Barbara McNair

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Barbara McNair
Barbara McNair 1967.JPG
McNair, 1967.
Born Barbara Jean McNair
(1934-03-04)March 4, 1934
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Died February 4, 2007(2007-02-04) (aged 72)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death Throat Cancer
Education American Conservatory of Music
Years active 1956–2007
Spouse(s) Jack Rafferty
(m. 1963; div. 1971)

Rick Manzie
(m. 1972; d. 1976)

Ben Strahan
(m. 1979; div. 1986)

Charles Blecka
(m. 1992–2007)
Musical career
Instruments Vocals
Associated acts

Barbara Jean McNair (March 4, 1934 – February 4, 2007) was an American singer, theater, television and film actress. McNair's career spanned over five decades appearing in television, film and stage. McNair's professional career began in music during the late 1950s, singing in the nightclub circuit. In 1958, McNair released her debut single Till There Was You from Coral Records; which was a commercial success.[1] McNair performed all across the world, touring with Nat King Cole and later appearing in his Broadway stage show "I'm With You" and " The Merry World of Nat King Cole" in the early 1960s.[2] By the 1970s, McNair gradually changed over to acting in films and television; appearing in films alongside Sidney Poitier such as They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (1970) and The Organization (1971). In her later years, McNair returned to performing in nightclubs and on cruise ships. McNair died from throat cancer on February 4, 2007 at age 72.

Early life[edit]

Born in Chicago, Illinois to Horace McNair and Claudia McNair (née Taylor), McNair's family which also consisted of four siblings moved to Racine, Wisconsin shortly after her birth.[3] With her parents' persuasion, McNair began singing in school productions and during church services.[4] McNair studied music at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago.[5]


McNair with Jim Nabors on his television show, 1970.

McNair's big break came with a win on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, which led to bookings at The Purple Onion and the Cocoanut Grove. Described by the New York Times as “a gorgeous looking woman with a warm, easy, communicative personality and a voice that can range from softly intense ballads to the edges of gospel", Barbara soon became a popular headliner and a guest on such television variety shows as The Steve Allen Show, Hullabaloo, The Bell Telephone Hour, and The Hollywood Palace. Among her hit records while recording for the Coral, Signature, Motown, and TEC Recording Studios labels, were "You're Gonna Love My Baby" and "Bobby".

In the early 1960s, McNair made several musical shorts for Scopitone, a franchise of coin-operated machines that showed what were the forerunners of today's music videos. In 1967 McNair traveled with Bob Hope to Southeast Asia to perform for U.S. troops during the Vietnam War. McNair's acting career began on television, as a guest on series such as Dr. Kildare, The Eleventh Hour, I Spy, Mission: Impossible, Hogan's Heroes and McMillan and Wife. McNair posed nude for Playboy in the October 1968 issue. She caught the attention of the movie-going public with her much-publicized nude sequences in the gritty crime drama If He Hollers Let Him Go (1968) opposite Raymond St. Jacques, then donned a nun's habit alongside Mary Tyler Moore for Change of Habit (1969), Elvis Presley's last feature film. She portrayed Sidney Poitier's wife in They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (1970) and its sequel, The Organization (1971), and George Jefferson's deranged ex-girlfriend Yvonne in The Jeffersons (1984).

McNair's Broadway credits include The Body Beautiful (1958), No Strings (1962, replacing Diahann Carroll), and a revival of The Pajama Game (1973, co-starring with Hal Linden and Cab Calloway). McNair starred in her own 1969 television variety series The Barbara McNair Show, becoming one of the first black women to host her own musical variety show. The show, which was produced in Canada by CTV (at CFTO/Toronto), lasted three seasons in first-run syndication in the United States until 1972. She married Frederick (Rick) Andrew Manzie, who managed McNair and produced the show with Burt Rosen.[6] The show starred A-list guests including Tony Bennett, Sonny and Cher, The Righteous Brothers, Johnny Mathis, Freda Payne, Mahalia Jackson, Della Reese, Lou Rawls, Rich Little, B.B. King, Ethel Waters, Debbie Reynolds, and Lionel Hampton.

McNair was a headliner at Las Vegas hotels like the Sahara. She also appeared on TV game shows in the 1960s, including You Don't Say, Hollywood Squares, and The Match Game. She was also a VIP guest on the talk shows of Johnny Carson, Joey Bishop, Mike Douglas, and Merv Griffin. McNair's recordings include Livin' End, The Real Barbara McNair, More Today Than Yesterday, Broadway Show Stoppers, A Movie Soundtrack If He Hollers, Let Him Go, I Enjoy Being a Girl, and The Ultimate Motown Collection, a two-CD set with 48 tracks that include her two albums for the label plus a non-album single and B-side and an entire LP that never was released.

Personal life[edit]

McNair was married four times: to Jack Rafferty from 1963 until 1971, Rick Manzie in August 1972 until his murder in December 1976, Ben Strahan in 1979 to 1986 and Charles Blecka from 1992 until her 2007 death. McNair had no children. In October 1972, McNair was arrested for possession of heroin at the Playboy Club in New Jersey.[7] The charged stemmed from McNair signing for a package that was delivered to her home that contained drugs, which McNair stated she had no knowledge of the contents of the package or who sent it. McNair's then–husband Rick Manzie was later charged with the crime and charges against McNair were dropped in April 1973.[8] McNair filed for bankruptcy in September 1987, totaling $458,399 worth of debt.[9]

Rick Manzie[edit]

On December 15, 1976, McNair's second husband, Chicago businessman Rick Manzie, was murdered [10] in their Las Vegas mansion. Mafia boss-turned-FBI-informant Jimmy Fratianno later claimed in his book The Last Mafioso that Manzie had been 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.[11]

Later years and death[edit]

Into her 70s, McNair resided in the Los Angeles area, playing tennis and skiing to keep in shape and touring on occasion. McNair died on February 4, 2007, of throat cancer, in Los Angeles, survived by her husband Charles Blecka, sister Jacqueline Gaither, niece Angela Rosenow, and the nephew of her late husband Frederick (Rick) Manzie, John Thomas and his family.[citation needed]




  • Front Row Center (Coral CRL57209, 1959)
  • The Livin' End (Warner WS 1570, 1964)
  • I Enjoy Being A Girl (Warner WS 1541, 1966)
  • Here I Am (Motown MS-644, November 1966)
  • The Real Barbara McNair (Motown MS-680, April 1969)
  • More Today Than Yesterday (Audio Fidelity – AFSD 6222, 1969)


External links[edit]