Robert DeBarge Sr., patriarch of the DeBarge family Dies


You may not know Robert DeBarge Sr. but if you grew up during the ’80s, or even if you are just a fan of soul music, you have probably heard of the musical group DeBarge. 

With R&B soul tracks such as “Rhythm of the Night” and “Love me in a special way”, the Motown-influenced family band seemed to have it all, the voice and the looks. 

robert DeBarge

According to their mother Etterlene, the DeBarge siblings had music in their DNA.  She recalls that her father, a choir singer, was a deeply talented and entertaining musician.

Etterlene had 10 kids, who became famous musicians in the 1980s. The DeBarges might have taken after their grandfather talent-wise, but their father Robert Loius DeBarge Sr. had the largest impact.

Robert DeBarge’s Family Background

Robert was born on July 9th, 1932 in Cicero, Cook County, Illinois, United States of America. He was the son of John DeBarge, born in the year 1902 in Indiana.

John DeBarge’s father, Arthur, was an immigrant from France, and his mother Mary Blane West was from either Indiana or Illinois – she was documented as being born in both states in different censuses. 

John DeBarge married Frances who was born in 1904 in Illinois. Frances’s parents were both from the USA.

Together John and Frances had 11 children, George DeBarge, Carol DeBarge, William DeBarge, John DeBarge Jr. Frances DeBarge Jr. Ronald DeBarge, El DeBarge and 5 others including Robert.

Robert was raised in a middle-class household. He attended the Chicago public school system. After graduation from high school in 1949, he enlisted with the Army and served during the Korean War until his discharge in 1952. 

Robert DeBarge’s Marriage 

In 1953 Robert met his first wife Etterlene. He was 21 years old at the time, four years older than her.

The couple got married and settled in a predominantly black area of Detroit. But things did not work out well for the young couple rather went downhill pretty fast. Interracial marriages at the time were neither common nor widely accepted and the DeBarge family paid the price.

When Robert landed a truck driving job in Detroit, he was fired from it by his employers because he was married to a black woman.  Nobody knew the impact this had on Robert. But it was evident Robert only became more hostile to his wife. 

According to Etterlene, Robert tormented her physically and emotionally, even keeping her continuously pregnant.

He was also insanely jealous of her and did not want her to look pretty. He ordered her never to wear makeup, jewelry, wigs, or anything else that would attract the attention of another man. He even demanded to know the names of any man who would try to speak to his wife. 

Robert and Etterlene had their first child in 1955, “Bunny” DeBarge, and the second one, the late Robert Louis “Bobby” DeBarge only a year later.

They had 8 more children together in the years to come namely; Thomas Keith “Tommy” DeBarge (b. 1957), William Randall “Randy” DeBarge (b. 1958), Mark “Marty” DeBarge (b. 1959),  Eldra Patrick “El” DeBarge (b. 1961), James DeBarge (b. 1963), Jonathan Arthur “Chico” DeBarge (b. 1966), Carol “Peaches” DeBarge (b. 1970) and Darrell “Young” DeBarge (b. 1970).

The Hostile childhood of the DeBarge children

Etterlene’s children had horrific memories of their father. “My father sexually and physically molested a lot of my brothers and sisters,” Chico DeBarge told Vibe.

The second-born son, Bobby was the quietest and most sensitive.  He was Etterlene’s most favorite of the children and his father was jealous that he took all her attention. Because of his demeanor, he allegedly took the bulk of the abuse, but all the children suffered equally. 

Bunny would later recall years of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse at the hands of her father, stating that he had started molesting her when she was 7years old and this carried on until she was 13.

Bunny blames the siblings’ woes and struggles on the rough childhood they endured living with their father. Robert Sr. denied ever abusing his family, but something certainly scarred them for years to come, even leading them to a life of drugs and crime.

The results of the hostility at home

Bobby DeBarge was the first of the siblings to succumb to drugs (in his case, heroin).

age 15, he became addicted and years later of substance abuse found himself in problems with the law.  It is not surprising that he turned to drugs at a young age for solace. His father was notorious for being domineering and physically abusive to his family. 

In 1988, Bobby was sentenced to 5 years in prison for drug trafficking. He later died at 39 years old of complications from HIV/AIDS contracted in prison.

Bunny DeBarge, the only female member of DeBarge, once stated that she doesn’t hate her father, that she had a way of blocking things out of her mind. 

She was lucky enough to fight back her drug habit in rehabilitation.  She managed to do so after she intentionally sought a relationship with God.

Robert’s ministerial appointment, divorce, remarriage, and death

In the late 1950s, after Randal “Randy” DeBarge was born, Robert received his license to minister and later became a devoted member of the Bethel Apostolic Temple in Miami, Florida. 

Robert and Etterlene remained married for the next 20 years until she divorced him in 1970 with the help of her brothers. They left him and moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan. 

In their marriage, around the time Mark “Marty” DeBarge was born, Robert had started an affair with another black woman, Barbara.

They had two children together, Chantell DeBarge and Deathra DeBarge. So after the divorce, Robert married Barbara and remained with her until his death on August 30, 2009. He was buried in the Parkview Cemetery in Wayne County, Michigan. 

A lot of details about Robert DeBarge Sr.’s life remain hidden, but his abusive character is paramount as witnessed through the narration of his children shows that he was not a good father to the family and his negative influence on his family is reflected in all the negative aspects of his children. 

Most of Robert DeBarge Sr.’s story revolves around negative events which involved him physically and emotionally traumatizing his family. 

The stories about Robert’s abuse of his children emerged when they were young.  They probably are the reasons behind the dark shadow that followed the family, causing the demise of their successive careers. Yes or No, who knows? 

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  1. I liked Mr. DeBarge. Met him in 1972. The most outrageious “shouter” (spirit dance in holiness churches) for a white man that I’d ever seen.

    He was very nice, hyper and funny kind of guy. I had no idea about the abuse allogations until later. That was sad to hear. But you must admit, he and Sis. Etterlene made a batch of beautiful and talented kids that achieved world acclaim in the field of music.

  2. uhmm , this is what i have to say about him .. i nevah liked him .. and his lies .. but i forgave him .. but i wont never like him but i forgive him but dont like him what the cause and trouble he has cause and done to the debarge family .. if it wasnt for him they wouldnt be going through what they going throught now .. drugs .. abuse.. jail .. prisonn.. this sh** is all of his fault .. im not gone be happy he dead.. but i forgave him long time agoo… it sad that he died butt… it was good while he lasted in the worldd… also , im soo happy that the lovable debarge family is doing good off the addiction doing good .. and open there hearts up to our creator GOD!.. as me as well …. im glad they accomaplish good … the new gernartion is doing good also …. love debarge!

  3. To jasmined:

    NO ONE can make you do drugs and other ill things. A person CHOOSES to do those things. Grant it, Mr. DeBarge Sr may have caused his family some psychological or emotional pain, but that does not excuse anyone for turning to drugs, going to prison, etc. I have had ALOT of horrible things happen to me in life, but I NEVER turned to drugs, alcohol , or anything other than God to take away the pain. With the their [DeBarge Family’s] spiritual upbringing, they should have known better. I realize that we all make mistakes, but it is time for the DeBarge family to admit that they CHOSE to do drugs.

  4. no matter what mr debarge was their father, and as life goes u take the good with the bad, most dad don’t stick around,i am 49 and have never met my dad, i realize mr debarge did some things that were bad to his family. but at the same time moma d did not have to stay with him no matter how many kids she had, it’s time to for give him and move on and don’t blame him for his kid’s drug problums, we know what we do when we do drugs, no one make’s u do it but u, i know cause i use to used. i don’t any more, so good luck debarge family,

  5. To : Fionna Walker

    Uhm , excuse Me …. depression leads to drugs .. and of course that leads to prison. you have Your Own opinion and I have Mine’s.

    • Right
      You don’t know what’s in a persons heart/mind at the time they are going through psychological trauma Lots of drugs and alcohol become friends you don’t have in those troubling times.

  6. It Seems You Guys Don’t Knw What Your Talking About. Cause You Have NOT I Repeat HAVE NOT Gone Threw it .. So First of all Please Dont Comment And Feel It’s Right. Cause Its Not. Cause You read What He’d Done , But Have You Actually Gone Threw It? NO You Havent It. So , Let’s Just Please Keep Our Comment’s To Our Self. Of Course It Was There Choice But , Following On To the Pain And Awful stucture This Man Has Caused. And I Repeated Like #3 ? Times.. I FORGAVE—> ? HIM! But Had To Let My Opinion Out. And Uhm , Not To Be Rude But I Could Care Less How Old You Are… You Still Don’t Know What They Been Threw. You Read —> ” Heard It”, But Haven’t Been Threw It. So Before You Talk And Comment On Other People’s Opinion , Please Make Sure You Actually Gone Threw What They Went Threw The Past! Please Have A Pleasent Day.?
    RIP?Robert DeBarge Sr.,

  7. Rest in peace, Mr. DeBarge. May God have mercy on your soul.

    Thank you for your contributions of producing some children who are tremendous musicians and singers.

  8. People do not realize that what a child experiences in the early years is a total reflections of the future years. Meaning that if you are molested as a child by your father of all people, it is and will have a drastic change on your life. If it has not happened to you, you cannot say what the affects would or would not have lead you to do. It was not his abscense in their lives that did the damage, but if the molestation allegations are true it definitely could, would, and did lead to devistation to his children.

  9. I agree 100%, Diamond, and that is something which affects more people than we realize. Molestation is a terrible thing and usually leads one into becoming sexually active at a very early age as well as other undesirable things.

    That is something that Mr. DeBarge will have to answer to God about but let him who is without sin cast the first stone. My hope and prayer is that the whole DeBarge family will, in due course, learn to forgive and hopefully forget.

  10. I feel that robert debarge sr should b held totally responsible 4 what the debarge family went threw in the past and also what there still going threw it was very nasty and dicusting what he did to all of his kids and I think he is the blame 4 bobbys death !

  11. Mr. Debarge Sr. was a terrible father to have done the things he did…He abused his family mentally, emotionally and physically and abandoned them as well, from what I’ve heard and read…He is the reason that the Debarge children have suffered the way they have…Mama Debarge, on the other hand, kept her family together and did the best she could, on her own after he left, to make sure they had what they needed to survive…It’s unfair to blame her for anything…This family is extremely talented and they were at their peak in the eighties, but their glory days were cut short because of internal family problems, including drugs, the death of Bobby, etc…I’m glad to see that El is making a comeback…Someone with his looks and talent should not sing but do some acting as well…I think that, pound for pound, El is a better vocalist than Michael and Prince, and he’s more handsome as well…He really should’ve and could’ve, and still can, achieve what Michael and Prince did…Robert Debarge Sr., may God have mercy on your soul.

  12. I wish people would refrain from judging others and this case Mama De Barge. You don’t not know the circumstances. My daughter got pregnant and I had no idea even though there were signs — after I looked back on the scenario. First thing, for no reason I suddenly quit my job at a radio station thinking to myself that I needed to take better care of my family. Then I immediately went out and got lots of vitamins, placed them in the center of the breakfast room table and demanded the entire family take them. We went camping, to the Beach, visited relatives in northern CA and she went along with us, She spent a couple days with her grandmother in Hollywood. During this time she was wearing this Caftan thing which we all made fun of. She constantly wore this thing but the worse I thought was that she had some mental quirk. She even wore it on the beach. To top everything, when I took her school shopping at end of August she couldn’t find anything that she liked (I never went into the dressing room — I just continued to take possible things to her). I was exasperated that she didn’t like anything any place that we tried and when we returned home I told her dad how frustrated I was with her. Prior to first day of school her dad and I went shopping and she asked us to drop her off for a job interview which we did. Now,on first day of school, her 10th year, she left home as usual and I thought nothing till she did not come home on time, so I jumped into my car and went over to the school. Since it was the first day it was chaotic and the office wasn’t able to tell me if she had even arrived. I went back home and told her dad then called her older sister who was at work. Her sister reluctantly told me she may have gone to the job where I had taken her for interview (she knew about the pregnancy but her sister had sworn her to secrecy. My mind went back to the place where I dropped her off so her dad and I jumped into the car and headed over there (I barely remembered where the place was). I had not asked questions when we dropped her off there, but I remembered I thought at the time that the place looked like one of those old rambling L. A. homes of earlier days, and there was no name on it. Anyway, my husband stayed in the car while I went inside. Upon entering and looking around I saw all these pregnant girls and my mind is just swirling and I blurted out to the lady at the desk: “What kind of place is this?” That question cracked everybody up and they were laughing and saying: “oh nobody here is pregnant”. Then and only then did I finally get a clue. I was oblivious until that very moment. The person at the desk told one of the pregnant girls to go upstairs to get my child. I guess my mouth was open all that time until I saw my 15 year old daughter slowly coming down the stairs still wearing that Caftan and I softly asked: “are you pregnant?” I was crushed. I then took her by her hand and started pulling her to the front door. As I reached the front door, the lady at the desk shouted: “You have to sign her out”, and I shouted back to her that I did not sign her in and I would not sign her out. I open the door and started shouting to my husband, “this girl is pregnant”. Both of us looked at each other incredulous, looking all silly and baffled.

    I tell you my story because all my family jumped on me saying I was lying by saying that I did not know. Something, God’s Holy Ghost, must have intervened and caused me to quit my job because my child needed medical help. So all those things that I was obviously led to do, upon leaving my job must have helped because she and her son came out OK. I just never suspected a thing but you can read all of the signs in my story above. Not everyone is the same. Some people are always suspecting something or look for bad things, but some of us are naive and don’t see evil in everything. The Lord was obviously trying to get me look deeper but my child had never given me any reason to think badly of her.

    Even my mother fussed at me but I reminded her that she had spent several nights with her — so why didn’t she see something. My mom was with us on some of our outings with the Caftan and like the rest of us, she thought nothing. No one know how they will act before/unless they have a personal situation that requires looking into. We did not keep her closeted while she was acting weird, we visited many people and relatives and everyone laughed at the Caftan in the hot summer time. All of us just thought she was acting weird. Suddenly quiting my job, without a known reason, and buying all those vitamins and cooking up a storm did not seem weird to me until I found out she was pregnant and I immediately took her to the doctor and the baby was born about a couple weeks later.

    Mrs. De Barge did not have to be aware of what was going on. I KNOW THAT IT CAN HAPPEN. For some reason some people are sometimes blind to what is going on all around them. Only God knows why. Most of all, remember what God’s Word says about judging oths. That is His job.

  13. “Train up a child they way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it”…Proverbs 22. Although they went through valleys, in their older years they have returned to their Christian/spiritual roots. So, mama DeBarge did do something right. From hearing her children speak, NONE of them would appreciate the disrespectful bashing of their mom that has been posted here, and rightfully so! Judge not, they ye yourselves be not judged and, as some said here in their posts, stop throwing stones because none of us are without sin. None of us are ‘perfect’! No, not one.

    In my humble opinon (IMHO), Eldra is being used by God as a shining example of God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness. Thank God El himself recognizes this and is boldly speaking out about his own pitfalls by using his life as an example. God is good and can do anything, but fail. Seeing El and hearing him speak in various venues, gives me joy in witnessing God’s light on him through the vast change in him. Gone, indeed is the cocky ego which has been replaced by a gentle humbleness. Although El shamefully gave God no choice but to take him down from that mountain top into the depth of the valleys, God kept his hand on him. Listen to his words of peace, love and forgiveness. Look at the DeBarges love and bond for one another after all they’ve been through both publicly and as children non publicly…including their mom!

    I don’t believe anyone of us would care to have every single thing about our private lives flashed across the public airwaves via radio, tv, print and internet for every Tom, Dick or Harriet to voice their 2cents worth.
    Until you actually walk in that persons shoes step for step….stop the hateful blaming and finger pointing.

    Mama DeBarge did the best she could do at that time under circumstances which were much different in those days. Their dad also had circumstances unbeknown to those outside of the family, which triggered his questionable behavior. Amazingly, back to Proverbs 22, their son, Bobby Jr. requested to see his dad when on his own deathbed. The family said their dad, R. DeBarge, Sr. obliged and through a flood of tears, whispered into his son Bobby, Jr.’s ear words that only Bobby, his dad and God knows. Perhaps the words he whispered to his son, allowed Bobby, Jr. to RIP. Only God knows. May they both now RIP and may God keep them all in the palm of his hands as they strive to fulfill a clean life.

  14. I dont have any thing good r bad to say about a person who would harm children who couldnt protect themselves.I pray that God has not forgot those kids and he will stick to his word that he gets the revenge on judgement day.Bobby rest in peace.To the dad theres no cold water where he is going..


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