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El DeBarge seeking a second chance, will be at Center Stage Oct. 28

Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas of TLC fame stopped by the green room to greet El DeBarge before his For Sisters Only appearance Sept. 12, 2010. PHOTO CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas of TLC fame stopped by the green room to greet El DeBarge before his For Sisters Only appearance Sept. 12, 2010. PHOTO CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Since the late 1980s, El DeBarge saw his career crumble under a haze of cocaine and heroin. Just last October, he ended a 13-month stint in prison over drug possession.

But at age 49, the singer with the sweet falsetto voice is forging an unlikely comeback.

Known in the 1980s for his role as lead singer of DeBarge (”Rhythm of the Night,” “All This Love”) and solo artist (”Who’s Holding Donna Now,” “Who’s Johnny”), he signed a deal earlier this year Interscope Records. (He was set to open for Mary J. Blige Saturday at Chastain Park Amphitheatre but recently pulled out and changed his tour dates. Instead, he is going to be at Center Stage October 28 at 8 p.m. Tickets go on sale for $24 at noon Friday.)

DeBarge’s current single, an emotional ballad appropriately titled “Second Chance,” quickly jumped into the top 20 on the urban adult contemporary radio charts. Locally, Atlanta powerhouse R & B/hip-hop station V-103 has given the song plenty of spins and invited him to perform at its recent For Sisters Only conference at the Georgia World Congress Center. (see below)

“Second chance is in the air,” he said in an interview before the concert. “It was in the atmosphere. My manager saw it. Interscope saw it. I clearly saw it. It was God who gave me a second chance. I’m living again. It’s joyful just to feel pain, even to cry.”

Prior to the concert, DeBarge nervously walked around the green room, doing vocal exercises and sipping hot tea with honey to sooth a sore throat. He autographed a few copies of a recent cover story about him in Ebony magazine.

“They managed to make me look good on that cover,” he mused. The last time he recalled being on that magazine cover? “Before they invented dirt!” he joked. “A long time.”

DeBarge said his drug problems began in 1986, at age 25, during the peak of his career. He first tried pot, then moved to heroin and crack cocaine. By 1994, after his final solo album with Warner Brothers, he said drugs “became my reason for living,” not music.

It wasn’t until he landed in jail in 2008 that he broke the addiction.

His big public reemergence was a spirited, surprise performance at the BET Awards in June where T.I. is seen swaying to “All This Love.” “It was awesome  for me,” he said. “I turned around in that stool and people were screaming and joyful and passionate toward me. I used that to strengthen me.”

Unlike some high-profile artists, drug problems have not damaged his voice. He can still hit the high ones.

“My whole energy level was weak during the whole drug period,” he said. “My strength came back full force after I got off from drugs. By the grace of God, my voice is still here.”

Here’s part of my interview with him. (I did some more off camera.)

El DeBarge (right) meets up with Al B Sure! and V-103's Ryan Cameron backstage at For Sisters Only.

El DeBarge (right) meets up with Al B Sure! and V-103's Ryan Cameron backstage at For Sisters Only.

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11 comments Add your comment

Rodney Ho

September 28th, 2010
9:10 am

DID NOT READ

Norman Smiley

September 28th, 2010
9:12 am

Wow, hard hitting news here. Giving the people want they want! MORE EL DEBARGE NEWS PLZ!!

Atlantian

September 28th, 2010
10:08 am

He’s not that popular to be pulling out of tour dates especially with The Queen of Hip Hop Soul, Mary J. Blige. Debarge, don’t start burning bridges yet. You are asking for a “second chance” right. Just like Chilli.

ChippersLoveChild

September 28th, 2010
1:30 pm

Who is El DeBarge?

Mr G

September 28th, 2010
3:22 pm

Good for him, nice to see him get his life back on track. I was a fan back in the day, nice to see him back….

tweetybird358

September 28th, 2010
5:09 pm

Noooooooooooooooooo, I like Mary J Blige but I especially bought tickets to see El Debarge. Please say it isn’t so.

FeFe

September 29th, 2010
10:30 am

I totally agree with Atlantian! I grew up on DeBarge and was truly anticipating seeing him this Saturday at Chastain. For him to pull out at the last minute, especially when his fans were anticipating his appearance is a TOTAL BUMMER. In addition, learning that he is doing his ‘own’ show at Midtown when I’ve just spent over $100 for Chastain really STINKS! Don’t get me wrong, I am a Mary fan, but I have seen her several times, and was most anxious to see El. That really, really makes me upset. Especially when folk are saving for events like this and to be disappointed at the last minute. It really STINKS! Did I say that already?

Allthislove

September 29th, 2010
11:52 am

Love this video Rodney and El Debarge is still fine…… Could have done without the loud laughing in the background!! Can’t wait to see him in concert!

Judi

September 29th, 2010
5:23 pm

I am so disappointed that El pulled out of the Mary J. Blige concert at Chastain Park Oct 2. Like FeFe, I too spent over $100 JUST to see El live. Mary is cool, but I paid that kind of money to see El DeBrage! (*Sigh*) I’m a bit devastated right now because I’ve waited so long to see him perform live…and my heart was set on this concert date. Of course, I’ll get tickets for the Center Stage performance because I love his music just that much. But in the future, El and his management should REALLY be careful not to disappoint die-hard fans (like me) who would be more than happy to give him second, third, and fourth chances (if necessary)– let alone “fair weather fans” who could take or leave him. It’s just not good business. El’s been absent for a long time and I want him to turn this comeback into a permanent stay. So let’s tighten up the business side of things, El. There may have been a good reason for the last minute cancellation, but I just wish it had been resolved before we got our hopes up (and before we got those tickets).

Judi

September 29th, 2010
5:24 pm

Excuse the misspelling of El’s name in the post above…I know it’s “DeBarge”

Fly-47

October 3rd, 2010
9:14 pm

El DeGarbage…HA HA HA….