Twenty Feet from Stardom's Darlene Love on Phil Spector, Singing Like a Soldier, and Starting Over at 71
Twice, Darlene Love had to stop midverse, dropping the microphone to her side in frustration. She was coming through the speakers scratchy and thin, this only hours before she was to sing at the premiere of a documentary about her voice.
RADiUS-TWC Darlene Love in Twenty Feet from Stardom.
"We could do five sessions in a day, and each session could be three hours," she tells New Times the next morning about the beginning of a singing career that has spanned more than five decades. "Eventually, we started taking Saturdays and Sundays off. We had to. We were the girls," she says with a shrug. "But if you're good enough, you start getting known."
She's being modest. Darlene Love was the most powerful singer in Phil Spector's Wall of Sound productions and has sung on records with everyone from Buck Owens to Bruce Springsteen. For 27 years running, Love's performance of "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" has been a holiday tradition on David Letterman's talk shows. She's a legend among American vocalists but largely unknown to the average American. Her nearly endless misses with fame and success are detailed in the documentary Twenty Feet From Stardom, opening at Regal Cinemas South Beach this Friday.
On the afternoon of the film's opening-night gala at the Miami International Film Festival in March, however, something wasn't right. She stood alone on an otherwise empty stage at the Olympia Theater, an instrumental recording of "Lean on Me" surging all around her. She sipped water and looked up at the swirling projections of night sky on the theater's ceiling.
"Sorry," the sound technician told her as he took the microphone from her. He adjusted some settings and handed it back. His apology carried across the theater as he tried to whisper to Love: "We have a lot of singers here. But I don't think we've ever had any that can sing as loud as you."
"That happens quite a bit when I don't have my own sound guy with me," she laughs the following day. "I just happened to be blessed with a very powerful voice."
But when her career began in late-'50s Los Angeles, she often had to mask her vocal power. She was the leader of the Blossoms, a group whose members quickly became known for being able to tailor their voices to any genre of music. They sang on records with Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, Paul Anka, and Jan & Dean. Brian Wilson used them to fill out the Beach Boys' sound on "In My Room" and several other classics.