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El DeBarge talks love, life and redemption

David Goodson | 4/12/2011, 5:30 p.m.

Mary J. Blige has long since established that the title the "Queen of Hip-Hop Soul" bestowed upon her was not a marketing slogan. From parlance to panache, she's an original, possessing enough stripes to be the rare artist that can sell out a cross-country tour with no new project on the shelves. However, a new one is highly anticipated in early 2011, courtesy of her collaboration on the club buster "Fancy" with Drake.

Although we knew what to expect, I and about 3,999 others at the MGM Grand Theatre at Foxwoods Resort and Casino were still floored at the conclusion of her nearly two-hour performance, particularly the ultra dramatic "Your Child" and the semi-acoustic "Take Me as I Am." No need to wax poetic on specifics. We all know that from bangers to ballads, Mary left everything on the stage during her tristate run.

A featured special guest performer on select dates of the tour can perhaps rival Mary's testament to music as salvation for the aptly titled "Music Saved My Life Tour": Mr. El DeBarge. A sterling performance at the 2010 BET Awards has revived interest in the music and the man, and he's currently in the midst of both the tour with Mary and his own headline dates.

The mission was reacquainting himself with his fan base began last week with an intimate, sold-out performance at SOB's. He then found his way back to the city with two nights at Radio City Music Hall.

In a conversation prior to embarking on the trek, El offered, "All these opportunities are great and I'll never take them for granted. For a second, you can look for me to be standing there in awe of your presence because I'm so grateful to still have my ability to write, play and I still have my chops. When I get over that, we're gonna dance a little, we're gonna sing and crush a lot, and just have some fun. With that intimate setting, we're really gonna mingle."

As for Radio City Music Hall, the sentiment came through. When he was reminded that it was on that very stage that this writer first saw him perform live as an opening act for Luther Vandross, El, through laughter, reminisced, saying, "Those were some great days. That was our first national tour; Luther broke us in. Now I'm back again. God is good. Miguel is gonna introduce himself to the public; Jazmine Sullivan is gonna grace the stage with her beauty and her gift. Mary will do her, and I'm going to bring some love, some feel-good--and I wanna talk about the triumph of the human spirit."

I can't speak to the Radio City dates, but as for the SOB's joint: mission accomplished. It took a second to find his stride, but once it was found, it was a wrap. Comprised of signature songs like "All This Love," "Time Will Reveal," and "Stay with Me," El showed one of his biggest influences to be brother Bobby of the group Switch and killer renditions of "There Will Never Be" and "I Call Your Name."