The Untold Truth Of Jonathan DeBarge

In the 1960s, Motown Records brought some of the greatest African American musical talents to the world. Artists such as Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, and The Temptations helped shape an era of music and became foundational for pop music throughout the rest of the decade. At the end of the 1960s, Motown arguably found its greatest artists with the Jackson Five. Fronted by a preteen Michael Jackson, the entire Jackson family would become stars throughout the 1970s and decades after.

While the Jackson family achieved music and pop stardom, Motown began to struggle. According to Funding Universe, top artists like the Jacksons, Diana Ross, and many others had left the record company by the beginning of the 1980s. The remaining artists who shined like stars in the 1970s began to take a step back. Motown instead relied on new talent, such as another family of musicians similar to the Jacksons, the DeBarge family.

DeBarge, like the Jacksons, had several early hits that made the members of the family into household names. Unlike the Jacksons, however, drug use ended up destroying the band, as told by the Michigan Chronicle. In the Jackson family, the youngest member was Janet Jackson, who became a bigger star than every other member outside of Michael. Jonathan "Chico" DeBarge was the youngest to go into show business, and his potential to mirror Janet fell when a drug arrest landed him in prison.

Jonathan DeBarge was billed as the next star

From early on, the young DeBarge child separated himself from the rest of his siblings. According to Musician Guide, Jonathan DeBarge was born in 1966, the 10th child of the family. While his older siblings formed the music groups Switch and DeBarge, Jonathan, who also went by a relative's nickname, "Chico," was too young to join. He instead cut his chops singing in the church choir. While in high school, Motown added the teen to the label with his siblings.

By the mid-1980s, the DeBarge family was already a household name in the music world with a string of hit singles. According to Black Past, in 1985, the group reached their zenith with their album, "Rhythm of the Night." The song of the same name became their highest-charting single. The next year, Jonathan released his self-titled debut album. Unlike his siblings, who sang in falsetto and songs more reminiscent of classic 1960s Motown, Jonathan's music had a funkier edge and his voice was that of a soul singer. Jonathan achieved stardom when his single, "Talk to Me," landed as a top 10 single on Billboard's R&B charts and in the top 20 on the pop charts, Live About reports.

Two years later, Jonathan released his follow-up album, "Kiss Serious." The album failed to chart a single as successful as "Talk to Me." The same year, he and his elder brother, Bobby, were arrested for drug trafficking.

Jonathan's trouble with the law and substance abuse

The 1988 arrest of Jonathan DeBarge marked the end of the DeBarge family's pop success. According to Live About, the two brothers were not the only members of the family having trouble with drugs. Siblings Randy, Marty, Tommy, and Bunny DeBarge were reportedly dealing with alcohol and drug abuse during this time. In October 1988, Jonathan and Bobby DeBarge, along with two others, were convicted for cocaine trafficking, UPI reports. The brothers were handed six-year prison sentences.

Unfortunately, Bobby DeBarge contracted AIDS while in prison. He and his brother were released in 1994. By 1995, Bobby would pass away from the disease at 39 years old. Jonathan believed racism contributed to the pair's long sentences, according to Musician Guide. "I felt in court that I was a victim of racism. I definitely feel that had I not been the creed I am, I would not have received the sentence I got," he said.

After his release, Jonathan found success in the neo-soul subgenre in the late 1990s. However, the end of the decade marked the end of his relationship with Motown. While he remained clean in the 1990s, Jonathan struggled with his demons during the 21st century. According to OK! Magazine, the singer was arrested for drug possession in 2007. In 2019, police responded to a potential carjacking. It was Jonathan, and while the car was his own as he left the keys inside the vehicle, police found meth on him.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

DeBarge was stabbed

In 2003, Jonathan DeBarge had turned over a new leaf. He was an accomplished musician and was now working with well-known stage director Tyler Perry. However, trouble seemed to always find the DeBarge family. According to I Love Old School Music, while working with Perry and singer Kelly Price on the play, "Why Did I Get Married?" Jonathan was stabbed and nearly lost his life.

DeBarge said he was in Philadelphia performing in the play when, one night, a fellow actor and someone who he believed to be his girlfriend asked DeBarge to go club hopping. The girl had left them and went to another club, so the two men followed her to the club. DeBarge recalled when he got there, he ran into "made men" from the mafia. It turned out the woman was dating one of the men in the club and using DeBarge's colleague to make him jealous. A fight soon broke out between the three of them and the people at the club. DeBarge was stabbed in the side, almost hitting one of his kidneys and lungs.

Only after escaping the fight did he notice the wound. Even though DeBarge recognized the face of the person who attacked him, he purportedly refused to provide a name. Unfortunately, the incident reportedly led Jonathan to develop an addiction to prescription pills.

Jonathan accused his father of molesting his siblings

Another way the DeBarge family was similar to the Jackson family was their alleged domineering patriarch. Joseph Jackson's parenting tactics, while credited for helping develop the Jackson Five and its members, are seen now as very disturbing and abusive, as told by Biography. At the same time, Joseph Jackson might be a saint when compared to DeBarge's patriarch, Robert Louis DeBarge Sr.

Robert DeBarge met his first wife, Etterlene, in 1953, and they married the same year. The two settled in Detroit. The couple struggled as Robert, a white man, and Etterlene, a Black woman, were living as an interracial couple in the 1950s. Etterlene said after Robert was reportedly fired from his truck driver position for being in an interracial marriage, he grew very hostile toward her. She alleged Robert physically and emotionally abused her, and was very possessive of her, refusing to let her wear makeup or anything that might attract other men.

The abuse continued when the children came along. Speaking to Vibe, Jonathan said his father "sexually molested a lot of my brothers and sisters." Bunny DeBarge said she was molested by her father between the ages of 7-13. Eventually, Robert would begin an affair with another woman, and the couple divorced in 1974. Robert would deny all the accusations leveled against him by his children, and would eventually pass away in August 2009.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

His son was reportedly murdered

After years of substance abuse struggles and being locked in prison for more than half a decade, the greatest pain for Jonathan DeBarge came in April 2020. According to BET, Jonathan's son, Dontae Anderson-DeBarge, was killed in Los Angeles at only 35 years old. According to LA police, DeBarge was found in the street bleeding out from multiple stab wounds. Attempts to resuscitate him were too late, and Anderson-DeBarge was pronounced dead at the scene. An early investigation suggested that the departed DeBarge was living homeless on the streets of LA, Ace Showbiz reports.

While Jonathan remained quiet about his son's passing, his 2021 would see him spiral down in at least two different relapses. According to Vibe, in January 2021, Jonathan was charged with drug possession, a DUI, and impersonation for pretending to be his older brother, James DeBarge, after he was pulled over in Burbank, California with no identification. He would spend more than a week in jail. In November of the same year, authorities were called to investigate a disturbance. Allegedly, Jonathan was the cause of the disturbance and his motor home's registration was six months past its registration. It was impounded, and officers purportedly found drug paraphernalia and methamphetamine. He was charged with possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.

About two weeks before the second arrest, Jonathan lost another member of his family. Tommy DeBarge passed away from liver and kidney failure at 64 years old.