Barbara Jean McNair
March 4, 1934
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||February 4, 2007 (aged 72)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Education||American Conservatory of Music|
(m. 1963; div. 1971)
(m. 1972; died 1976)
(m. 1979; div. 1986)
Charles Blecka (m. 1992–2007)
Barbara Jean McNair (March 4, 1934 – February 4, 2007) was an American singer and 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. McNair performed all across the world, touring with Nat King Cole and later appearing in his Broadway stage shows I'm with You and The Merry World of Nat King Cole in the early 1960s. By the 1970s, McNair gradually changed over to acting in films and television; she played Sidney Poitier's wife in They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (1970) and its sequel, 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.
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. With her parents' persuasion, McNair began singing in school productions and during church services. McNair studied music at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago. She also briefly attended UCLA because she had been raised to believe that whatever people planned to do with their lives they had to go to college to learn how to do it. She dropped college after one year when she felt it had nothing to do with what she wanted to accomplish.
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. The show starred A-list guests including Tony Bennett, Sonny and Cher, Little Richard, The Righteous Brothers, Johnny Mathis, Freda Payne, Mahalia Jackson, Della Reese, Lou Rawls, Rich Little, B.B. King, Ethel Waters, Debbie Reynolds, Lionel Hampton, and The Irish Rovers.
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.
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 from 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. The charges 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. McNair filed for bankruptcy in September 1987, totaling $458,399 ($1 million today) worth of debt.
On December 15, 1976, McNair's second husband, Chicago businessman Rick Manzie, was murdered 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.
Later years and death
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.
- Spencer's Mountain (1963) – Graduation Singer (uncredited)
- If He Hollers, Let Him Go! (1968) – Lily
- Stiletto (1969) – Ahn Dessie
- Venus in Furs (1969) – Rita
- The Lonely Profession (1969) - Donna Travers
- Change of Habit (1969) – Sister Irene
- They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (1970) – Valerie Tibbs
- The Organization (1971) – Valerie Tibbs
- Fatal Charm (1990) – English Teacher
- Neon Signs (1996) – Grace (final film role)
- Front Row Center (Coral CRL57209, 1959)
- Love Talk (Signature SM 1042, 1960)
- 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)
- "Cute Wisconsin Thrush Big Hit in Europe, South America". Jet. XVI (19): 60–61. September 3, 1959. Retrieved January 24, 2018 – via Google Books.
- Ruuth, Marianne (December 2, 1992). "Nat King Cole". Holloway House Publishing. Retrieved December 2, 2017 – via Google Books.
- "Barbara McNair". NNDB.com. Retrieved December 2, 2017.
- Fox, Margalit. "Barbara McNair, 72, a Singer, Actress and Host of a TV Show, Dies ". The New York Times, February 6, 2007.
- "Barbara McNair". The Independent. February 7, 2007. Retrieved December 2, 2017.
- YouTube 08-16-1997 video "Backstage With Fred Cooper" show, interview with Barbara McNair
- President Records Website - Curtis Knight
- Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebooks - The Titans By Marv Goldberg, based on an interview with Larry Greene
- Berry, William Earl (December 7, 1972). "What Dope Arrest Is Doing to Career of Barbara McNair". Jet. XLIII (11): 54–57. Retrieved January 24, 2018 – via Google Books.
- "Barbara McNair Cleared in Drug Rap; Husband Held". Jet. XLIV (6): 54. May 3, 1973. Retrieved January 24, 2018 – via Google Books.
- "Singer Barbara McNair Files for Bankruptcy". Jet. September 14, 1987. p. 22. ISSN 0021-5996. Retrieved January 24, 2018 – via Google Books.
- "Reputed Chicago crime figure Anthony Spilotro wanted two hit..." United Press International. August 25, 1982. Retrieved January 24, 2018.
- Miller, Bobby W. (2012). "Barbara McNair - Abyss of Consequences". Bobmillerwrites.com. Archived from the original on October 29, 2013. Retrieved December 26, 2013.
- Adelman, Jacob (February 6, 2007). "Obituary - Celebrity Barbara McNair dies at 72". The Seattle Times. Retrieved December 2, 2017.
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