By Moira E. McLaughlin
Friday, December 11, 2009; WE06
If ever there was an ambassador for Christmas, it's singer Darlene Love.
"My favorite season of the whole year is Christmas," she says from her home in Rockland, N.Y. "People forget about me all year. In November, they remember."
Darlene Love may not be a household name, but chances are you know her. In 1963, she recorded the Phil Spector song "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." Since then the song has been covered by myriad musicians: U2, KT Tunstall, Joey Ramone. But Love's original version, with her wailing, emotive soprano, is a quintessential Christmas song.
Love, 68, a minister's daughter, grew up in Los Angeles. At 16, she started singing with the Blossoms. Under Spector's guidance, she sang such hits as "Today I Met the Boy I'm Gonna Marry" and "He's a Rebel."
Despite her soulful and uninhibited lead vocals, Love found success mostly as a backup singer, a job she loved. "Most singers can't do background. Truly they can't blend," she says. It's about enhancing the songs and working well with others, she notes. Love says little about infamous producer-songwriter Spector, who is serving jail time for murder. What she does say is, "I can work with just about anybody."
And Love has worked with just about everybody: Sam Cooke, Dionne Warwick, Tom Jones, the Beach Boys, Sonny and Cher. Love cut many hit albums, she says, just under other performers' names. She even sang backup for Elvis Presley's 1968 song "If I Can Dream."
In the 1980s Love went solo but found it hard to make the leap from background to foreground. She cleaned houses for a time to earn money. A move to New York, however, helped her career, and she started singing at such venues as Rainbow and Stars, Joe's Pub and the Bottom Line.
She got a break in the late '80s, albeit an acting one. The casting director for the 1987 film "Lethal Weapon" was a fan, and Love was cast as Trish Murtaugh, the wife of Danny Glover's character. She didn't even audition. "I couldn't hardly talk when they asked me," Love says. The director told her to play herself. Her character is loyal, strong, loving, family-oriented and driven. (In "Lethal Weapon 4," Trish secretly publishes popular trashy romance novels.)
Love got another break of sorts in the '90s when she won a lawsuit against Spector for unpaid royalties.
But Christmas has always been Love's big season. For 24 years, she has appeared on "Late Show With David Letterman's show to sing "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)."
"David fell in love with the song," she says.
In 1997, she recorded another Christmas song, "All Alone on Christmas," with the E Street Band; the track is featured in the movies "Home Alone 2" and the more recent "Love Actually." In 2007, Love released an album called "It's Christmas, of Course." Christmas is the only time she tours.
Today, Love is a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She is an author. She wrote her autobiography in 1998. And she is one of 12 musicians nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for 2010. "Everything in the right time," she says.
But she is still a minister's daughter at heart. "I celebrate Christmas because of Jesus's birthday," Love says. During the holidays, she volunteers at a shelter feeding the hungry, and she sings to sick children at a hospital.
"Do unto others as it's done to you," she says. "I'm always a believer that you have to give something back."
And this season, like the dozens before, she'll give back a little Christmas love.
DARLENE LOVE Appearing Friday at the Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center at Montgomery College with Ronnie Spector (see Spector review, next page), 51 Mannakee St., Rockville. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets: $35, http://www.montgomerycollege.edu/pac or call 240-567-5301. The Download: For a sampling of this artist's music, check out: From "Home Alone Christmas": "All Alone on Christmas" From "It's Christmas, of Course": "Christmas All Over Again" "Christmas Wish" Darlene Love