She was the next big thing in 1977 and had the song of the 1970s. At 21 years old, Debby Boone—daughter of legendary singer Pat Boone—exploded onto the music scene with her wildly successful single "You Light Up My Life." The song spent 10 weeks at number one and earned Debby a "Best New Artist" Grammy award.
After she lit up our lives with her hit song, Debby moved on to Broadway and found big success in Christian music. Thirty-three years later, Debbie still holds the record for most weeks at number one by a first-time primary female artist.
Today, Debby is a mother of four and has been married for 31 years to Gabriel Ferrer, the son of Oscar®-winning actor Jose Ferrer and the legendary Rosemary Clooney.
Debby says the reaction to "You Light Up My Life" was surreal. "I think I went into shock for about three years," she says. "Every once in a while, like watching [an] old tape, you relive it and you go, 'Did this really happen to me?'"
While Debby says she appreciated her success, she did feel like her squeaky-clean image separated her from others. "I kept wanting to say [to people], 'Be yourself in front of me.' For example, somebody might swear and go, 'Oh, my gosh, I'm so sorry.' It's like: 'Hello! We're human,'" she says. "I love it when people say, 'You're nothing like I thought you were going to be'—which always means, 'I like you so much more than I thought I was going to.'''
After her "You Light Up My Life" success, Debby topped the Christian music charts. "I grew up going to church three times a week in my family. It's been a center of my life," she says. "I never wanted to really make a career out of doing Christian music exclusively, but I love it to my core. I love music. I love what I'm doing now."
Debby says her children often look back at her old performances on YouTube. "They find things out about me that I don't remember about myself," she says. "They'll go: 'Look at this. This song was great [that] you recorded way back then.' And I'm thinking: 'Really? You like that?'"
Debby grew up singing with her father on television, and she says he's doing great today. "He's healthy, happy, still working," she says. "[He] has a new record coming out himself."
Debby says her dad is always willing to mix it up—like when he showed up at the 1997 American Music Awards in leather and chains to promote his heavy metal album, Pat Boone in a Metal Mood. "I had no idea that was going to happen," she says. "My son was with me. He was in junior high … and he sees his grandfather walking out looking like that, and he just buried his head in his hands and said, 'Is there no way to stop him?' Mind you, his friends all said, 'Your granddad's so buff' the next day."
Pat isn't the only renowned singer in Debby's family. Debby says her mother-in-law, acclaimed singer Rosemary Clooney, was a big influence on the family. "It was miraculous the way she loved my kids. The way she lit up like a Christmas tree every time they walked in the room," she says. "Anybody that's ever had the experience of somebody delighting in you like that, it's miraculous."
To honor her mother-in-law, Debby has recorded a number of Rosemary's songs on an album called Reflections of Rosemary. "I chose songs that either she performed or had something to do with her," she says. "I tell my stories and I share her and myself because it's my life and it's very authentic."