You may not know Darlene Love by name but there’s no doubt you’ll recognise her voice. One of the most prolific backing singers of the sixties and seventies, she appeared on numerous records including The Tracks of My Tears to That’s Life and sang on stage alongside the likes of Elvis Presley.
After a break from the industry she’s back, pursuing a career as a solo artist. She was one of the stand-out stars of this year’s Oscar-winning documentary Twenty Feet from Stardom, stealing the show at the star-studded ceremony with her on-stage rendition of His Eye Is on the Sparrow. Here she chats to RadioTimes.com about her career renaissance, the stories behind the superstars she sang for and why talent contests give singers false hope.
It’s been a few months since your Oscars win – has Twenty Feet from Stardom finally given you the credit for all your career achievements?
It’s really been great since the movie came out – so many wonderful things are happening. Number one, people are recognizing who I am now and what I did. A lot of people already knew the truth and now they don’t have to debate it anymore.
And you’ve got none other than Oprah Winfrey making a TV biopic of your life starring Toni Braxton. That must be exciting…
Yes, I kept saying when we won the Academy Award that I didn’t know anything else I’d be more excited about but now we’re doing this movie. I thought Toni Braxton was a great choice because a lot of what’s happened to her, the same thing’s happened to me. My thing is to try to keep it as truthful as possible. You always have to embellish to make the story more exciting but so much went on in my life I don’t know how much embellishing they’re going to have to do!
You worked with a plethora of famous faces during your time as a backing singer – who were your favourites?
There are a couple. The one stand out person would be Elvis Presley because of who he was. He was such a star – it was Elvis Presley. The other one would be Sam Cooke just because he was such a nice man and he just oozed sex. He was probably one of the sexiest men living during that time and Elvis was more the icon – he was the superstar that you just go, “Wow. I’m working for Elvis Presley.”
What was he like off-stage? Did he behave like a star?
Elvis was very introverted – very quiet, very shy – but what brought him out of his shyness was gospel music. He loved gospel music and because my background was so gospel, he would get his guitar and say, “Do you know this song? Do you remember this?” So that gave us a whole life together, even if it was for five minutes. That gave me a life with Elvis Presley that a lot of people would never have.
Were all the big stars you worked with as introverted?
Sometimes I think so. With the internet, with iPhones and with cameras, you really have to be careful of what you do, what you say, how you do it, where you’re going, who you’re going with because there’s no hiding anymore. How people talk about you and what you do – they follow your every move. Back in those days when Elvis was a superstar, they didn’t have all that. That’s the big difference.
Nowadays our music industry is filled with talent contests – do you think they’re a good or bad vehicle for young singers?
I think it gives people false hope. Even after they win, it’s hard for them to become stars. Look at Kelly Clarkson – one of the very few stars that became a superstar. If you don’t really have it, if all you have is just your time on The Voice or American Idol, you don’t really have anything – you have no background to make you a superstar. They can do all they want but if you don’t have it in you, if you’re not really a star, then you’re going to fall by the wayside. You’ll have it for a little while and then, boom, it’s gone. I won but it’s still a lot of work.
You had the star-studded Oscars audience on their feet thanks to your rendition of His Eye Is on the Sparrow (see above) – what inspired that song?
I found out the night before they wanted me to go up on the stage and say something to represent the ladies. The producer said, “why don’t you sing something?” I said, “Lord, give me a song.” That’s the song he gave me.
What advice would you give to a young backing singer just starting out?
The main thing I would say is you have to almost be better than we were because the music is so different now. It’s changed so radically and people use their band members. Unfortunately it’s so expensive now to be out on the road working that they’ve had to cut back so rather than using four background singers, they get their musicians instead.
Nowadays you’re out in the spotlight – is that where you’re happiest?
That is where I’m most comfortable. I’m really happy and thankful I’m working – it’s always something I’ve wanted to do. That’s my gift God gave me and I love using it and sharing it.
Twenty Feet from Stardom is released on DVD, BD and available for download from 21 July. Watch the trailer below…