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Monday, January 14, 2008

Bobby And The Debarge Family Legacy

Bobby And The Debarge Family Legacy

By Chance Kelsey, chancellorfiles.com

The Debarge family was one of the most successful R&B groups of the 1980s. Debarge consisted of brothers El, Randy, James, Mark, and sister Bunny. Even before the Debarge came out in the 1980s they had two older brothers named Bobby and Tommy who were members in a music group named switch. Bobby was the oldest of the Debarge children and Tommy was the second oldest. Bobby was the lead singer in the R&B group switch before he left the group. Bobby had a beautiful falsetto voice, and it was his voice that made switch so popular. El Debarge has a beautiful falsetto voice also, with his voice he helped make Debarge famous.More...

Bobby’s real name was Robert Debarge jr. named after his father Robert Debarge. The Debarge children are bi racial Robert Debarge Sr. is white and their mother Etterlene Debarge is black and Mama Debarge (Etterlene) said she also has some Native American ancestry. The Debarge children were born in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Bobby and his younger brother Chico Debarge along with two other accomplices were arrested in Grand Raipds, Michigan on drug charges in late 1980s. The prosecutor’s office accused them of selling drugs. Both were convicted and served 5 years in prison (some news reports say they severed 6 years). When Bobby and Chico got out of prison they both continued working on their solo music careers.

Bobby died of AIDS on August 16, 1995. In an interview Chico said that he believes Bobby contracted AIDS while in prison. That statement would implicate Bobby as haven engaged in Homosexual activity or used needles to inject the drug heroin or both while in prison. Now only Bobby really knew how he contracted the AIDS virus. What Chico said was just based upon his opinion. He is not saying that this is the exact reason but only a possibility.

Bobby also started doing drugs in the 1980s too. Bobby was such a great singer, and this is what we remember most about him.

 
  "Bobby went through a lot of pain," says Chico DeBarge of his oldest brother. "My father sexually molested a lot of my brothers and sisters. You could hear that anguish in Bobby's music." (vibe.com article titled – The rise and fall of the Debarge family – Episode 3)

Bunny Debarge said: "That may be our fault," says Bunny, unsurprised to hear her father's denials. "We never made daddy stand up. I don't hate my father, but he has a way of blocking things out of his mind." (vibe.com article titled – The rise and fall of the Debarge family – Episode 3)

Robert Debarge Sr. has denied he sexually molesting and abusing his children.

Etterlene Abney was 17 when she met the 21-year-old  Army soldier Robert Debarge at a Detroit skating rink.

Etterlene (mama Debarge) said: "At first I didn't think he would like me, because I was so dark," Etterlene recalls. "A white man with a black woman…we were a freak show." They were married in 1953, two weeks before he was shipped out overseas. Etterlene says she'd never known brutality in her life — until she wed. "Robert was very jealous," she said with a sigh, "and an extremely abusive father." They stayed together 21 years before divorcing in 1974. ." (vibe.com article titled – The rise and fall of the Debarge family – Episode 3)

Bobby Had a lot of inner pain and it seems based upon what Chico, Bunny, and Mama Debarge are saying about living with Robert Debarge Sr. a lot of that pain came from childhood. If Bobby was sexually molested by his father like Chico is saying it makes you wonder whether or not the alleged sexual abuse played a role in Bobby contracting AIDS. If Bobby got AIDS in prison, and it was not through using dirty needles to inject heroin and other drugs – then that leaves open the possibility of homosexual activity.

If the father did abuse Bobby sexually, then it would not be far fetched to see why Bobby would engage in Homosexual activity while in prison. Victims of sexual abuse sometimes when in certain situations act out by engaging in sexual activity. At the same time Bobby could have contracted HIV which eventually turned into AIDS from a female (or male if he was bi sexual) right after he got out of prison. There is also, the possibility, that he got it through using dirty needles to inject drugs right after he got out of prison.

Sometimes when a person contracts HIV it turns into AIDS rapidly, and some times it takes many years for HIV to turn into AIDS. Only Bobby really knew the truth, and if he told someone or people how he got AIDS, it is, those people whom he felt comfortable telling. They may reveal or not reveal that Bobby told them how he got it.

Bobby was not a bad person, he simply suffered in life like all of us, and myself included.

Bobby was a very sensitive young man according to those who knew him.

The Debarge children, their mother, and father know whether or not there was sexual abuse at the hands of Robert Debarge Sr. (the father). As for the rest of the world, we will have to take each member of the Debarge family for their words concerning the allegations. If Chico say Daddy Debarge sexually molested his own children we have to accept that because Chico was there in the house. Daddy Debarge said he never sexually abused any of his children then we have to accept his word unless some solid evidence outside of his children’s own words comes forth.   

El Debarge currently has 10 children; he had his first child when he was 14 years old. 

In 1990 El released the album titled Gemini, in 1992 he released the album titled in the storm, and 1994 El released the album titled Heart, mind, and soul.
    
Etterlene said that drugs are what paralyzed El’s music career for so long.

Through the mid to late 1990s El’s career had stalled, he did not put out any albums during this time period.   

El Debarge through the 1990s worked with various musical artist like Quincy Jones, David “DJ Quick” Blake and others.

  Etterlene said "Drugs happened," blurts Etterlene. "It's painful to talk about, but when El got into drugs, it just paralyzed him." The drug abuse masked deeper scars. "El was lonely without his brother [Bobby]," his mother continues. "He just couldn't deal with all the people in the music industry. He couldn't deal with their fakeness and people ripping him off. Motown had taken all his publishing, and they're still making money from those songs." His own financial needs were just the tip of the iceberg. According to Bunny, El sired as many as 10 children, starting from the time he was 14. He could do little more than to put all this stress into his music, but then one day the music stopped.
            

The Debarge Family is a part of America’s music legacy, and have brought us numerous songs that from the 1970s and 1980s that take us back into memory lane. Chico continues to have success with his music career, and is continuing the legacy that his older brothers and sister created. El is currently back in the studio working on a new album. Sometimes in life you have to go through the fire of life, and get tested by situations and circumstances that will mould you into who you are destined to be.      

VIBE.COM

AUGUST 29, 2007 @ 1:27 PM
The Rise and Fall of the DeBarge Family (Episode 1)
BY: MICHAEL A. GONZALES

Broken Dreams - Episode 1 of VIBE's DeBarge family feature, from the October 2007 issue.
The DeBarge family - El, Marty, Randy, Bunny and James, not to mention Thomas, Bobby, and baby brother Chico - were supposed to be Motown's follow-up to the Jacksons. But after a trail of dazzling '80s hits, behind-the-scenes drama threatened to bring the family down. From dating Latoya and Janet Jackson to allegations of sexual abuse and drug addiction - the DeBarge family has dealt with everything from prison time to AIDS. But even now, their music is still sampled by the likes of Diddy and Polow Da Don, and some of the DeBarges are trying resurrect their careers. Is it too late, though, to pick up the pieces? A story in four parts, from our October 2007 issue.

Episode 1.

The house lights dimmed on a humid summer evening in 1994, and El DeBarge floated across the cluttered stage of the now-defunct New York City nightclub Tramps.

"Respect to the old school!" screamed a drunk woman from the bar. El, then 33, gently grabbed the microphone and wrapped his feathery falsetto around a songbook of classic material from his family's R&B-pop group, DeBarge. Though he'd left the group in 1986, El opened with their heartbreaking 1983 hit "Stay with Me" (Gordy), which Sean "Puffy" Combs would soon sample for the Notorious B.I.G.'s 1995 smash remix of "One More Chance" (Bad Boy). As El sang, it seemed he was ready for another chance himself. Despite rumors that he was caught up in a fog of drug addiction, on this night, both El's voice and his wardrobe were sharp as nails.
An ex-child preacher at Bethel Pentocostal Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., Eldra DeBarge still knew how to work a crowd, baptizing the blissful audience simply by playing a few chords on his white keyboard. Born into a biracial - not hispanic, as many still believe - family of sublime vocalists, El was the brightest star of the eight singing DeBarge siblings.

DeBarge was part of Motown's second wave of soul-music stars after founder Berry Gordy Jr. fled the grit of Detroit for the glam of Los Angeles. Consisting of brothers El, James, Mark, and Randy, and their elder sister Bunny, the group was instantly transformed from Midwestern church singers into Right On! magazine teen dreams, complete with flashy 1980s fashions and beaming smiles. But by the late '80s, DeBarge's fame was fading.
Less than a decade later, El was in NYC to promote his new album Heart, Mind & Soul (Warner Bros.) and perhaps to make a new start. Except for the huge hit he had with Barry White, Al B. Sure!, and James Ingram of 1990's Quincy Jones-produced "The Secret Garden (Sweet Seduction Suite)," El had been off the radar for years. He was already a throwback in a world dominated by new jacks like R. Kelly and Jodeci, but no one could have predicted that H,M&S would be El's last solo release for 13 years.
At Tramps, El briefly closed his eyes and sang the tortured lyrics of "All This Love," a massive radio hit he wrote and produced in 1983: "I've had some problems," he sang. "And no one could seem to solve them." The poignant lyrics were a fitting synopsis of the turbulent life and times of the DeBarge family, the greatest story never told.
It began 1975, when Barry White fired a crew known as White Heat, one of his many backing bands, which included pianist/singer Robert "Bobby" DeBarge Jr., the second oldest of the 10 DeBarge siblings. The whole DeBarge family loved music. They'd sing on the radio in Detroit on Sunday mornings and perform at talent shows. Bobby's talents stood out.

"I've never heard anyone sound quite like him, and with so much ease," producer Bernd Lichters has said. "I knew I saw a star." Lichters worked with former White Heat members Bobby DeBarge and Gregory Williams (a schoolmate of Bobby's) to launch the pioneering soul-pop group Switch. Bobby co-wrote and co-produced much of the group's best music, but behind the good looks and dazzling talent lurked a tortured soul."I've never heard anyone sound quite like him, and with so much ease," producer Bernd Lichters has said. "I knew I saw a star." Lichters worked with former White Heat members Bobby DeBarge and Gregory Williams (a schoolmate of Bobby's) to launch the pioneering soul-pop group Switch. Bobby co-wrote and co-produced much of the group's best music, but behind the good looks and dazzling talent lurked a tortured soul.
Bobby's drug issues were common knowledge among the members of Switch, but his voice was too gorgeous to ignore. Still, Switch - which released five albums on Motown's subsidiary Gordy Records - almost bounded into the studio without his supple crooning. "I wasn't sure I wanted Bobby to be in the group because he was still on drugs," says Williams. But when a chance meeting in Los Angeles with Jermaine Jackson and his wife, Hazel (Berry Gordy's daughter), got them an audition with Gordy, Williams reconsidered. 

September 10, 2007 @ 1:12 pm
The Rise and Fall of the Debarge Family (Episode 2)
BY: MICHAEL A. GONZALES

Broken Dreams: Episode 2 of the DeBarge family saga. From our October 2007 issue.
The DeBarge family - El, Marty, Randy, Bunny and James, not to mention Thomas, Bobby, and baby brother Chico - were supposed to be Motown's follow-up to the Jacksons. But after a trail of dazzling '80s hits, behind-the-scenes drama threatened to bring the family down. From dating Latoya and Janet Jackson to allegations of sexual abuse and drug addiction - the DeBarge family has dealt with everything from prison time to AIDS. But even now, their music is still sampled by the likes of Diddy and Polow Da Don, and some of the DeBarges are trying resurrect their careers. Is it too late, though, to pick up the pieces? A story in four parts, from our October 2007 issue.

Episode 2

Bobby was determined to kick his habit before reaching Hollywood, sweating the junk out of his system on the Greyhound bus ride west from Grand Rapids. By the time anyone from Motown met him, Bobby was clean. Switch - which consisted of Bobby and Tommy DeBarge, vocalist Phillip Ingram, Williams, Eddie Fluellen, and Jody Simms - was offered a contract.

Released in 1978, Switch's self-titled debut featured the standout "There'll Never Be," which rode the Billboard R&B charts for 26 weeks, peaking at No. 6. The album went on to sell a million copies and formed the sonic template for future groups as diverse as Jodeci and Mint Condition.

"The night we wrote 'I Call Your Name' was a strange one," says Williams of the achy slow-jam, which was sampled in 2006 by Polow Da Don for Rich Boy's big hit "Throw Some D's." "Bobby was dating LaToya Jackson," Williams says, "and she was the only girl on his mind. One night, he started fooling around on the Fender Rhodes. I started singing along, and next thing you know we had a song. I'm not saying the song was written for LaToya, but they were in love, and Bobby couldn't wait to play her the completed song."

While Bobby was working on that second Switch album, Mark and Randy DeBarge visited Los Angeles to see what their brothers were up to. Before long Bunny, Mark, Randy, El, and James made the journey west. Lichters leased a five-bedroom house and took them to buy instruments. "Motown put us on salary, because we were starving," says Bunny by phone from Grand Rapids. "Because he'd lost the Jacksons, we became his pet project." Motown encouraged the DeBarges to fire their managers and sign with DePassse and Jones management, which was affiliated with Motown. They eventually agreed.

While family acts like the Osmonds and the Sylvers had become passe after the Jackson 5 left Motown in 1975, the acclaim of DeBarge's 1982 sophomore album, All This Love, inspired a new generation of brothers and sisters -like Five Starr and The Jets - to bum-rush the sibling scene. But DeBarge stood head and shoulders above the rest. Romantic, pop-friendly R&B jams like "All This Love," "I Like It," "Who's Holding Donna Now," "Love Me in a Special Way," and their biggest pop hit, "Rhythm of the Night," from the 1985 Motown film The Last Dragon (Tri-Star Pictures), made the group crossover stars.

But the DeBarge family was ill prepared for the challenges of celebrity. Back in the 1960s, when Gordy's hit factory was still run like a mom 'n' pop shop, the "old" Motown was renowned for artist development that included everything from dance lessons to etiquette classes. The label's 1972 move to L.A. killed that tradition. "Coaching? What coaching? I haven't been fortunate enough to have people around to show me things. I wish I did," El said to the Los Angeles Times in 1984. "Basically, I'm out there by myself."

That same year, James DeBarge, the second youngest of the group, married Janet Jackson. She was 18. He was 21. He was a rising star at Motown, and she was struggling to break away from a notoriously insular family. James met her because his brother Bobby was dating La Toya. "James and Janet started secretly seeing each other," says Bunny DeBarge. " Then they came to Grand Rapids and eloped. For the Jackson family, it was a nightmare. Nobody knew how serious it was, but they were so young." The marriage was annulled after several months amid allegations of James' drug abuse. It's long been rumored that Janet gave birth to a baby girl who was then raised by her older sister Rebee. All parties involved have denied the story for decades. "They say the kid's in Europe or that one of my brothers or sisters is raising it," Janet said in the May 2001 issue of VIBE. "But no, I've never had a child."

It was also in 1984, during DeBarge's four-month stint as the opening act on Luther Vandross's sold-out "Busy Body" tour, when the family discovered just how famous they'd become. This was the year of Michael Jackson's Thriller, Prince's Purple Rain, and The Police's Synchronicity, but DeBarge was driving their fans every bit as crazy as those household names. "Girls would jump onstage, pull out our hair, tear off our clothes, and sometimes scratch off our skin," says James by phone from California. "It got even scarier when we stopped off in Detroit to perform at a record shop. The crowd broke down the barricades and smashed the windows. We had to get a helicopter lift from the roof. There were a lot of Beatles-type moments."

Nevertheless, in the classic Motown tradition of separating powerful lead singers from successful groups - Diana Ross from the Supremes, Smokey Robinson from the Miracles, Michael Jackson from the Jacksons, Lionel Richie from the Commodores - it wasn't long before divide-and-conquer tactics apparently went down with DeBarge. "They made El think that he was better than his brothers and sister," says El's 71-year-old mother, Etterlene. "Michael was the star of the Jacksons, but I thought my kids made them look like crap," continues the woman who refers to herself - even on her MySpace page - as Mama DeBarge. Speaking by telephone from her home in Grand Rapids, Mama's voice is as soothing as peppermint tea, but she still harbors bad memories of Motown, which she's channeling into the book she's working on, titled The Other Side of The Pain. "Everything became about what Motown wanted, not what the kids wanted," she says. "My kids were fighting like enemies."
But according to Bunny, it wasn't just label troubles that derailed the DeBarge family's dreams of showbiz glory. "We weren't able to sustain our success because of our childhood," she says. On the surface, they seemed like a model family. But the parents' relationship was troubled. "Interracial marriage was still controversial and we were talked about everywhere," recalls Bunny. To make matters worse, Bunny says her father was "always fighting" with her mother. "Mom came from a loving, church family," says Bunny. "She wasn't used to people who were violent."

Even family friends could sense the trouble at home. "To put it simply," says Williams, who has known and worked with the DeBarges since they were all youngsters, "their father was psychotic."

SEPTEMBER 10, 2007 @ 2:46 PM
The Rise and Fall of the DeBarge Family (Episode 3)
BY: MICHAEL A. GONZALES

The Debarge saga, in four parts, from our October 2007 issue.
The DeBarge family - El, Marty, Randy, Bunny and James, not to mention Thomas, Bobby, and baby brother Chico - were supposed to be Motown's follow-up to the Jacksons. But after a trail of dazzling '80s hits, behind-the-scenes drama threatened to bring the family down. From dating Latoya and Janet Jackson to allegations of sexual abuse and drug addiction - the DeBarge family has dealt with everything from prison time to AIDS. But even now, their music is still sampled by the likes of Diddy and Polow Da Don, and some of the DeBarges are trying resurrect their careers. Is it too late, though, to pick up the pieces? A story in four parts, from our October 2007 issue.

Episode 3

Etterlene Abney was 17 when she met the 21-year-old  Army soldier Robert DeBarge at a Detroit skating rink. "At first I didn't think he would like me, because I was so dark," Etterlene recalls. "A white man with a black woman…we were a freak show." They were married in 1953, two weeks before he was shipped out overseas. Etterlene says she'd never known brutality in her life — until she wed. "Robert was very jealous," she said with a sigh, "and an extremely abusive father." They stayed together 21 years before divorcing in 1974.

"Bobby went through a lot of pain," says Chico DeBarge of his oldest brother. "My father sexually molested a lot of my brothers and sisters. You could hear that anguish in Bobby's music."

Robert DeBarge Sr. has a voice as dry as sandpaper. At 75, he's had three surgeries and breathes with the help of an oxygen tank. "She has the right to her opinion," he says of his wife's allegations of abuse. "I don't think that I was at all . . . I don't speak a lot against her becasue she's the mother of my children. There are a lot of things, for the sake of the children, some things are best for them not to even know." Now remarried, with one son who died in a car accident, he firmly denies abusing his children sexually or otherwise. "Ohh no, no no," he says, sounding shocked at the idea.

"That may be our fault," says Bunny, unsurprised to hear her father's denials. "We never made daddy stand up. I don't hate my father, but he has a way of blocking things out of his mind."

Robert Sr. was a trucker after leaving the Army. A religious man, he sometimes found time to play the piano. "I was musically inclined," he says with a laugh, "so the children couldn't help but be talented." Although he had split with "the boys' mother" by the time his children had moved to Los Angeles, he says he "wasn't tickled to death about it," preferring they further their education instead. He never thought Motown would treat them right. "I knew they would use them instead of being fair with them. Being in the limelight is a struggle," he says. "Here today, and gone tomorrow."
According to Bunny — who, like her mother is working on a book, ominously titled The Kept One — the DeBarge siblings' experience with drugs started early. She tried sniffing coke after the group finished its second album and eventually became dependent on pills. "It was the '80s — doing drugs was the thing to do," says Bunny, stressing that she never went to sessions high. "If you weren't doing drugs, you weren't in."

By 1987, Bunny had left DeBarge and was in a free fall. "I had no drugs to help me cover, no fame to hide behind," she writes in her forthcoming book. (Bunny has since kicked her habit, crediting her turnaround to her relationship with God). The following year, Bobby and Chico were convicted, along with two other accomplices, on drug conspiracy charges [see sidebar]. Chico's self-titled debut album had been released just two years earlier, and he should have been enjoying the success of his single "Talk To Me" (Motown, 1986). Instead, both brothers found themselves in jail cells serving five-year sentences. But the most tragic fall of all was Bobby's.

"Bobby was always very sensitive and withdrawn," says Williams, "and there was a lot of abuse at the hands of Mr. DeBarge. Heroin became his main way to escape." Though he stayed clean for a while, after the success of Switch II, Bobby began slipping. "He was back on drugs, and his ego was out of control," Williams says. "Bobby was going around saying, 'I'm Switch.'"
But Etterlene believes her son had simply outgrown the group. "There was a lot of hating going on," she says. "People might have bought Switch records, but they were really buying Bobby's voice."

Maybe he didn't need the band to show off his musical talents, but Bobby did seek refuge at his former bandmate's California home after being released from prison in 1994 with the HIV virus ravaging his immune system. "Bobby's last years were hell," Williams says. "He was separated from his wife and kids, and acting paranoid toward everybody. Bobby knew his life was basically over." He moved back to Grand Rapids the following year, and his family checked him into a hospice. After riding the heroin horse since his teens, Bobby died from complications of AIDS on August 16, 1995 at the age of 39. Taking his big brother's death to heart, El would never be the same.

SEPTEMBER 24, 2007 @ 2:45 PM
The Rise and Fall of the DeBarge Family (Episode 4)

The dramatic conclusion to the DeBarge Family Saga. From our October 2007 issue.
The DeBarge family - El, Marty, Randy, Bunny and James, not to mention Thomas, Bobby, and baby brother Chico - were supposed to be Motown's follow-up to the Jacksons. But after a trail of dazzling '80s hits, behind-the-scenes drama threatened to bring the family down. From dating Latoya and Janet Jackson to allegations of sexual abuse and drug addiction - the DeBarge family has dealt with everything from prison time to AIDS. But even now, their music is still sampled by the likes of Diddy and Polow Da Don, and some of the DeBarges are trying resurrect their careers. Is it too late, though, to pick up the pieces? A story in four parts, from our October 2007 issue.

Episode 4 - the conclusion.

Much was expected of Eldra. Like Bobby, El simply had it. Aside from his vocal talents, El was also a keyboardist and producer who seemed destined to run in the same company as Michael Jackson and Prince. But at his core, El was more tortured balladeer than mammoth pop star.

"I've seen him get to a special place while performing, and he'd just start crying on stage," says friend/collaborator David "DJ Quik" Blake from his Southern California home. "That's how powerful his music is."

Legendary producer Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, who did some production work on El's Heart, Mind and Soul, fondly remembers the days when his old group the Deele - which included drummer-turned-Island-Def-Jam-chairman Antonio "L.A." Reid - and DeBarge opened for Luther Vandross. "I was in awe of El back then," says Babyface, "and learned much about songwriting and performance from studying him."

El's solo track record is frustratingly short. Motown released his self-titled solo debut in 1986, featuring the lighthearted pop hit "Who's Johnny." A second solo album Gemini, was dropped (to moderate fanfare) in 1989. In 1992, he laced Quincy Jones' majestic "The Secret Garden (Sweet Seduction Suite)." El's first post-Motown disc, In the Storm (Warner Brothers, 1992), featured underrated collaborations with Earth, Wind & Fire leader Maurice White, a duet with Chante Moore ("You Know What I Like") and a chilling remake of Marvin Gaye's "After the Dance" with Fourplay. And while that stellar track was a hit on urban radio, the disc was a commercial disappointment. In 1995, Warner Bros. dropped El from the label. With the exception of supplying keyboards and background vocals on Chico's strong post-prison disc, Long Time No See (1997), and DJ Quik's 1999 Rhythm-Al-Ism, El hasn't recorded anything for public consumption in more than a decade.

So, what happened?

"Drugs happened," blurts Etterlene. "It's painful to talk about, but when El got into drugs, it just paralyzed him." The drug abuse masked deeper scars. "El was lonely without his brother [Bobby]," his mother continues. "He just couldn't deal with all the people in the music industry. He couldn't deal with their fakeness and people ripping him off. Motown had taken all his publishing, and they're still making money from those songs." His own financial needs were just the tip of the iceberg. According to Bunny, El sired as many as 10 children, starting from the time he was 14. He could do little more than to put all this stress into his music, but then one day the music stopped.

"Is this going to be a cover story?" El asked in measured tones the one time VIBE spoke to him for this article, in April 2007. The most accessible DeBarge brother, Chico, who was recording new material in a Times Square studio, had gotten him to the phone, if only for a minute.

"Not my decision," this writer replied.

"Well, call me on Monday," El said. "We can talk then."

After weeks of repeated phone calls that seemed to be ringing inside a black hole, it was obvious that El had no intention of talking to anyone. But there may yet be another chapter to El's story. The reclusive soul man has recently been spending time in a California recording studio with Babyface. Williams holds out hope for El's redemption, but a full-length interview is another matter. "Most of the time I can't even get a hold of him," says Williams, CEO of Switch Entertainment, who is also acting as El's manager. "But the voice is still there. El still has that gift."

Along with older brothers Bobby and El, the suffering "soul man" strain can still be heard in Chico's music as well. While Switch, DeBarge, and El may enjoy top billing in the DeBarge family's musical hierarchy, Chico's Long Time No See is a conceptual gem that recalls Marvin Gaye's 1978 Here, My Dear (Motown). When he signed to Kedar Entertainment, home of songbird Erykah Badu, Chico wasn't aware that he was creating such a memorable project. "Coming out of prison," he says, sipping a Grey Goose and cranberry in a Brooklyn restaurant, "my goal was to make music that would get me to the other side of the pain."

After the release of Chico's 1999 follow-up album, The Game, he and Massenberg parted company. "We both have very strong opinions," says Massenberg. "His ideas for The Game were corny; Chico wanted to be more bling and mainstream. We did manage to make one classic album, but sometimes Chico can be his own worst enemy."

It's 2 a.m. one Saturday in Times Square, and perfectionist Chico has spent the night working at Quad Recording Studios. Dressed in a fly sweatsuit and sneakers, he's just finished recording a new track called "Make You Feel Good" featuring rappers Jim Jones and Young Nic, which he plans to release on his own Innovator label as part of his new album, Lessons.

The heartbreak in Bobby, El, and Chico's music may have many sources, but part of it stems from having to always prove themselves worthy. The Jacksons are constantly  namechecked as the first family of R&B. But when it comes time to define the canon, the artistry and rich contributions of the DeBarge family has been unfairly kicked to the curb.

Slightly buzzed from a vodka cocktail, Chico glances out of the studio window and watches a taxi zoom down Broadway. "You know what us being in the studio tonight means?" he asks of no one in particular. "It means that the DeBarge story is not over. What my brothers and sister gave me was a beautiful musical legacy that has already been written in stone," he says. "Honestly, nobody can change that history." And that's a story, no matter how painful, that Chico intends to carry on.

But his mother takes a very different view of this latest DeBarge comeback attempt. "If I had to do it again, I would never allow my kids to be in the music industry," says a somber Mama DeBarge, who recently put a bunch of Chico's keyboards and recording equipment up for sale on eBay. "There are a lot of snakes out there," she observes. "And they bite real hard."

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