Etterlene "Mama" Abney DeBarge Rodriguez (born October 13, 1935) is a gospel singer, songwriter, and matriarch of the famous singing DeBarge family group. 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 and their struggles under the glare of the spotlight.
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 kid, 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, Sr., a man of French-Canadian and English descent from Cicero, Illinois. 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 18-year marriage:
- Daughter Etterlene DeBarge, better known as Bunny, was born on March 15, 1955.
- Son Robert "Bobby" DeBarge, Jr., was born on March 5, 1956 and died on August 16, 1995 of AIDS complications.
- Son Thomas DeBarge was born on September 6, 1957.
- Son William DeBarge, better known as Randy, was born on August 6, 1958.
- Son Mark DeBarge, better known as Marty, was born on June 19, 1959.
- Son Eldra DeBarge, better known as El, was born on June 4, 1961.
- Son James DeBarge was born on August 22, 1963.
- Son Jonathan Arthur DeBarge, better known as Chico, was born on June 23, 1966.
- Fraternal twin daughter Carol "Peaches" DeBarge, was born on June 5, 1970.
- Fraternal twin son Darryl "Young" DeBarge, was born on June 5, 1970.
She has dozens of grandchildren, several of whom are involved in the entertainment industry. They include:
- Adris DeBarge, daughter of El DeBarge. She is an executive assistant for producer Tracey Edmonds.
- Andrew DeBarge, son of Tommy DeBarge, was born on September 28, 1989 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His debut album, Your Place, was released in 2008.
- Cheyanne DeBarge, daughter of Chico DeBarge, is an aspiring actress.
- Kristinia DeBarge, daughter of James DeBarge, was born on March 8, 1990 in California. She appeared on 2003's American Idol spin-off American Juniors.
- Eldra Patrick DeBarge Jr., son of El Debarge. His debut album, Welcome to the Lion's Den, is scheduled for release in late 2012.
- Bobby DeBarge Jr., son of the late Bobby DeBarge is an aspring singer.
Switch and DeBarge
In 1975, Bobby and Greg Williams left Grand Rapids to start the funk-soul band, Switch (Tommy later joined the band), who 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 and El 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 Darryl released his first solo album last year 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 gospel album, A City Called Heaven. She is known affectionately by her grandchildren as "Mama D". She currently enjoys her grandchildren and lives in California.