The secret weapon of Phil Spector's Wall of Sound, Darlene Love was among the most famous little-known singers in 1960s rock 'n' roll. As the leader of studio backing vocal group The Blossoms, Love spent the 1960s singing on hit singles by artists ranging from Sam Cooke and Dionne Warwick to The Beach Boys and Sonny & Cher, but the lack of credit afforded to studio musicians in that era meant that her name was little known beyond the cognoscenti. Love's biggest hit, the 1962 #1 smash "He's A Rebel," wasn't even released under her name: Spector released the single, recorded by The Blossoms in Los Angeles, under the name of his already-successful New York-based girl group, The Crystals. But as rock 'n' roll matured, Darlene Love took her rightful place in the music's history, including a leading role in the hit documentary about the world of backing singers, "20 Feet From Stardom" (2013).
Love was born Darlene Wright on July 26, 1941 in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne, where she began singing with her church choir as a teenager. She joined The Blossoms in 1958, replacing founding member Nanette Williams, and was chosen to be the group's lead singer. Though The Blossoms recorded several singles under their own names for various labels between 1957 and 1972, none of them were successful; however, the group quickly established themselves as the most prominent studio backing vocal group in Los Angeles. They began working with producer Phil Spector in 1962, recording background vocals on tracks for The Crystals and The Ronettes. Later that year, Spector recorded "He's A Rebel" with Darlene on lead vocals. There are conflicting reports as to why the producer chose to credit The Crystals. One theory holds that Spector was in conflict with the group, particularly lead singer La La Brooks, and wanted to send a message that they could be replaced; another suggests that Spector was anxious to beat a competing version by pop singer Vicki Carr onto the charts.
A follow-up single, "He's Sure The Boy I Love," was also released under The Crystals' name. Darlene and fellow Blossom Fanita James, along with male singer Bobby Sheen, were also drafted into Spector's new vocal trio Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans; three of their singles reached the charts in 1962 and '63, with Darlene singing lead on two of them, "Not Too Young To Get Married" and "Why Do Lovers Break Each Other's Hearts?" It was during this era that Spector gave Darlene Wright the new name Darlene Love; her first solo single, "Today I Met The Boy I'm Gonna Marry," hit #39 on the Billboard chart in 1963. A later single, "Wait Till My Bobby Gets Home," was slightly more successful, reaching #26. Late that year, the holiday album Phil Spector Presents A Christmas Gift For You was released, featuring what would become Love's signature song, the holiday perennial "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)."
Although Spector produced several more singles for both Love as a solo artist and The Blossoms, none of them charted, and The Blossoms left Spector's Philles Records in 1964. Subsequent singles on other labels did not chart, although the singers continued working steadily as studio pros. They also appeared on television as part of the house band backing guest stars on the weekly pop series "Shindig!" (ABC 1964-66) and supporting Elvis Presley on his legendary comeback TV special "Elvis" (NBC 1968). The Blossoms also took part in the first major rock 'n' roll concert film, "The T.A.M.I. Show" (1964) supporting Motown star Marvin Gaye.
Love left The Blossoms in 1974, spending several years working as a housekeeper around Los Angeles. In the 1980s, she began an acting career with an appearance in the period musical "The Idolmaker" (1980). Her most high-profile film roles came in "Lethal Weapon" (1987) and its three sequels, in which she played Trish, the long-suffering wife of Detective Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover). She also appeared in several Broadway and Off-Broadway musicals, including the jukebox musical "Leader of the Pack," the John Waters adaptation "Hairspray" and a revival of the 1950s period piece "Grease." In 1986, she began an ongoing tradition with late night TV host David Letterman, performing "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" every December, initially on "Late Night With David Letterman" (NBC 1982-1992) and later on "The Late Show With David Letterman" (CBS 1993-2015). Darlene Love was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010, three years before "20 Feet From Stardom" introduced her to a new audience.