Singers Give Pitch-Perfect Send-off To Vocalist Becky Kelly Barnett
Posted: 01/12/2013 12:01:00 AM MST
Becky Kelly Barnett’s vocals helped propel the Jerry Barnett Orchestra to national prominence. “She was the most soulful singer I know,” said former band leader Jim Vessiny.
There was never any doubt that Becky Kelly Barnett was cut out to be a singer.
As a toddler, she’d hum songs in her high chair every time the family sat down to eat. By the time she was a teenager, she had developed a powerful set of pipes and a range that made her the envy of fellow vocalists.
Rock ‘n’ roll, Motown and R&B were her specialty, and she performed with such popular local bands as the Legendary 4Nikators before auditioning for Moments Notice in 1982 and winning the heart of its leader, Jerry Barnett. They were married in San Francisco in 1989.
Go big or go home seemed to be her motto; designer dresses and Manolo Blahnik stilettos were her guilty pleasure. She was a diva, but with the heart, talent and passion that always made her way the right way.
“She broke all my rules,” Jerry Barnett said. “She wore her skirts too short and made every song her personal canvas, but her soaring vocals and stage presence propelled Jerry Barnett Entertainment to national prominence.”
Becky Kelly Barnett was 53 when her battle with breast and brain cancer ended on New Year’s Eve.
“She’d been ready to go for about six weeks,” Jerry Barnett said, “but she held on ’til New Year’s Eve. How dramatic an exit was that?”
Her funeral on Jan. 5 was a poignant extravaganza lovingly choreographed by her husband and emceed by entertainer Paul Borrillo, a longtime friend.
The mourners that packed the Fairmount Mortuary Chapel included Denver’s first lady, Mary Louise Lee, who had sung with Moments Notice in the late 1980s. “She made everything fun,” Lee said. “And she got us all to wear those fishnet stockings,” added Shiva Maxey, who’d been a member of Peach Fuzz, one of the 1980s-era Jerry Barnett Entertainment bands.
Between such traditional elements as a recitation of the 23rd Psalm, the Lord’s Prayer and spoken-word tributes from her husband, sister Susan Rider and niece Kelly Flynn, the 1 p.m. service included music.
Lots of it.
Pianist Ron Jolly played John Coltrane’s “Naima,” a piece that Becky often played on her baby grand piano. Kenny Jones, a former member of the Moments Notice band, flew in from Las Vegas to sing “When I Fall in Love;” the Spiritual Crusaders, led by Alton Williams, sang three
numbers, including “I’ll Be There,” and Lannie Garrett offered her interpretation of another of Becky’s favorites, “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”
“When I Fall in Love” and “I’ll Be There” became emotional “duets,” with Becky’s recordings of those songs meshed with the live vocals. And when pallbearers escorted her casket out of the chapel, it was to the sound of her singing “Ave Maria.”
“She was the most soulful singer I know,” said longtime friend and former Jerry Barnett Orchestra band leader Jim Vessiny. “She never played it safe (musically), she always pushed the limits.”
Vessiny spoke of a visit he had with Becky in her final days, when he reminded her of his belief in life after death and assured her they’d meet again. “I told her she’d know it was me because we’d arrive at some gig and I’d call out, ‘Hey, where’s the loading dock?’ She was very weak, and could barely speak, but she mustered all her strength and whispered: ‘Jim, you know I don’t go in through the loading dock.’ ”
Lannie Garrett recalled being backstage, getting dressed for a performance with Becky. “All of my makeup was odds and ends of Maybelline. Hers was Chanel. She was a good girlfriend, though, and she could hit notes I couldn’t even dream of hitting.”
“She did like the finer things in life, but she had the kindest heart,” added Alton Williams, whose stage name is the Rev. Al Tune. “Her friends were every age, every religion, every ethnicity. And when we’d get up on that stage, we’d burn it up.”
In addition to her husband and sister Susan, she is survived by her son, Daniel, who is a drummer; another sister, Kathleen Warden; stepchildren Jennifer, Eric and Lindsey; and three step-grandchildren.
Joanne Davidson: 303-809-1314, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/getitwrite