The R&B and soul music ensemble Debarge, named for their shared surname, comprises the children of Robert Louis DeBarge, Sr. from Chicago, Illinois, and Etterlene Louise Abney DeBarge Rodriguez, a singer from Royal Oak, Michigan. The seven brother and sister individual members of the ensemble are composer/lyricist Etterlene “Bunny” DeBarge, born March 10, 1955, composer/countertenor Robert Louis “Bobby” DeBarge, Jr. born March 5, 1956, vocalist William Randall DeBarge, born August 6, 1958, and percussionist/lyricist Mark “Marty” DeBarge, born June 19, 1959. Principal vocalist Eldra Patrick “El” DeBarge was born on June 4, 1961, vocalist James Curtis DeBarge was born on August 22, 1963, and pianist/vocalist Jonathan Arthur “Chico” DeBarge was born on June 23, 1966. After the separation of Debarge’s parents in 1974, the mother and children relocated to Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1975.
Debarge achieved success in the 1980s, starting with their debut album, The DeBarges, released by Gordy Records in 1981, and their second album, All This Love, in 1982. In 1983, the family ensemble released the album, In a Special Way which featured the compositions of Eldra DeBarge who also produced the album.
The group’s 1983 single, “All This Love,” reached no. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and remained there for 19 weeks. Their second 1984 release, “I Like It,” peaked at no. 31 and remained charted for 17 weeks. In 1984 the group released two singles, “Time Will Reveal,” which peaked at no. 18 and stayed charted for 21 weeks, and “Love Me In a Special Way” which peaked no. 45 and stayed on the charts for 11 weeks. The following year, 1985, “Who’s Holding Donna Now” peaked at no. 6, but “You Wear It Well” only reached no.46 and “The Heart Is Not So Smart” peaked at no. 75.
“Rhythm of the Night,” a single from the album sharing the same name, Rhythm of the Night released on the Motown label in 1985, reached no. 3 on the R&B chart and remained on charts for 22 weeks. It was their highest-charting single in the United States and their only million seller. The single’s success was partly attributed to it being on the soundtrack for the film, the Last Dragon.
In 1987, DeBarge released the album Bad Boys which had only modest success. After that DeBarge members began to leave the group often to pursue solo careers. The first to leave was Bunny DeBarge.
In 1991 the remaining members of DeBarge released Back on track, on the Truth Ministries label. The gospel album did not sell well. The Debarge’s also released six compilation albums.
Pianist, composer and singer, Robert Louis “Bobby” DeBarge, Jr., the eldest male of the DeBarge clan, died on August 16, 1995, in Grand Rapids of AIDS-related health complications at age 39.