and others who dominated the charts. Overpowering as those stars might have been, the three-time hall of fame nominee said she trusted her own drive.
“I always believe that if something is going to happen, it will happen,” she said. “I never gave up hope. If you keep your dreams in front of your face, they will happen.”
More than 50 years ago, Love was plucked from obscurity to perform with the all-girl group The Blossoms, whose back-up singing made “Da Doo Ron Ron” a classic. Just three years later, in 1962, Love was fine-tuning her pipes with the help of music producer Phil Spector, the famed creator of the “Wall of Sound,” who is in prison after being convicted of second-degree murder in 2009.
Her résumé is also punctuated with acting roles in four “Lethal Weapon” movies.
More gracious than bodacious, the vocalist shared images and impressions from her past: Spector’s gun-playing ways, Elvis’ shyness and Cher as a low-key young singer.
WWD: How did you hear the news that you won induction?
D.L.: I was on my way to perform in Atlantic City and I got a call that said, “Welcome to the family.” To the family? It took a few minutes [to register], and then I started screaming. I said to my husband, “I sure hope the limo driver doesn’t think you’re back here trying to kill me.”
WWD: Have you done anything to celebrate?
D.L.: I’ve been too busy. I had a show at B.B. King Blues Club Sunday night, I had to tape [David] Letterman Monday and…my annual Christmas show…[so] there have just been little bitty celebrations. I’m just trying to take care of my voice. My daughter keeps telling me to stop screaming and hollering. I’m still very excited. I think I will be for a while.
WWD: Was there ever a point where you thought this was never going to happen?
D.L.: I was first nominated 12 years ago. Last year, I was nominated again. When I didn’t win, I thought maybe next year.
WWD: What was Phil Spector like when he discovered you?
D.L.: Back in those days, he was 21 years old, very energetic and very excited. He was getting ready to build his empire. He put together some of the best music sessions, musicians and backup singers. He went into it and created a monster [laughing]. We were in the studio from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. He always said anything he was going to do was going to be a hit. That was pretty much true.
WWD: What was the scene like then?
D.L.: Cher was one of the backup singers. She was Cherilyn Sarkisian then. She was very quiet. You had to go up to her and she would kind of warm up to you. She was Sonny Bono’s girlfriend. She hadn’t changed her name.”
WWD: When was the last time you saw Phil?
D.L.: When he was inducted [into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame] 12 years ago. After that, about seven or eight years ago, I sued him for my royalties, which I won.
WWD: Are you surprised by how his life has played out?
D.L.: I used to tell him all the time, “Don’t play with guns. Guns don’t shoot — people shoot.” As long as there were guns flinging around, I would not go into the studio. So then he would take the guns and give them to his bodyguards.…I really do believe [the killing of Lana Clarkson] was a terrible accident. I don’t believe he willfully took a gun and shot somebody.
WWD: What would people be most surprised to learn about Elvis?
D.L.: That he was very shy. He was actually introverted, believe it or not. The thing that made us friends was that I was a gospel singer. The first love of his life was gospel singing. Every chance he got he would go get his guitar and we would do some gospel singing.
WWD: Do you have any funny stories about Danny Glover and Mel Gibson from working on four “Lethal Weapon” movies?
D.L.: Mel was a big prankster. He was always doing something to someone. The actress who played my daughter in the second film had a baby that she used to carry in front of her in one of those pouches. One day the crew decided to play a prank on Mel, so one of the prop guys got a fake doll and put it loose in the pouch. Mel was looking, smiling and playing with it. When it dropped to the ground, I thought Mel was going to have a heart attack.
WWD: What’s next filmwise?
D.L.: Well, I’m still auditioning. When I get another one, it will be the one for me. I’m never discouraged.
WWD: Did anyone give you career advice that has stayed with you through the years?
D.L.: Dionne Warwick did. I worked for her for a while, and one time I was so upset about something someone had said or did. She told me, “Do not give people that power over you to make you so mad you feel like killing them.” That was more than 20 years ago, and I still think of that today. I’ve been in a lot of business meetings where I’ve said, “Excuse me, I am going to get a glass of water.” Then I step outside to fan myself. It’s always better to take a minute and calm down. I use it in meetings, with my kids, with everything.
WWD: How important was your appearance to your success?
D.L.: It didn’t really matter because we were always in the studio. I did very little personal appearances. I had a family — three sons. I used to perform with this group Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans. We would wear little short blue jeans — I think they were called pedal pushers — with big bobby socks, ballerina shoes and big bulky sweaters. Back then it wasn’t about fancy dresses or gowns.
WWD: What do you think of how performers dress today?
D.L.: I think it’s amazing. I’m just thanking God I didn’t have to wear that. I’m still conservative. I show a little cleavage and a little leg, but that’s about it. As far as things are today, sometimes I say to myself, ‘Is it about their talent or their bodies? Is it about singing or taking their clothes off?’ It’s another era, just as we were a different era.
WWD: Do you have a few favorites today?
D.L.: Beyoncé is right at the top. And I love Mariah Carey. Those are the two I will sing along with, especially Beyoncé when she was with her group. I am really kind of proud how they have been able to sustain themselves and have a career all these years.