Etterlene DeBarge

Etterlene DeBarge
Etterlene Louise Abney

(1935-10-13) October 13, 1935 (age 86)
Occupation Singer, songwriter
Years active 1950–present
Robert DeBarge
(m. 1953; div. 1974)

George Rodriguez
(m. 1980)
Children 10; including Bunny, Bobby, Randy, Mark, El, James and Chico
Family DeBarge
Musical career
Genres Gospel
  • Vocals
  • piano

Etterlene Louise Rodriguez (previously DeBarge, née Abney; born October 13, 1935) is an American gospel singer, songwriter, and matriarch of the American R&B/Soul vocal group DeBarge. She is also the author of Other Side of the Pain, which talked about her struggles in her marriage to her children's father and also documented her children's rise to fame as well as their struggles under the glare of the spotlight.


Early years

Born Etterlene Abney on October 13, 1935 in Royal Oak, Michigan, she was one of twelve children and has a twin sister. When she was a child, her family moved to the Brewster-Douglass housing projects, located in the east side of Detroit. In 1952, she met a former Army veteran named Robert DeBarge, a man of French and English descent from Cicero, Illinois.[1] Robert DeBarge's grandfather, Arthur DeBarge, immigrated from France.[2] The couple married in 1953 settling in a predominantly black section of Detroit, where they had ten children. In 1972, the DeBarges moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Etterlene's brother, Bishop William Charles Abney, Jr., pastored Bethel Pentecostal Church. Etterlene divorced Robert DeBarge sometime in 1974. She later married a second time, to George Rodriguez, a Puerto Rican, leading to the erroneous rumor that the DeBarge family was half-Hispanic. However, contrary to popular belief, they are not of Latino descent.


Robert and Etterlene DeBarge had ten children during their 21-year marriage:

Etterlene has dozens of grandchildren, several of whom are involved in the entertainment industry. They include:

Switch and DeBarge

In 1975, Bobby and Greg Williams left Grand Rapids to start the funk-soul band, Switch (Tommy later joined the band), which first went by the moniker, First Class. Eventually signing with Motown Records in 1978, the group's debut album, yielding the hit "There'll Never Be," sold over one million copies and started the DeBarge musical dynasty. In 1979, Bunny, Marty, Randy, El and James signed with Motown as the DeBarges and released their debut album two years later under the guidance of Bobby and Tommy, who left Switch that year to begin mentoring their siblings. A year later, in 1982, the group, now known as DeBarge, found fame with the singles, "I Like It" and "All This Love." They would go on to have several more hit singles, such as "Time Will Reveal," "Love Me in a Special Way" and "Rhythm of the Night," reaching R&B superstardom by the mid-1980s. Younger brother Chico became a solo success first with his 1986 dance-pop single, "Talk to Me," and then after a stint in prison, with more soulful singles such as "Iggin' Me" and "No Guarantees." El DeBarge also found solo fame in the 1980s with singles such as "Who's Johnny" and "Love Always" and collaborations on hits by Quincy Jones, Tone Loc and Fourplay. Etterlene's youngest son Darrell released his first solo album in 2005 continuing on the DeBarge name as various members continue solo careers.


In 1991, with the help of her famous children, Etterlene, a religious woman, released a gospel album, Back on Track, under the DeBarge Family moniker. In 2005, she released a second gospel album, A City Called Heaven. She is affectionately known to her grandchildren as "Mama D". She currently enjoys her grandchildren and lives in California.


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