Charlie Wilson: El DeBarge Has His ‘Full Support’

R&B great Charlie Wilson, of Gap Band fame, knows a lot about getting your career on track after overcoming addiction, and he shares how he would like to help El DeBarge, who recently entered rehab.

El DeBarge (left); Charlie Wilson (Getty Images)
El DeBarge (left); Charlie Wilson (Getty Images)

Charlie Wilson is traveling this week to visit U.S. soldiers in Iraq, where the R&B legend is in high demand. The first time he went, he says, soldiers stood in line for up to three hours to talk to him and get his autograph. Now, as he prepares for his third visit, he is among the top three acts the troops requested for a return visit. And it’s important to Wilson to be there.

“They need the love,” he says, “because they really put it on the line.” 

Wilson wants to be there for others. After all, he’s celebrating his 17th year of sobriety, thanks to the people who were there for him. He plans to do the same for his good friend, R&B singer El DeBarge.

DeBarge checked himself into rehab this week, canceling the remainder of his highly anticipated comeback tour. That comeback kicked off last year, shortly after DeBarge completed a 13-month stint in prison for drug-related charges. Soon after, he was performing on television, talking about beating drugs and relaunching his musical career. Last November, DeBarge released his first album in 16 years, featuring the hit single, “Second Chance.”

Wilson’s return to the industry wasn’t as easy as DeBarge’s. In fact, it took the former Gap Band singer 10 years after becoming sober to get a second chance. He had a lot of doors slammed in his face. Looking back, he says, that was a bit of a blessing.

“I was still working on myself,” he says. “You have to work on yourself first. That’s more important than relationships, and it’s more important than your career. Your life has to matter more than sitting on the cover of a magazine.”

Wilson won’t speculate as to what DeBarge may have done wrong during his comeback. He’s far too protective of his friend. But based on his own experience, Wilson says DeBarge needs to take a break when he gets out of rehab. He says the demands of the industry can put you under a lot of pressure. That’s the last thing a recovering addict needs — even after years of being sober. 

“I am working on myself every single day. I am just one drink from catastrophe,” he says. “One hit away from losing everything I have.”

Like Wilson, DeBarge hit big in the early ’80s. Wilson was the lead singer for the Gap Band, and DeBarge was the lead for his family group, DeBarge. By the early ’90s, El DeBarge had launched a solo career and was consumed by a cocaine addiction. A decade later, he was making headlines for his drug abuse, leaving his music career in the past.