She gained prominence during the 1960s for the song “He’s a Rebel,” a No. 1 American single in 1962, and was one of the Phil Spector artists who produced a celebrated Christmas album in 1963.
As a minister’s daughter, she grew up listening to gospel music and was a dedicated member of her church in San Antonio, Texas.
She began singing in her church choir at age ten. During choir practice she caught the attention of choir director Cora Martin.
After singing for Martin she was asked to go to the Music Mart where she sang and did some broadcasts; Love’s career began there.
As it was her first musical experience, it was also the main influence for her to pursue a music career.
Those who knew her described her vocals as “a voice of a nightingale.” She claimed, “(Singing in the choir) was a big influence on her life.
She began singing with her local church choir in Hawthorne, California.
While still in high school (1957) she was invited to join a little-known girl group called The Blossoms, who in 1962 began working with producer Phil Spector.
With her powerful voice she was soon a highly sought-after vocalist, and managed to work with many of the legends of 1950s and 1960s rock and soul, including Sam Cooke, Dionne Warwick, The Beach Boys, Elvis Presley, Tom Jones and Sonny and Cher; Darlene and the Blossoms sang back-up for Sharon Marie (Esparza) (a Brian Wilson act), as well as John Phillips’ solo album John, Wolfking of L.A., recorded in 1969.
In the 2013 Oscar-winning documentary 20 Feet from Stardom, Love revealed that she had signed with Spector as a solo artist after the success of “He’s a Rebel”, and had recorded “He’s Sure The Boy I Love” with the impression it would be released as her first single as a solo artist.
However, Spector instead used Love’s recording and released it as the newest single for The Crystals without informing Love.
She only learned of the switch when she heard a DJ on the radio announce that the single was “the newest Crystals record”.
In the ’80s the singer branched out into acting, appearing in the Lethal Weapon films and the Broadway show Leader of the Pack.
She also recorded two solo albums.
Long respected as one of the top vocalists in pop music, Love finally received long-overdue recognition in 1993, when a show based on her career, Portrait of a Singer, opened in January at New York’s Bottom Line club.
Love performed weekly in the long-running show.
In 1996 she participated in the revue 20th-Century Pop with Merry Clayton and Marianne Faithfull.
She continues to perform around the country, garnering critical praise for her annual holiday show, Love for the Holidays.
Of her early years, Love describes LA. “In the thirties and forties [as] a city that existed mostly in people’s imaginations….
But for us, Los Angeles had nothing to do with movie stars or stubbly, hard-drinking gumshoes trying to piece together broken dreams after hours.
For us Los Angeles was contained in about twenty blocks, bookended on one side by our projects and playgrounds and on the other by church.
”Darlene’s epiphany came one day at the age of 40 when she decided she was tired of her vocals being “used as an expensive accessory” to other artists.
Her determination to begin her solo career in midlife came after working at a dry cleaner and as a maid in Beverly Hills.