For years, Darlene Love stood just shy of the spotlight.
The stardom that other powerhouse vocalists of the 1960s achieved to become household names and garner heavy rotation on the radio was always about 20 feet out of reach for her.
But ask Love, a backup singer and unsung vocalist on many popular tracks, and she doesn’t mind having stood behind Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra or the Righteous Brothers, filling the spaces in their music or underscoring their lyrics with her often ad libbed, always soulful sounds.
“Doing background was so much fun,” Love, 72, recalled. “The people we got to meet were stars and superstars… Sometimes I wondered why I stopped doing it to have a solo career.”
Still, there were moments that were less than fun and stripped of all glamour for a woman who Bruce Springsteen calls “the one woman wall of sound.”
It all culminated with a 1993 lawsuit Love filed against infamous producer Phil Spector, who denied the songstress credit and royalties for some of the biggest hits of the ’60s.
Often associated with The Crystals, Love is quick to clarify that she was never a member of the popular girl group. Instead, Spector recorded Love singing the next big hits in music, such as “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “He’s a Rebel.”
But rather than credit Love for her lead vocals, Spector slapped The Crystals’ name on the records.
Love said Spector would speed up the vocal tracks to make the more mature vocals sound like the teenybopper Crystals, a group that was also a product of his hit-making machine at the time.
Love then recorded “He’s Sure the Boy I Love” with Spector, who promised to release the track under her name. Again, he reneged and credited The Crystals.
In 1997, a jury sided with Love and awarded “the most over-qualified backup singer in the business” $263,000, an amount stunted by the statute of limitations. But it wasn’t the payout that was most satisfying for the songstress, who speaks frankly rather than bitterly about the experience.
“What was worth it for me was (a jury) telling Phil, ‘You are lying, you signed her as a recording artist,’” Love said.
Love followed up the victory with the publishing of her autobiography My Name is Love in 1998. It was reprinted earlier this year to coincide with the release of the documentary 20 Feet from Stardom.
The film, released in June, is about the voices that backed up some of the world’s most famous singers. In it, Love tells in her own words the story of the incredible career highs and shocking lows, including a stint cleaning houses in her 40s just to pay her rent.
The long-awaited dues continued coming Love’s way in 2011 when she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
And on Dec. 11, Love will be squarely in the spotlight when she takes the Centre for the Arts stage for a show of hits that will feature New York City’s “Christmas Queen” belting out “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and “All Alone on Christmas.”
Perhaps you’re not familiar with her name. But, you definitely know her voice. And that voice is better than ever.
Limited tickets for her Niagara debut are still available. Da Doo Ron RUN to get yours today.