A true national treasure, Darlene Love’s career has taken her from being one of the late Phil Spector’s go-to studio weapons to becoming the Queen of Christmas despite what all those Mariah Carey memes may say. Love’s 1963 classic “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” is not only a centerpiece of the storied holiday compilation A Christmas Gift To You from Phil Spector that came out the same year, but it has become a perennial favorite covered by the likes of U2, Michael Bublé and yes, even Carey herself. And to be sure, Love will be busting it out at her annual Darlene Love: Love for the Holidays show that has become as traditional as the Rockefeller Christmas tree lighting
This annual event has been going on for the past two decades-plus and evolved from similar shows she did at the Bottom Line in the ‘80s when she came East from her native Los Angeles. David Letterman was a fan who asked Love to first perform her signature Christmas song on his show back in 1986. It became an annual tradition that help birth the current full-blown show the 82-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer delights in performing every year.
“It’s amazing, because when I started doing Christmas shows, nobody but the Rockettes were doing Christmas shows,” she said with a laugh. “With this current show, I do my old songs. I tell my audience that I put them in a medley, but I do the whole song because back when we recorded all these songs—‘He’s a Rebel,’ ‘Da Doo Ron Ron,’ ‘He’s Sure the Boy I Love’—they were only a minute and half long. And we of course have our favorite Christmas songs that are in there. And I tell a lot of stories about the Christmas songs and what I’m doing. The more I talk it seems the more they love it because they get to know me better when you’re talking to them.”
Proving what’s old is new, old friend Cher not only recorded a new version of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” but asked Love to join her in recording in. What makes this all the more meta is the fact that then-17-year-old Cher (then known by her birth name Cherilyn Sarkisian) sang back-up vocals on the original version of the song. It’s an anecdote Love delights in recounting.
“Sonny Bono used to work for Phil Spector and he was dating Cher, who was called Cherilyn back in those days,” Love recalled. “Sonny would bring her to the studio just to be there—not to do anything, but to be there among all of us because we didn’t really care if people came to the sessions. One day, Phil asked Sonny if it was true that his girlfriend could sing. He said yes and I hadn’t gotten to the session yet and Phil called her in to do some ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ on ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’ and that’s actually how we started. She’s such a sweetheart. Whenever she talks about doing anything she says it’s because of Darlene Love that she actually is in this business because she had never sung before in front of a microphone and she had never been in a recording studio. I was amazed and thought that it was so wonderful of her to say that about me. The only problem was that her voice was so strong that Phil had to tell her to keep moving back. I said if he keeps backing her up anymore, she was going to be in the next room. But that made for a very lasting relationship over the years. I even went out on the road with her during the Heart of Stone tour as one of her back-up singers.”
As someone who cut her teeth singing in the choir of her pastor father’s church, Love was more than happy to share who some of her favorite vocalists are.
Marian Anderson (February 27, 1897 to April 8, 1993)
“The one lady I thought I was going to sing like and whose memory I cherish is Marian Anderson. I loved the way she sang. She walked out on the stage like, ‘Here I am.’ Her wonderful voice just filled up the whole room.”
Aretha Franklin (March 25, 1942 to August 16, 2018)
“I met her when she was 16 years old traveling with her father. I was just amazed by her voice. It wasn’t just churchy—it was gospel, it was rhythm and blues. It was whatever she wanted to sing—especially if she sat down at the piano. She was easy to know. She was very humble and a beautiful person when you walked into the room. We all clung to Aretha Franklin because she was one of a kind.”
Kelly Clarkson (April 24, 1982 to present)
“I met her in passing. She was getting ready to start her television show and we didn’t really have time to say hello that much, but I instantly knew that I would like her and her whole personality. We were in the hallway and she said, ‘Oh my God, Darlene Love.’ And I said, ‘No, no, no—Kelly Clarkson.’ I haven’t seen her since but I’ve watched her show that’s on television in the morning. I just love her whole thing—everything about her. Not just her singing voice, but her whole persona. Believe me when I tell you one day I will do her show.”
Darlene Love will be performing her Love For the Holidays show on November 30 at Town Hall, 123 W. 43rd St., NYC. Visit www.ticketmaster.com for more information or call 212-207-4100. She will also be appearing on December 7 at Landmark on Main Street, 223 Main St., Port Washington. Visit www.landmarkonmainstreet.org or call 516-767-6444 for more information. Love’s final New York appearance will be on December 17 at the Tarrytown Music Hall, 13 Main St., Floor 2, Tarrytown. Visit www.tarrytownmusichall.org or call 914-233-3856 for more information.