Bobby DeBarge (born Robert Louis DeBarge, Jr.; March 5, 1956 – August 16, 1995) was an American singer, songwriter, and record producer. He was the eldest member of the Motown R&B vocal group Switch. He was also a mentor and -producer of the band DeBarge, which was formed by his siblings.
DeBarge was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Etterlene DeBarge (née Abney) and Robert Louis DeBarge, Sr. His parents were both singers who had performed together as part of a gospel quartet called The DeBarge’s. Bobby’s siblings Mark, Randy, Eldra, James, Elgie, and Bunny were also members of the group. The DeBarges recorded two albums for the gospel label Light Records, but they are best known for their work with Motown. The switch was formed in 1976, and signed with Motown in 1978. The group had several hits including “I Call Your Name”, “There’ll Never Be”, and “You’re the One”.
In 1985, DeBarge began working on a solo album, but it was never completed. DeBarge struggled with drug addiction for many years. He was arrested several times on drug-related charges, and spent time in prison. DeBarge had a problematic life including substance abuse and repeated legal charges. His musical career suffered a crash due to all his personal problems. Bobby was married for five years to his wife Teri DeBarge from 1990 until his death. The two shared a wonderful relationship in spite of his troubled life and had two children together. After contracting HIV in 1995, he passed away in hospice at the age of 39.
Want to find out more about the life of the Switch vocalist and his influence in the R&B music world? The Lemony Blog brings you a sneak peek into the life of Bobby DeBarge with the details that you might often miss out on his bio, net worth, his wife and children, and the music he left behind for the world. So read on!
Bobby DeBarge Bio: The start of a troubled life
DeBarge was born in Detroit to Etterene and army soldier Robert. He was one of twelve children that the couple had in their 21 years of marriage. Later in life, Bobby spoke about his abusive father which resulted in a tough childhood for the DeBarge kids. After their parents’ divorce, Etterene and the family moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan. Bobby had always been a musician with a special talent in both vocals and instruments. He started performing with local bands, alongside his brother Tommy.
In Grand Rapids, Bobby met a fellow musician by the name of Gregory Williams. The two soon hit it off and brought together more Midwestern musicians. They auditioned for the background group of solo singer Barry White and created a small musician group by the name White Heat. In 1975, White Heat released their debut album. The group ran into tax issues soon after, though in 1976 they released another album under the name Hot Ice. In this album, entitled Pall Mall Groove, Bobby DeBarge was noticed particularly for the song “Please Don’t let me Go”. It was his soulful voice and falsetto vocals that made him so popular in the R&B music crowd. The song was a beautiful piano composition by DeBarge which saw three record labels in the years 1977 (Polydor/Germany), 1979 (SMASH Records, US?/Canada), and 2005 (Burnsdman Records Worldwide).
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Vocalist for Swift and other record labels
Though DeBarge started getting recognition for his music, his career did not progress. Hot Ice soon split up and Bobby returned to Grand Rapids, disappointed. Williams was in Akron with the remaining members of Hot Ice and tried to form a new group. Finally, after listening to a demo tape of the group, the Motown Records label expressed interest in signing them. The group consisted of Tommy DeBarge, Phillip Ingram, Jody Sims, Eddie Fluellen, MC Clark, and Arnett Hayes, and Gregory Williams. They called themselves SWITCH, as they had the talent of switching instruments in between performances. Williams called DeBarge back and he gave the music a second chance in search of stardom. However, this was also the time when DeBarge was deep into his heroin addiction but promised to get clean for his music.
Switch released their first album in 1978 with songs sharing leads and featuring all their instrumental talents. DeBarge sang some of his best numbers with the group included – “I Called Your Name”, “There’ll Never Be” and “I Want to be Closer”. DeBarge co-produced and wrote a number of Switch’s big hits and became a sensation for his multi-vocal octave and falsetto singing. He was a recording and performing star for many years after the first three albums of his group. Finally, in 1981, Bobby suddenly left Switch when he was offered a solo label by Motown records. The record finally came out in 1983 but failed to catch up. Bobby DeBarge never made it big as a solo artist and had to move back to producing records as a group. This time, he worked with his siblings to co-produce their band called The DeBarge’s. Bobby and his younger brother James shared vocals on the first album of the band.
In 1988, Bobby DeBarge’s career hit a sudden halt when he was convicted of drug trafficking in Grand Rapids and sentenced to a five-year prison sentence. When he came back from prison, he was struggling with AIDS and could not perform for long. His last musical production was “It’s Not Over” which was released independently. Unfortunately, DeBarge was not alive to see his last work gaining popularity.
Personal Downfall and Controversies
Bobby DeBarge blamed his rough childhood for all the bad decisions he made in his adult life. At 15, DeBarge was known to have started substance abuse which only became worse with time. He was quickly addicted to heroin and suffered lifelong for it. When he came back to Grand Rapids after the failure of Hot Ice, his drug problem was at its worst. With Switch being formed, he made a promise to his band to get sober and lived up to it for a few years. However, by 1981 DeBarge fell off the wagon and started using cocaine creating a rift within the group.
In 1988, he was caught on drug trafficking charges resulting in his prison sentence. He wrote several songs in prison, which would later become his last few songs. During this time, he also confessed to his family that he contracted AIDS. His bisexuality was discussed among band members and the illness went on to prove the rumors at the time.
Last days and Death
After being released from prison, he was sent to a hospice in Grand Rapids where he lived out his last days. Bobby DeBarge passed away on 16 August 1995 at the age of 39 due to AIDS complications. He is buried in Garfield Park Cemetery in Grand Rapids.
Marriage and Life with Teri
Bobby DeBarge had a public affair with La Toya Jackson and the two wrote songs for one another in their albums. But in 1984, the two split up and Bobby met high-school student Teri through his family circle. The two dated for a year before getting married in 1985. In spite of all his addiction problems and health issues, Bobby and Teri DeBarge were happily married and had two children, Christian DeBarge and Bobby DeBarge. Teri never remarried after his death and lives a quiet life today.
Bobby DeBarge’s Net Worth
His net worth was $1000 at the time of his death. He had lost most of his wealth to his addiction and prison sentence a few years before his death.
Facts About Bobby DeBarge
- Bobby DeBarge was the oldest of 12 children from Robert and Etterlene DeBarge’s marriage.
- Bobby DeBarge’s mother was a gospel singer in her days and encouraged all her children to follow their passion for music from a young age.
- Bobby and his brother Tommy first came up with the group Switch. The group brought in other members over the years and released 6 albums in total.
- Bobby’s older son Bobby DeBarge Jr. has been known to have the popular falsetto feature to his father’s voice. He featured in the 2019 movie “The Bobby DeBarge Story”.
Frequently Asked Questions about Bobby DeBarge
When did Bobby DeBarge release his first album?
Bobby DeBarge Released his first album with Gregory Williams in 1975. The group and the album were called “White Heat”.
Does Bobby DeBarge have children?
Yes. Bobby DeBarge has two sons, Christopher and Bobby DeBarge Jr.
What does Bobby DeBarge’s wife do?
Bobby’s wife Teri DeBarge is now a successful TV show and movie producer with her own production house.
When did Bobby DeBarge pass away?
Bobby DeBarge passed away in a hospice facility in Grand Rapids from AIDS complications. The year of his death is 1995 and he was 39 years of age.
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