For Darlene Love, it was almost a perfect moment.
"I was on my way to Atlantic City for a job, in the back of this limousine that was longer than my house," says Love, calling from California. "I got the call from Terry Stewart who said, 'Welcome to the family.' I was like, 'What are you talking about? What family?' and he said, 'You have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.' "
She says it took a few seconds to sink in. "Then I started screaming and my husband, who was sitting in the back with me, was saying, 'What? What? What? What?' I was beating on him so hard," Love says, laughing. "I was screaming until he said, 'You better stop before this driver stops and thinks you're back here killing me.' I haven't calmed down since I found out about it."
Love's induction into the Rock Hall tomorrow night -- alongside Alice Cooper, Neil Diamond, Dr. John and Tom Waits -- confirms what her fans, who include Bruce Springsteen and Bette Midler, who will induct her, have known all along, that her contributions to rock 'n' roll deserve attention.
"It's validation for all the work I've done over the years," says Love, who lives in Rockland County. "It's like the Grammy, the Emmy and the Tony all rolled into one. It means you're part of history now."
Yes, you may not know her name, but you know Darlene Love. The Crystals' "He's a Rebel"? That's her. Backing vocals on "Da Doo Ron Ron"? That's her, too. And, of course, that's her bringing all those Phil Spector Christmas classics to life.
You've seen Darlene Love, too. She's had lengthy runs on Broadway in "Leader of the Pack" and "Hairspray." She's played the wife of Murtagh (Danny Glover) in all the "Lethal Weapon" movies. And she's been on David Letterman's show every holiday season for the past two decades.
Now, with her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it's time to learn her name.
"She's the Zelig of rock 'n' roll," says the Rock Hall's Stewart. "She's sung lead and backup for so long and she has such an outstanding voice that many people don't realize everything that she's been on, from Johnny Rivers to Cheech and Chong. She's carved a career that's all her own."
It's a career of highs and lows, from being a part of huge hits to unfortunately hearing her song "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" on the radio while she was cleaning someone else's house to help make ends meet.
"I'm still amazed that I got to work with Elvis Presley on his 1968 comeback special," Love says. "I've worked with so many great people along the way, but working with Sam Cooke was pure pleasure. He was a part of my spirit."
Love credits Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers for pushing her to start her solo career at the age of 40. "He convinced me that I didn't want to wait any longer," she says. "That was the best advice I got. That -- and Dionne Warwick told me, 'Don't ever allow them to have the power over you to make you act like a fool.' "
Love continues to follow that advice as she works on the adaptation of her autobiography, "My Name Is Love: The Darlene Love Story," into a movie and as she releases her first career-spanning greatest hits album "The Sound of Love: The Very Best of Darlene Love" (Legacy), which includes songs she did with The Crystals, Bob B. Soxx and The Blue Jeans, and The Blossoms.
In between all that, Love continues to tour, hoping that with the Rock Hall induction, she will be able to work year round. "They call me the Queen of Christmas and the work really piles up between October and January," she says, laughing. "But I need to work the rest of the year, too."
Love says her appearance at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 25th anniversary show at Madison Square Garden was a thrill because it reminded her of her past.
"I haven't sung with a Wall of Sound in years," she says. "Bruce and the E Street Band got that sound. It's a special, special sound."
The admiration was mutual. "Her singing and her stage presence -- she's an inspirational joy," Springsteen said on stage at the Rock Hall show. "She's really blown all our minds. If there's any justice, she's a future member of the Hall of Fame. She's a one-woman Wall of Sound."
Stewart says that Springsteen personally picked Love to perform at the show with him, along with Billy Joel. "Bruce could have picked anyone he wanted for that show and he picked her -- that speaks volumes," says Stewart, adding that Love is one of several artists, including Gary U.S. Bonds, Roy Orbison and Sam Moore, who Springsteen has outspokenly discussed as inspirations. "If I could find someone who was going to support my career, Bruce is about as good as it gets."
Love says she still enjoys the unpredictability of her career. "I still giggle a lot and I still cry," she says. "But after all I've been through, I'm still here."