Veteran urban radio host Russ Parr is returning to cable TV, serving as director of TV One’s music-themed original movie The Bobby DeBarge Story premiering June 29.
Parr, who produced TV One's 2016 original movie Ringside, has hosted his nationally syndicated radio show The Russ Parr Morning Show for more than 20 years. I recently spoke to Parr about his work on The Bobby DeBarge Story, which chronicles the tumultuous life of the former lead singer of the 1970s R&B/funk band Switch and the eldest sibling of the 1980s R&B group DeBarge. An edited version of the interview appears below.
What drew you to The Bobby DeBarge Story project?
I grew up in that era -- I went to a Cal State Northridge (University) in the L.A. area -- and I remember on Saturdays and Sundays I used to go play basketball at the park. At the time when I was playing I didn't know it was the DeBarges that I was playing against. The music they made was the music of our day at the time, so when [TV One] said we want to do The Bobby DeBarage Story I said man, I want to get in and produce that. Because of all my years and connections in radio playing their music and doing interviews with them over the years, I knew a little bit more about them besides just the rumors. So that's why I wanted to be connected to it.
You mentioned the success and the rumors surrounding the DeBarge family -- what is it about Bobby DeBarge’s story that compelled you and TV One to develop an original movie specifically around him?
The thing was back in the day we had hit [family] groups like the Jacksons, but then here these people came out of nowhere, and all of them had the ability to sing. Bobby was the oldest brother and he was amazing. The reason why they call the group Switch is because everybody in that group could play a different instrument. Bobby had a falsetto voice, and he was extraordinary in that arena along with his songwriting. But I have to say he set the tone for the rest of the family because the DeBarge sound is basically Bobby DeBarge's sound in my opinion.
How does The Bobby DeBarge Story translate to a younger generation who may not have grown up listening to Switch and DeBarge music?
When you watch the movie, his story is fascinating because there's so many things in life that really don't change -- drug addiction and abuse is all the same no matter what era you're in. Obviously DeBarge and Switch music is still played on the radio to this day -- [millennials] know the records but they may not know Bobby or his story. The movie takes place in an era when these guys were 20-25 years old, so a millennial can relate to that -- it just happens to be a different decade.
You’ve had a legendary career in radio and you’re also producing television content. At this point in your career do you have a preference between the two?
Radio and TV/film challenges me on two different levels. I can express a different kind of creativity on radio because it's fast-paced. You have to deliver the first thing that comes to mind, and hopefully it's funny or it's interesting to somebody. With film, the ability to get someone to be something that they're not and see it come off on the screen is very powerful to me. It completes me as an artist to be able to do both; I love radio but I am in love with film.
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R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.