D’Arby, Terence Trent
Terence Trent D’Arby
“At the very least,” Mikal Gilmore wrote in Rolling Stone, “[Terence Trent] D’Arby is the hottest and smartest luminary that the trend-fixated British pop scene has witnessed all decade: a magnificent and rousing vocalist who can combine the sensual graininess of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding with the tonal dexterity of Marvin Gaye, Al Green and Smokey Robinson.” And music writer Charles Shaar Murray, quoted in both Rolling Stone and Village Voice, observed that “D’Arby seems like something invented by three rock critics on the ’phone. Young black American, pretty. … Highly articulate, enormously well-read and gifted with an awesome knack for self-promotion…. Perfect.”
Indeed, critics and reviewers have been almost unanimous in their praise of the American expatriate’s vocal abilities. “There’s only one hitch in all this,” observed Gilmore. “D’Arby may possess a tremendous reserve of talent, ambition and good looks, but he also possesses a penchant for playing the role of an outspoken and unpredictable bad boy.”
Even before the release of his debut album, Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby, he announced “I can justifiably say that my first album will be one of the most brilliant debuts from any artist in the last 10 years,” reported People. He later went even further, boasting “my album is better than Sgt. Pepper [’s Lonely Hearts Club Band],” the Beatles’ 1967 classic selected as the best album made between 1967 and 1987 by a panel of music critics and writers assembled by Rolling Stone.
The controversy D’Arby stirred wasn’t limited to music, however. A star in Britain even before his album was released (thanks to a slick promotional drive by CBS Records), D’Arby told a British interviewer that in the United States “I obviously wouldn’t say on nationwide TV that I thought America was racist, sexist, homophobic and violent if they asked me why I left. I would just say America wasn’t a culture I felt comfortable in. But anybody with a brain would understand what I’m trying to say,” People reported. And Daisann McLane’s Village Voice profile of D’Arby quoted his philosophy of race in American music: “Prince introduced the theme of bisexuality because it makes [him] more palatable. Fathers don’t feel threatened when they see posters of Prince on their [daughters’] bedroom walls.’”
Terence Trent D’Arby was born in Manhattan in 1962. His father, James Darby, had played guitar and been a fan of the early rock and roll until he received the calling and became a minister in the Pentecostal Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The family lived for a time in New Jersey and Chicago before settling in the comfortable
Surname originally Darby; born c March 1962, in New York City; son of James Benjamin (a minister) and Frances (a teacher and counselor) Darby. Education: Attended the University of Central Honda, 1979–80.
Professional musician, 1981—; lead singer with musical group Touch, 1981–83. Military service: U.S. Army, 1980–83; served as a supply clerk with the Third Armored Division in West Germany.
Awards: Golden Gloves lightweight regional amateur boxing champion, c 1979; nominated for British Grammy Award for newcomer of the year, 1987; nominated for Grammy Award for best new artist, 1988; named best new artist by British Phonographic Institute, 1988.
college town of DeLand, Florida, when D’Arby, then known as Terry Darby, was 11. In high school he wore glasses and was a member of the DeLand High School Modernaires singing group, and was a finalist in the Mr. DHS contest to find the most popular and talented boy in the school.
D’Arby also developed a love for boxing and won a Golden Gloves championship while in high school. He studied journalism at the University of Central Florida for a year and then, in 1980, joined the U.S. Army, where, recruiters promised, he could continue his education in boxing and at the same time receive star treatment in his unit.
What the recruiters didn’t tell D’Arby was that he would have to undergo airborne training to become a paratrooper in order to be an Army boxer. When he decided he didn’t want to box that badly, he was made a supply clerk and assigned to duty in Germany. D’Arby enjoyed the local nightlife and eventually joined a nine-man band, Touch, as its lead singer.
As the band became more successful, D’Arby’s duties as a supply clerk became less and less appealing. Bored with Army life and hot on his newfound musical career, he went AWOL. “I was in hiding,” he told McLean. “It was really romantic. Fugitive on the run. Serious rock and roll myth. Every gig I wondered, would they catch me? Would this be my last gig for years?”
After D’Arby signed a management contract with Klaus Pieter Schleinitz, he turned himself in to Army authorities. It is not clear if he was court-martialed or not; Gilmore wrote: “According to the account D’Arby has given in previous interviews, the army court-martialed him with the aim of imprisoning him for up to five years, and only the clever and compassionate defense of a New York lawyer saved him.” Others, including McLean, believe D’Arby was most likely given an “administrative reprimand.”
D’Arby was discharged in April 1983. After a brief return to the United States to process out of the Army, he returned to Germany to rejoin Touch, but before long the band went their separate ways. “There was a lot of jealousy in the band,” D’Arby told Gilmore. “I was the frontman, and to be honest, just wanted to be a star—I wanted a fast car and fast women. I just wanted to shake my butt onstage and get laid.” Following the band’s disintegration D’Arby moved to London, where he honed his singing skills and worked at becoming a star.
When his first album was released in Britain, in mid-1987, it exploded to the top of the charts in a single week, prompting Simon Reynolds to comment in the British journal New Statesman, “D’Arby is one of those pop phenomena that seems vaguely called for, demanded into being by pop’s climate of desire. In this case, a hankering for ye olde ‘real soul’ is married to the requisite ’80s designer-socialist sense of image. D’Arby is another example of how soul—once a music of breakdown—has become a component of a Cosmo-style regimen of narcissism and self-actualisation. Soul as emotional work-out.” “I know that some people view me as a bit manufactured,” D’Arby told Rolling Stone. “But I can’t be Whitney Houston: somebody who is polite and perfect and appeals to your mother and your grandfather.”
Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby (includes “Wishing Well,” “Sign Your Name,” “As Yet Untitled,” “If You Let Me Stay,” “Dance Little Sister,” “Let’s Go Forward,” and “If You All Get to Heaven”), CBS, 1987.
Neither Fish Nor Flesh, CBS, 1989.
Musician, June 1988.
New Statesman, August 21, 1987.
Newsweek, February 22, 1988.
People, November 16, 1987; May 9, 1988.
Rolling Stone, November 19, 1987; May 19, 1988; June 16, 1988.
Time, January 25, 1988.
Village Voice Rock & Roll Quarterly (supplement), April 5, 1988.
—Michael L. LaBlanc
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