Lounge Soul Goddess: Barbara McNair


To the majority of people, all Barbara McNair did in popular culture was be that Black Nun in that Elvis movie with Mary Tyler Moore, Change of Habit

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But, she also starred in a variety of movies during the 1960s and 1970s, hosted her own variety series, replaced Diahann Carroll in No Strings and by my count, released 5 albums and a variety of singles between 1957 and 1969… including 2 Albums and 5 singles that went nowhere for Motown between 1965 and 1969….

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She was signed with the premise of giving Motown a Jazz/MOR singer that was already an industry veteran. Which totally would have worked had The Supremes hadn’t started including standards in their live act as soon as they had hit records, and were technically making their way towards being coming the worlds first really MOR R&B act. So, instead of recording the Lounge Jazz that she had recorded for the first 7 years of her career, she got to record an odd mix of typical Motown fare and Jazz Standards for her first LP, and then a lot of grab bag Late 60s Lounge Soul for her second… affectively making her one of the first female lounge soul singers (well, devoid of actual hit records).

Think of her as like a female, Motown legitimized version of Johnny Rivers. The same Vegas razzmatazz to her voice, and the same amount of cognac in your snifter in her delivery ( a lot of hazily sexy vocal runs that sound barely indistinguishable from moaning orgasms)…

The best example of which, I think is her original version of “Here I Am, Baby” from late 1966, which in the spring of 1968 was redone by The Marvelettes in a funkier, but far less slinky, sexy and obvious transition from dominance to submission of a 1960s career woman than Barbara’s original.

She recorded a number of equally awesome sleazy, velvety confections on the label.. like her “Steal Away Tonight” and her Cellarful of Motown:Volume 1 Fave “Baby A-Go Go” …and I’m quite fond of her charming “Into My Empty Arms” her freakbeat “(Anonymous) Nothing But Trouble” and her rerecording of The Supremes cast off “Wheels of The City.”

Also, in closing… as a note of pride to the late Barbara… as far as I know she was 1) The first African American woman to appear in the top 10 most beautiful women list complied by the International Society of Cosmetologists (basically saying that, well she needed as little make up as possible to look beautiful) and 2) As far as I know… The only Motown star to be a playboy centerfold… somewhat SFW photo below…

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Add all of that up and you have more than just a good lounge singer. You have a quite awesome woman…

Here she is, on Hullabaloo in fall 1965 debuting her first Motown single “You’re Gonna Love My Baby”

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2 responses to “Lounge Soul Goddess: Barbara McNair

  1. I was actually unaware there was any footage of her singing “You’re Gonna Love My Baby”. That and the ULTRA rare “Baby A Go Go” ( bootlegs sell for serious money since there is no original) are both Northern staples. Classic. But for me, it’s all her work and not just the subculture tunes.

  2. There’s also footage still floating around from her singing her version “When The Sun Comes Out” from her “The Living End” LP on the same episode of Hullabaloo she appeared on with The Supremes introducing “Back In My Arms Again.” I’d guess that’s May 1965 or so, and I always wondered if that had anything to do with her signing to Motown.

    I’m also partial to her “He’s a King” recorded in ’63 I think and have her “The Living End” LP on CD. But yes, I hope I bought a lot of her multitude of contributions and pioneering to the forefront, not just “Baby A-Go Go”

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