For El DeBarge, the title of his latest album, Second Chance, says it all.
Making most of Second Chance
El DeBarge leaned back into a chair at Serious Sounds Record Store on Martin Luther King Boulevard, a pair of RayBan aviators in one hand. The leader of a 1980s family Motown group had just finished signing copies of his new CD, Second
Chance, and appeared ready for a grilling about his 20-year cocaine addiction and prison stint that ushered him out of the music spotlight nearly two decades ago.
But the interview was interrupted when he introduced his 16-year-old daughter, Kendall, who lives in Houston.
“When my daughter was born, I held her in my arms, and I haven’t seen her since,” DeBarge said. “This is the first time I’ve seen her in over 15 years. This is an awesome moment.”
Kendall’s mother, Jones Magazine founder Tracey Ferguson, was married to DeBarge in the ’90s; they also have a son, Josh.
Kendall is honing her own talent as a singer, pianist and actress. She talked about her new jewelry line, Kendallicious Kreations.
“We’ve kept up somewhat of a relationship, so I do feel like I know him,” she said. “Although this is the first time we’ve physically met, I do feel a connect. He’s my dad. ” DeBarge smiled. In the music world, second chances are often elusive, but El, born as Eldra DeBarge, now 49, is making the most of this one.
“I’m here because of the grace of God and my mama’s prayers, among many others,” said the R&B falsetto singer, who has received two Grammy nominations for Second
Chance, his first CD in 16 years.
“I was asking God to deliver me from drugs from the first moment I decided to try crack cocaine. Nobody talked me into it. I just got curious. At the age of 25, I tried it, and it took me 22 years to untry it.”
During those years, DeBarge lived on and off the streets of Los Angeles using drugs. He led an equally turbulent personal life, in which he allegedly fathered 10 children with six women.
Born in Detroit, he was the sixth of 10 DeBarge children, most of whom also battled drug additions. The family later moved to Grand Rapids, Mich. In 1981, The DeBarges debuted their first album. They had success with their second album, All
This Love, which produced the R&B classic I Like It. In 1983, the group released
In a Special Way, with hit
singles Time Will Reveal and Love Me in a Special Way.
In 1986, El DeBarge released his self-titled debut solo album with Who’s Johnny, a single featured in the comedy film Short Circuit. In 1990, he teamed up with Quincy Jones to create The Secret Garden, which also featured singers Barry White, Al B. Sure! and James Ingram.
By 2000, DeBarge had been battling his crack addiction for years and had been arrested multiple times for drug possession. In 2008, he was sentenced to two years in California federal prison for possession.
Though it sounds like a cliché, DeBarge said he came out of prison a changed man.
“I got my will power back. I’m not thinking about any drugs. The devil had his chance to destroy me. He can’t do it now. I’m back. I’m here to stay.”
The effects of drug use have seemingly had no impact on his singing abilities. His voice is as strong and as clear as it was in his 20s. Once out of prison, DeBarge connected with his manager, Pete Farmer, who coordinated the new CD project with Interscope/Geffen Records. Second Chance was produced in less than four months, and features collaborations with Faith Evans, 50 Cent and production credits from Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and Babyface.
“Every song is dedicated to everyone who is looking for a second chance,” DeBarge said.
In 2011, he makes a cameo as himself in
Jumping the Broom, a Bishop T.D. Jakes production starring Paula Patton and Angela Bassett.
DeBarge said he’s open about his struggles, failures and newfound success, but there’s one thing he hasn’t shared much: He’s shy.
“When I get on stage I’m blinded by the lights, and I can’t see anybody,” he said.
“That’s the only reason I can stay up there. Because If I actually could see your face, I’d walk off. I’m shy like that.”
Kendall pops up in her seat: “Me, too.”
“That’s where you get it from,” DeBarge said, smiling.