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DeBarge was a sibling music group of American origin whose repertoire included R&B, soul, funk, and later gospel. Active as a professional recording group from 1979 and 1989, the group was one of the few recording acts to bring success to the Motown label during the 1980s.
In 1977, elder siblings Tommy DeBarge and Bobby DeBarge formed a group called Switch along with Jody Sims, Greg Williams, Phillip Ingram and Eddie Fluellen. They were discovered by Motown artist Jermaine Jackson, and signed to the Motown label that same year. Switch recorded several hits for Motown's Gordy label, including "There'll Never Be" and "I Call Your Name". The managers of Switch also became aware of Bobby and Tommy's younger brothers including Randy, Marty and El, whose vocal talent was often compared to Bobby's, as was that of eldest sister, Bunny. After an impromptu audition in front of Jermaine Jackson, Switch's producer, the group was signed to Motown's Gordy imprint in 1979 as a quartet of Bunny, Randy, Marty and El (younger brother James would join in 1982). As "The DeBarges", they released their self-titled debut in 1981 featuring the first single, "What's Your Name." Neither the album nor the single charted, and the group was later determined to produce themselves on the next record.
Following a new lineup - now featuring James DeBarge in the fold - the newly christened quintet, DeBarge, record a mostly self-penned and produced album titled All This Love in 1982. After releasing the dance single, "Stop! Don't Tease Me", the group released the smoother "I Like It", in January 1983. Featuring lead vocals from Randy and El, the song raced up to number two on the Billboard R&B singles chart while also crossing over to pop radio eventually peaking at number 31 on the Billboard Hot 100. A second single, the sole El DeBarge composition, "All This Love", became an even bigger hit reaching number one on the R&B chart and peaking at number 17 on the pop chart and also becoming the group's first number-one hit on the Billboard AC chart. Its success helped its parent album reach gold status. DeBarge made their first live appearance on Motown 25, where they performed a number with fellow Motown band High Inergy.
In 1983, the group quickly issued a third album, In a Special Way, which would end up becoming a memorable album for R&B music lovers due to El's smooth vocals and songwriting approach. The album yielded the hits "Time Will Reveal" (another R&B number one) and "Love Me in a Special Way" (which featured a rare harmonica solo from Stevie Wonder) and matched the success of its predecessor going gold. Following the album's release, the group went on the road in 1984 as Luther Vandross' opening act but according to an article about the DeBarge family on VIBE magazine, James DeBarge recounts how the group used to get mobbed everywhere they went and that's what made them realize how famous they had become. Following a successful touring year, in 1985, the group issued the Rhythm of the Night album, including the title track "Rhythm of the Night", originally featured on the Motown film, The Last Dragon, which granted the group their biggest pop success reaching number three on the Billboard Hot 100 becoming their biggest-selling and most successful single to date. Another hit, "Who's Holding Donna Now", also went to the pop top ten helping the album to also hit gold status.
By now, Motown was building El DeBarge as the focal point of the group and some singles were released under the moniker, DeBarge featuring El DeBarge, bringing back memories of when Motown CEO Berry Gordy had changed the names of some of his famous Motown groups including The Supremes, changing their name to Diana Ross and the Supremes to reflect the rising star of its lead singer. Etterlene "Mama" DeBarge, the group's mother, said that Motown had El "believing he would be a superstar" saying later that the label "didn't realize (Gordy) was dividing a family and not a group". After the releases of "The Heart Is Not So Smart" and "You Wear It Well", which they performed on The Facts of Life TV show, El DeBarge promptly left DeBarge to become a solo artist, prompting Bunny DeBarge to follow him out of the group. While El achieved substantial solo success with the singles "Who's Johnny" and "Love Always", he didn't become the solo star Motown had hoped, Bunny only released one solo album and retired from show business after that to deal with a substance abuse problem.
The Miami Vice TV Show Episode "Bought and Paid For" (1985) also featured DeBarge (although not all members) singing their two songs "You Wear It Well" and "Rhythm of the Night".