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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 an author having memoirized the biography, 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.


Early years

Born Etterlene Abney on October 13, 1935 in Royal Oak, Michiganmarker, she was one of twelve children, has a twin sister and is of African-American and Native American ancestry. When she was a kid, her family moved to the Brewster-Douglass housing projectsmarker, located in the east side of Detroitmarker. In 1952, she met a former Army veteran named Robert DeBarge Sr., a man of French-Canadian and English descent from Cicero, Illinoismarker. 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, Michiganmarker where Etterlene's brother owned a Pentacostal church. However, Etterlene later recalled that their marriage was troubled by domestic violence. Robert DeBarge also reportedly physically and sexually abused some of his elder children. Bunny DeBarge later recalled that the abuse stopped after Robert DeBarge was confronted by Etterlene's brother and beaten up in a brawl. Shortly after that, Etterlene divorced Robert DeBarge sometime in 1971. Etterlene later married a second time to George Rodriguez, a Puerto Rican, leading to the rumor that the DeBarge family was half-Hispanic.


  • Robert and Etterlene DeBarge had ten children during their 18-year marriage:
  1. Daughter Etterlene DeBarge, better known as Bunny, was born on March 15, 1955.
  2. Son Robert "Bobby" DeBarge, Jr., was born on March 5, 1956 and died on August 16, 1995 of AIDS complications.
  3. Son Thomas DeBarge was born on September 6, 1957.
  4. Son William DeBarge, better known as Randy, was born on August 6, 1958.
  5. Son Mark DeBarge, better known as Marty, was born on June 19, 1959.
  6. Son Eldra DeBarge, better known as El, was born on June 4, 1961.
  7. Son James DeBarge was born on August 22, 1963.
  8. Son Jonathan Arthur DeBarge, better known as Chico, was born on June 23, 1966.
  9. Fraternal twin sister Carol "Peaches" DeBarge, was born on June 5, 1970.
  10. Fraternal twin brother Darryl "Young" DeBarge, was born on June 5, 1970.


She has dozens of grandchildren, several of which are involved in the entertainment industry. They include the following:

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 hits "There'll Never Be", sold over one million copies starting 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 collaborating 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, Etterlene, a deeply religious woman, released her first album with several members of her family in the gospel album, Back on Track, under the DeBarge Family moniker. In 2005, she released the gospel album, A City Called Heaven on her own record label. In 2008, she added biographer to her list of hats releasing the autobiography, Other Side of the Pain. She is known affectionately by her grandchildren as "Mama D", a name she has constantly used. She currently lives in Grand Rapids, Michiganmarker.


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