Edit
Barbara McNair Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (4) | Trivia (10) | Personal Quotes (3)

Overview (4)

Date of Birth 4 March 1934Chicago, Illinois, USA
Date of Death 4 February 2007Los Angeles, California, USA  (throat cancer)
Birth NameBarbara Joan McNair
Height 5' 3" (1.6 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Popular African-American vocalist and entertainer Barbara McNair dazzled audiences with her singing prowess and exceptional beauty for well over four decades until her death on February 4, 2007 of throat cancer in Los Angeles. The Chicago-born entertainer and one-time secretary was raised in Racine, Wisconsin, one of five children born to Horace and Claudia Taylor McNair. She sang in her church choir and was encouraged by her parents to pursue voice. Following music studies at the Racine Conservatory of Music and the American Conservatory of Music in her hometown Chicago, she moved to Los Angeles and attended USC before relocating once again to New York to pursue her dream.

Barbara worked her way up from typist to singer of small supper clubs to headlining large showrooms as one of America's more visible singers of the late 50s and 60s. A jazz stylist influenced by the great Sarah Vaughan at first, she gently eased into popular music. Her first big break came with a week-long gig on Arthur Godfrey's talent show, which led to bookings at The Purple Onion, The Persian Room and L.A.'s Cocoanut Grove. She began receiving invites on the TV variety circuit ('Ed Sullivan's "Toast of the Town," "The Dean Martin Show" and "The Tonight Show") and made it to Broadway with the musicals "The Body Beautiful" (1958) and "No Strings" (1962), replacing original star Diahann Carroll in the latter. At different times she recorded on the Coral, Signature and Motown labels resulting in such modest hits as "You're Gonna Love My Baby" and "Bobby."

In the late 60s Barbara made a choice to scout out acting roles, hoping to parlay her singing success into a movie career. The singer showed initial promise as a sexy lead alongside Raymond St. Jacques in the gritty crime drama If He Hollers, Let Him Go! (1968) in which she made news with her celebrated nude sequences. She also wore a nun's habit alongside Mary Tyler Moore in Elvis Presley's last feature film Change of Habit (1969), and appeared opposite Sidney Poitier as Virgil Tibbs' wife in both They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (1970) and The Organization (1971). A warm, inviting presence, she pioneered her own syndicated musical TV show The Barbara McNair Show (1969), a rarity at the time for a black entertainer, and guested on all the popular TV programs of the day including "Mission: Impossible," "Hogan's Heroes" and "I Spy."

The early 1970s were a difficult time for Barbara when offers suddenly stopped coming in and her husband/manager, who had mob affiliations, was shot and killed in 1976. Barbara went on to appear in such stage musicals as "The Pajama Game" and "Sophisticated Ladies", and was also seen in a recurring role for a time on General Hospital (1963) in later years. She was also spotted in a couple of obscure films in the 80s and 90s. Barbara's love of performing continued even in lesser venues -- cabaret clubs, cruise ships, special events and even retirement centers in Florida -- still sporting her stunning looks and vocal sparkle. In 2006 she opened for Bob Newhart in Philadelphia and New Jersey. Married four times in all, Barbara died at age 72 and was survived by husband, Charles Blecka.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

Spouse (4)

Charles Blecka (1992 - 4 February 2007) (her death)
Bennett Strahan (22 December 1979 - 1986) (divorced)
Rick Manzie (22 July 1972 - 15 December 1976) (his death)
Jack Rafferty (1963 - 1971) (divorced)

Trivia (10)

Toured frequently with Nat 'King' Cole in the 1960s.
Went to UCLA for a year before going to New York.
Biggest influences were jazz greats Sarah Vaughan, June Christy and Peggy Lee.
Won Talent Scouts (1948) (aka "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts") by singing "Lullaby of Broadway."
The 1970s were tragic times personally and professionally for her. Professionally, her TV variety show was canceled, she was out of recording contracts and could find no film work. On the personal side, her career suffered after she and husband Rick Manzie were charged in 1972 with heroin possession, even though she was later cleared of the charge. On December 15, 1976, Manzie, who had underworld ties, was executed gangland-style in their Las Vegas home while Barbara was in Chicago performing at a nightclub. Six months later she was testifying against her tax accountant, who cheated the IRS by compromising his rich clients (including Barbara, who wound up owing back taxes of over $137,000). In 1977 her brother Horace was arrested for forgery and burglary and imprisoned for a couple of years (he was found shot to death in 1981). Her father Horace died in 1979.
She was once voted one of the most beautiful women in the world.
Mafia boss-turned-FBI-informant Aladena Fratianno (aka "Jimmy the Weasel") wrote in his book, "The Last Mafioso", that McNair's late husband, Rick Manzie, was a Mafia associate who tried to put a contract on the life of a mob-associated tax attorney with whom he had a legal dispute, but he was murdered in 1976 before the contract was fulfilled.
Has a sister, Jacqueline Gaither.
During her career Barbara experienced racism from time to time. When she appeared in "No Strings"--a musical by Richard Rodgers set in Paris in which a black fashion model falls in love with a white novelist--she endured obscene phone calls and hate mail. She once walked out of a hotel in Miami that offered her a room but forbade her to swim in the hotel pool. A few times she was forced to eat in the employees' dining room in hotels at which she was performing because blacks weren't allowed to eat in the main dining room.
Within a span of four years experienced the losses of her mother - Claudie McNair (August 12, 1976), husband - Rick Manzie (December 15, 1976), mother-in-law - Pearl Manzie (June 1977), and father - Horace McNair (November 14, 1979).

Personal Quotes (3)

When I was making a lot of movies, they didn't want the women to look too black. But black people objected to that policy, so then the industry did a reversal -- went all the way in the other direction. For the industry to limit itself to one look or another is unrealistic.
Lenny Bruce used to say about me that I was a Caucasian, that someone took a paintbrush and painted me brown. White people are not aware that Negroes look all kinds of different ways.
When I'm working in a club, I must go from one song to another rapidly, and I don't have much time to express myself emotionally. In a movie, you can concentrate on one scene at a time. (from a 1969 interview with the Washington Post, explaining why she found movie acting more rewarding than singing)

See also

Other Works | Publicity Listings | Official Sites | Contact Info

Contribute to This Page