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.
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?