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Love, I Hear

It wouldn't be Christmas without Hairspray star and legendary recording artist Darlene Love. logo
Darlene Love
(© Joseph Marzullo/Retna)
It really wouldn't be Christmas without Darlene Love. The legendary R&B singer is practically synonymous with the holiday, thanks to her many Christmas CDs, her annual concert, and her performance of her hit song "Christmas, Baby Please Come Home" on Late Night With David Letterman. Love stopped by TheaterMania recently to chat about her new Christmas CD, It's Christmas, Of Course, what's in store for her concert, the possibility of a year without Letterman, and her continuing role as Motormouth Maybelle in the Broadway production of Hairspray.

THEATERMANIA: So, how did you choose these songs? Did you go through hundreds and hundreds of choices?
DARLENE LOVE: Shawn Amos, this producer from Shout! Records, wanted to do a Christmas album with me. But he didn't want to do the normal Christmas album that I've already done over the years. I said okay, and he started sending me all these great Christmas songs that I had never heard in my life, from people like Tom Petty and Stevie Wonder, and I'd say yes or no. The only one we really knocked heads over was James Brown's "Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto." I thought "You've gotta be kidding me; you really don't want me to sing that. Nobody sings James Brown's songs." But then we went in and we did it.

TM: Do you have a favorite song on the album? Which one was the hardest to do?
DL: My favorite song is "Christmas Must Be Tonight" by The Band. The toughest was John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)." At first, I didn't know how we were going to do that one. Shawn didn't want to do it the way John did it, with the children singing in the background. So he decided to use my good friend Cissy Houston in the background -- but that didn't work out really well since it made it sound like too much. In the end, he used very little things of her singing duets with me. And it came out really good.

TM Did you count how many times you had to sing the word "Christmas" on this album?
DL: Not this time! It's funny, because my husband always says to me, "Darlene, you don't sing that word right." But there are many different ways you can sing "Christmas," depending on if the melody is slow or if it is fast or how you're feeling while you're singing. You don't always pronounce it the proper way.

TM: Why didn't you put your picture on the CD?
DL This was their idea. They just decided to do it that way to make it different from everybody else's CD.

TM: You're doing your annual holiday show at Jazz at Lincoln Center on Monday, December 17. Are you excited?
DL: My dream is to make this show a holiday tradition. People come to New York to see the Rockefeller tree and all that, I want them to come every year and see the Darlene Love concert, too. It's really grown over the years. We started at the Bottom Line in a 300-seat house -- it was really fun there -- and now we've moved all the way to selling out 1,200 seats at Lincoln Center. Maybe next year, we can do it for a whole weekend.

TM: What have you got planned for the show this year?
DL: We've got to keep it fun, because my girlfriend Patty Darcy Jones passed away this year and she was always a big part of my Christmas show -- in fact, she's been with me since we did Leader of the Pack at the Bottom Line. So we're going do a big tribute to Patty with slides of us. I used to take all these pictures -- people were scared when they saw me with the camera -- and now all the world will see why. Patty had so much energy; she just infused the stage. And sometimes she'd be singing and then think she was singing too much. But I'd tell her to just sing. This is our first chance to really do something to honor her.

TM: Who else will be joining you on stage?
DL: Annie Golden and LaLa Brooks -- she still sings and looks fabulous -- and Tevin Campell and Naturi Naughton, who play my kids in Hairspray. And of course Cissy, who brings down the house every year with "O Holy Night." We're actually trying to figure out a way to do "Christmastime for the Jews" -- the song I did with Marc Shaiman on Saturday Night Live -- at my concert this year.

Darlene Love in Hairspray
(© Paul Kolnik)
TM: The Writers' Guild strike means you may not get to sing "Christmas, Baby Please Come Home" on Late Night With David Letterman. That will be sad, won't it?
DL: Can you believe that 21 years later, I'm still singing that song? If you ask David and Paul Shaffer how long I've been singing it, they'll say 12, 13 years -- because they don't count when their show was on NBC. It will be sad if it doesn't happen. You know, all my friends have been saying to me "We don't want to see reruns. We want to see you live every year." I don't know how we do it, but we find a way to do it better every year. People stop me on the streets around this time of the year just to ask me what night I'll be on David's show.

TM: So are you still having fun in Hairspray after more than two years as Motormouth?
DL: Honey, I get to tell my life story every night. When I was in California doing Shindig with the Blossoms in the 1960s, they didn't want to sell my show because I'm black and the show was going national. I also had a relationship with a white man -- Bill Medley -- and now my son in the show is having a relationship with a white girl. So I find something to pull on every time I sing "I Know Where I've Been." A lot of the producers didn't want that song in the show because they thought it would be a letdown. But if they had kept that out, it would've just been another show without a punch.

TM: You get to work with so many different people on the show, since the cast changes a lot. Is that interesting for you?
DL: They've been changing the Ednas quite a bit lately, because I think some of the actors they had chosen, they get too good for the part. They get squeaky clean and that's not Edna. Now we've got George Wendt, and he's so good. When he walks across the stage he gets a laugh because he really can't walk in those heels. No one's ever gotten a laugh from walking across the stage. If he keeps it where it's not clean, he'll have the role a while. When we got Ashley Parker Angel, everybody knew him from MTV, so you would have thought the Beatles were on the stage from the way kids screamed. And now Lance Bass is there and everyone loves him.

TM Did you watch the movie version?
DL: Oh yeah, I went to opening night. I thought it was fun. But if you go see the play, you see everything that they missed.

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