Sunday, October 11, 2009
MOTOWN LEGEND BUNNY DEBARGE SHARES PAIN IN DEEP MEMOIR
In the early 1980’s, singer/songwriter/arranger Bunny DeBarge was living out her dreams of being an entertainer As a member of the singing group DeBarge, Bunny and her brothers Randy, Mark, El and James had won legions of fans with their heavenly harmonies, timeless and lovely lyrics, and angelic and sexy looks, while her brothers Bobby and Tommy scored as members of the group Switch with their hit “I Call Your Name.” Bunny and her siblings conquered the charts with “I Like It,” “All This Love,” “Time Will Reveal,” “Love Me In A Special Way,” “Rhythm of The Night” and “Your Wear It Well” while Bunny’s self-penned and led radio hit “A Dream” became an instant classic that’s been covered and sampled by 2Pac, Mary J, Blige and BLACKStreet, and is played by many couples during intimate moments and while they’re doing their housecleaning. She also scored a # 18 R&B solo hit with “Save The Best For Me”, but shortly after, she disappeared from the music scene and returned to her hometown of Grand Rapids. For the past twenty two years, many fans have wondered what happened to DeBarge. With the exception of singing background on brother El’s single “Cross My Heart” the Angelic singer has spent the last two decades raising her children, overcoming an addiction to painkillers, coping with her brother’s Bobby’s and Chico’s incarceration as well as Bobby’s death from AIDS. She also reconnected with God, and began to deal with being a biracial child during the time when interracial relationships were not accepted in certain states as well as the physical and sexual abuse she endured as a child by her father and force her mother to accept that it happened.
The talented Motown legend shares her pain in her autobiography “The Kept Ones” (Deborah Smith Publications), which is just as revealing as Natalie Cole’s and Rick James’ memoirs and once readers read her story, they will shed tears, and hopefully begin to embark on their own path of healing.
Bunny was born on March 5, 1955 as Etterlene DeBarge on March 10, 1955 in Detroit Michigan to Etterlene Abney a Black high school graduate, and Robert DeBarge, a white French Canadian who met his future wife on the telephone while serving in the military, and informed her that he always had an attraction and fondness of Black women.
“In fact, Daddy wasn’t attracted to white girls at all” Bunny writes in her memoirs. “Mama was flattered at the way Daddy talked to her. He was kind, with good manners and she liked his charm.” They continued to talk over the phone, and they met at a rolling skating rink where Robert was dressed in his military uniform, and didn’t care what people thought of him and his date.
“Momma laughed at him because he stuck out from everyone”
A few days later, he found out where she lived, and went to visit her and despite reservation from both their parents, they got married and became the parents of ten children; Bunny, Bobby, Tommy, Randy, Mark, El, James, Chico, and the twins, Carole and Darrell. (Actually it was Etterlene’s parents and Robert’s mother who didn’t approve of their marriage. His father secretly didn’t care who his son dated, but was forced to go along with his controlling, adulterous wife, who was jealous of the father-son bond Bunny’s father had with her grandfather, who sadly never had the opportunity to see his grandchildren). Shortly before Bunny began kindergarten, Bunny had witnessed her father mentally and physically abusing her mother, who would find comfort by worshipping and singing in church, while Bunny and her brothers found comfort while visiting their aunts and uncles, who took them in from time to time. Whenever Bunny would ask her mother when would the boogeyman (the nickname they had for their father) would stop being mean, her mother would say “You don’t have to like your father, but you have to love him. Momma prayed for Daddy to be saved from God. Momma was more afraid of going to hell then she was of Daddy” Bunny writes of her mother’s decision to stay with their dad. Her mother’s prayers didn’t help his behavior improve; he became worse. In addition to drinking, he also verbally and physically abuse Bobby by calling him a sissy, and they affect made him act out by setting neighbor’s garages on fire, and attacking his younger brother James, who was their father’s favorite child. Perhaps the saddest act that happen was when Bunny started getting molested by her father whenever her mother was in church meetings and rehearsals, and like most children who was violated by an adult, she kept it to herself until her brother Bobby informed their mother, who promised that she would leave their father if she told the truth, and after learning what happened, she moved the family to Chicago, then Grand Rapids, but wound up returning after her father talked her mother into coming home. Bunny’s aunt refused to allow her to return to that environment and was adamant that she stay with her, and while Bunny was happy, she was sad that Bobby had to return home.
“I know how Bobby felt, but I could say nothing to console him” she writes about the pain she felt of not being able to protect Bobby.
“I put my arms around him and led him to the back of the house. We already knew what the outcome would be.” This would cause Bunny to have a strong dislike and mistrust of her mother, who she felt should have seen the signs and did more to protect her children. Bunny enjoyed the unconditional love she received from her aunts, uncles and cousin, but it was short-lived when her parents and brothers (who was probably coached) told her they missed her and wanted her to return home. Her Aunts and uncles refused, and they even went as far as to have Bunny tested to prove that she was molested, but when it came time for Bunny to have the final examination, she got scared due to the memory of her father’s violation fresh in her mine, so she returned home, but her uncle Bobby, who knew that his brother-in-law would slip up told Bunny that if he her father hits her and leaves a bruise, call him ASAP and they would take care of him.
“I knew in my heart that was a matter of time before Daddy went back to his old ways” Bunny writes about her uncle’s plans to give her father a dose of his own medicine. “So I actually prayed for Daddy to hit me. I actually looked forward to it.” A few days later, her father stuck both Bunny and her mother, who had finally stood up to him, and when Bunny contacted her uncles Bobby and Norman, they flew over to her house, and gave her father an long overdue ass whipping, that had him crying and begging for mercy.
“Eterlene and the children moved way up here to get away from you. Now you’re here doing the same thing you did here” Bunny’s uncle Norman said as he whipped his ass. “See how it feels, man? Don’t feel good, huh?”
That was the last time that Bunny and her siblings were ever struck by their father, but they would have a hard time forgiving him causing them to have emotional issues that would stay with them for many years. They began to find comfort by performing and creating music. They would perform at their family’s church and school choir, but Bunny had grew tired of being restricted to the church and events that her parents (who had decided to divorce), so she began to rebel and attend dances, house parties and pursuing boys, capturing the attention of Kevin, a high school senior-college bound student, who though was jealous of Bunny’s talent, had encouraged her to finish high school, and when he learned she was skipping school, dumped her, but later returned after she gave birth to their daughter. Things worked out good, but once Kevin began to see another female, she decided to not to chase him and she unexpectedly hooking up and marrying a guy from her brother’s former band, who loved Bunny and her child. It was during this time when Bunny began to seriously listen to music by Soul and Pop artists including The Jackson 5, Curtis Mayfield, Minnie Rippleton, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, who inspired Bunny to refocus on her singing and songwriting.
“I had this yearning inside me to write songs. The only singing I was doing was along with my records and I had this itch in me to sing somewhere besides at home” she writes about her passion to let her creative juices flow. “I had a void in my life and smoking weed and acting silly and listening to the albums on the record player wasn’t getting it.”
Bunny also writes about how her brother Bobby had moved to California to play in White Heat, a group that the late Barry White created, and dropped after one album, forcing the group to rebound as Switch, who got signed with Motown and scored several hits with “I Call Your Name,” “There’ll Never Be” and “I Wanna Be Closer.” She also shares how he became a confident man, and checked in on his family whenever he has a break from recording and touring. He also helped his brothers and sister score an audition with Jermaine Jackson, and while the group was happy, they were torn between singing deciding to either sing Gospel or Secular music. Bunny’s brother El decided that they was going to record love songs.
“We’re writing about love” Randy added. “And God is Love”
“I knew were El was going with this” Bunny writes. “He was saying it was okay for us to sing about love, that we didn’t have to feel condemned.”
Jermaine and his first wife Hazel was so impressed with what they heard and saw, that they offered them a deal and the opportunity to write and produce their own material, and history was made.
This book was very deep and sad, but it also displayed how Bunny was able to rely on God to help her during the trials and tribulations, and though I wished she would have made the book longer, it seems like the follow up is going to be filled with more joy and pain.
This review is dedicated to El DeBarge who's currently serving time in prison, and to the memory of Bobby DeBarge.