THE BOBBY DEBARGE STORY, will air on Saturday, June 29 at 8 P.M. ET/7C, followed by an encore presentation at 10 P.M. ET/9C
During the 70’s and 80’s, music became tangible footprints of pop, jazz, soft rock and R&B. Though there were many artists flourishing back then, where compositions were raw and original, there were only two prime families dominating the airwaves around that time. Their retro music is still sampled till this day. The Jackson 5 made their entrance in the 60’s and were already making a luminary name for themselves, but there was another group being shaped in the same image called DeBarge.
DeBarge launched themselves into the limelight during the latter part of the 70’s. Their soprano vibes combusted with soft and affective melodies. The members from DeBarge included brothers El, Mark, Randy, James and sister, Bunny. Bobby, also known as the falsetto king, and Tommy, joined the group after being in the popular band called Switch.
DeBarge released six albums, and four of them with Motown's Gordy Records: The DeBarges (1981), All This Love (1982), In a Special Way (1983), and Rhythm of the Night (1985). The Rhythm of The Night was the group's best-selling album, and the single featured on Black Kung Fu action flick, “The Last Dragon (1985).” It seemed all good, but with the windfall of success, came the downtrodden of their careers. The group split in 1986 when Motown offered Bunny and El solo deals. It’s said that due to Bobby, Mark, and Randy’s ongoing struggle with substance abuse, namely Bobby, Motown felt that El and Bunny were the safer bets for Motown.
TV One’s narration or recollection surrounds Bobby, who was the producer, writer and everything creative affiliated with DeBarge. He didn’t receive suitable recognition for his work due to all of the negative depravities that followed him throughout his musical career. Bobby died in 1995 from complications of AIDS, and that’s actually where his portion of the story stopped until now.
When speaking with the actors and movie execs behind The Bobby DeBarge Story, they were adamant in telling the accounts of Bobby’s rise, fall, and premature death from many angles.
“This was quite an experience and definitely something that’s going to go down in history, especially in my books,” shares Roshon Fagan about his role as Bobby DeBarge. “I was honored enough to have a great team, a great cast and a great crew, and everybody involved—TV One and Swirl, everybody that did their thing in this to truly bring it to life. This is definitely my first in-depth role like this. I had a quick in and out opportunity where I played the bad boy, but this is a little more in-depth where it comes to an actual story that happened. It is motivating. It’s newer, so I have to dive in and get to know Bobby and figure out what he was feeling and what he was thinking, and figure out my best way to portray it by being as genuine as possible. I’m super excited,” he finished.
Roshon made recurring appearances on the first and second season of OWN’s Greenleaf, where he executed the role of a disturbed woman abuser, Isaiah Hambrick. Viewers caught a glimpse of his stark performance, but nothing as harrowing as being Bobby DeBarge. “I never played a role this deep, for sure,” Roshon said. “It did take a lot of prep. I felt that watching him perform on stage, on YouTube all day… I looked at every video [that] I could, and I tried to find stuff that wasn’t easy to find. I saw a lot of times where you could see a lot of the pain and stress he was going through even in his performances, and even though he was so graceful in everything he was saying. He was totally in love with his music. I knew something else was going on and with that being said, I just listened to the music and put myself in his shoes, and really just did my best.”
Big Boi [Outkast], who plays Berry Gordy in the film, he also talked about his character. “It was a great feeling of stepping into the shoes of Barry Gordy. It was kind of like a master progressor of being music, and coming up under the likes of LA Reid and LA Face Records, being the Motown of the South. We kind of watched him, and knowing what Berry Gordy brought to the game, with me, myself running a label… I had to put myself there. It felt great watching Roshon do Bobby. It was powerful.”
While embodying the role of Barry Gordy, Big Boi said that he had to be balance the gangster and the label exec. “He wasn’t a bad guy. He was definitely a firm handed, talented producer, and mogul, that had an ear for talent. I put myself in his shoes of discovery.”
Tyra Ferrell plays Etterling DeBarge, Bobby’s mother. Tyra is known for her prowess and powerful portrayals in many urban movies, and more specifically, Boyz in the Hood. Playing Etterling DeBarge might’ve been more phlegmatic since her characters are usually brassy. “I was very excited in playing this role,” she said. “I wanted to be very careful and not judge Etterling. I think so many people underestimate the difficulty of being a mother, and to have ten children, one after the other, year after year. This had to bring so much distress and dysfunction in the home, so I’m willing and ready to talk about that and show her in the best light possible under such horrific circumstances. But, yes, such a genius of a family. What is remarkable is that one family could contain so much talent and while judging the power of that as a mother, Etterling was more than just a homemaker, and we can talk about that later.”
Blue Kimble (Tommy DeBarge) agrees that this movie is one that truly highlights the honor and legacy of the DeBarge Family, the good as well as the questionable eras.
Adrian Marcel, a singer, who’s playing, James, confirmed, “It was already exciting. It put me on a certain focus. When I got the part of James, it was almost like having to find those past emotions and things that I’ve been through that kind of relates, and getting into those shoes, to add my thoughts that they are family and they are legacy. I think that my first movie, playing another artist and in the music scene, I think that’s something that I’m very blessed to be a part of. It was meant [to be], I think everybody’s going to see the entire cast and the work that they put in."
Lloyd, the standout R&B singer said that it was an amazing experience playing Gregory Williams, who is founder of the Group Switch. In fact, Lloyd describes it as an out-of-body experience, and an exceptional opportunity to play an unspoken legend, Gregory Williams. With Lloyd being in the music industry himself, he can relate to his characters drive and passion, even as a new actor in the game.
Director, Russ Parr, played basketball back in the day. He’d go and shoot some hoops at the park, and unbeknownst to him, “SWITCH” would be balling on the court as well; so, with that small background along with public information about the iconic family, it was a long-established honor to work on the project.
The stereotypes that haunted many celebrity families storming from the 50’s throughout the 90’s surrounding abuse, alcoholism, drugs and child molestation, were true, and especially for the DeBarge lineage. The head of the household, Robert DeBarge, a white man of French descent, loved and hated their black mother Etterlene, for her melanin skin. Yet, he continued to procreate, and raise this huge dynasty of a family with her. Those kids felt the wrath of his loathing in more immoral ways than one. Whatever abyss he brought into that household, the DeBarge kids suffered those unspeakable pains through their adulthood, and that is what contributed to their demise as entertainers, every last one of them.
Traveling Back in time to tell the story:
“First, I’d like to echo what everybody was saying,” says James Seppelfrick, Executive Producer for TV ONE . “There was a great energy on set to start with and even from beginning in pre-production. There are a lot of unique personalities in the family. There are a lot of stories to be told, and I think the toughest part was, what to tell, and what to leave up to other people to tell. Russ had to go through a deep process with the writer, “Norman,” I’m sure, before we even got a hold of the project. We had to do a lot and take a lot from Etterlings book, and a lot of the licensed pieces that we have and obviously doing the public research of information and stuff that’s already out there through interviews—Deciding to do conversations with people [and determining] what’s real and what’s not real. I got on the phone with Terri, Bobby’s wife, and had a real detailed conversation with her. I think the challenging moments in the beginning were just, ‘What [are we going to use] to make this 84 minute movie, and what are we going to miss?’ I think that was the tough part of the logistics. Outside of that, I think taking it back and going back in time, our wardrobe department did an amazing job.”
James said that the locations were important as well when considering backdrops reminiscent to the dialectical elements of the 70’s and 80’s. Karen Peterkin, Director of Programming for TV One, revealed that the story is nothing more than a chronicle of sex, drugs as well as rock and roll. Viewers should definitely tune in.