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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Darlene Love is not just for Christmas anymore

Darlene Love sings "He's a Rebel" last year.

Her big Christmas show tour out of the way, Darlene Love is ready, willing and able to rock ’n’ roll all year--which is why she returned once again in early January to B.B. King’s in New York after three SRO Christmas shows there in December.

Her gig last Saturday night was again scheduled to coincide with the annual Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) conference being held a dozen blocks up at the Hilton Hotel Midtown. Sure enough, there was a good number of booking agents, APAP badges in full view, in the audience, many of whom had booked Love previously and were there just to relax and enjoy the show if not book it again.

At his APAP exhibitor’s booth the next day, Love’s manager James Murtha spoke of his historic client’s career momentum in the four years he’s worked with her, not to mention her increased visibility following her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011 and her prominence in the Academy Award-winning 20 Feet From Stardom documentary about female backup singers--and her riveting a cappella performance at the 2014 Oscars ceremony.

Even then, said Murtha, “we first had to let folks know she was still alive!”

But after starting with a handful of appearances in various concert programs and benefit shows--and her annual Christmas shows made possible by her famous songs on the landmark 1963 A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector album, he’s now already booked 73 dates for the 2018-2019 season, with another packed holiday show schedule almost full.

The holiday shows were helped immensely by her 28-year run of singing her enduring hit from the Spector Christmas album “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” on Late Night with David Letterman--and her post-Letterman performances of the song on The View.

“We got lucky this year,” said Murtha. “Whoopi [Goldberg] continued the Letterman tradition on The View, and when Darlene was on to sing it last month, Jimmy Fallon was on the show that day, too, and immediately asked her to come do The Tonight Show the next day.”

With Fallon, The Roots and Anna Kendrick, Love sang “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” instrumentally backed with only classroom instruments.

“The next morning Rolling Stone, Entertainment Tonight and a dozen media outlets featured it,” said Murtha. This set the stage for her Saturday night APAP show at B.B. King’s.

“It was our third year of presenting her at APAP,” said Murtha. “We want her to play to that [professional] audience.”

Fifteen talent buyers had already stopped by his booth the day after.

“The San Francisco Symphony came over, and even Dollywood—which you might not expect,” said Murtha. “And others want her back, like Fort Lauderdale, which is annual for her now—three years in a row.”

A German Elvis Presley festival that Love played last year also wants her to do three more appearances—including a full Darlene Love show instead of just songs she performed with Presley (as part of The Blossoms backup vocal trio, she was in Elvis Presley’s ’68 Comeback Special and his 1969 movie Change of Habit), and is also communicating on her behalf with other European countries that likewise stage Presley festivals.

“Of course, she delivers,” Murtha said. “Without that we couldn’t do anything, and with it we can keep going as long as she’s willing to do so.”

Love’s APAP showcase started strong with two songs from her terrific 2015 Steven Van Zandt-produced Introducing Darlene Love album: Van Zandt’s “Among the Believers” and Elvis Costello’s “Forbidden Nights”—both written expressly for her. Of course she delivered her Spector-era classics like “He’s a Rebel,” “He’s Sure the Boy I Love” and “Wait ‘til My Bobby Gets Home,” all the while generously showcasing her own backup singers (Milton Vann, Baritone MacKenzie and 35-year Love background vocalist Ula Hedwig).

And as for her own backup vocal work, she did song tributes to two of her favorite male employers, Marvin Gaye (by way of “You’re All I Need to Get By”) and Elvis Presley (the Comeback Special’s gospel medley of “Where Could I Go But to the Lord,” “Up Above My Head” and “Saved,” which was such a bpg hit at the German festival that she’s kept it in her U.S. shows).

And while she rightly proclaimed that “Christmas is over,” she couldn’t not do “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” which she closed with.

“Not bad for 76!” said the septuagenarian after “He’s a Rebel,” and if anything, it was better than when she recorded it in ’62. And she didn’t look a whole lot older than she sang.

“God gave me this gift,” she said of her ageless ability, and thanks to APAP talent buyers, it’s a gift that will keep giving throughout 2018.



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