Barbara McNair

Change Of Habit, 1969

Born: March 4th, 1934, in Chicago, Illinois.
Official Site:

Click here to go to Barbara's official site

In the course of her varied career, Barbara did just about everything! Besides acting, both in film and on the stage, she had a very successful recording career, and hosted her own TV show! Although born in Chicago, Barbara was raised in Racine Wisconsin, and began singing early, while still in school. She spent one year in UCLA before deciding to pursue her dreams of making it big, and moved to New York. She immediately found she had to take a job as a secretary to make ends meet, but auditioned at as many night clubs as she could. Her first break came when Max Gordon of The Village Vanguard hired her. This led to a week-long appearance on The Arthur Godfrey Talent Scout Show, and she got her first taste of fan mail! When she then got a gig at The Purple Onion in New York, she knew she could quit her secretary job! She soon got another break when columnist Walter Winchell saw her in Las Vegas and started mentioning Barbara in his column. It wasn't long before she was signing a record contract with Coral Records!

Barbara had the great fortune to share the stage with Nat King Cole, during his stage shows, "I'm With You" and "The Merry World Of Nat King Cole". Some of her other stage appearances included Richard Rogers' "No Strings", "Pajama Game" with Hal Linden, and "Sophisticated Ladies", a Duke Ellington tribute.

Barbara's first movie role was a small part as a singer in the Henry Fonda film, Spencer's Mountain (1963). She continued to record, however, and in 1965, with Motown Records, she had one of her biggest hits, "You're Gonna Love My Baby". (A performance of this hit is on the Hullabaloo DVD below.) She made a couple of TV guest shots around this time, including "I Spy", "Hogan's Heroes" and "Mission: Impossible".

In Change Of Habit, Elvis' last film as an actor, Barbara played Sister Irene, one of three nuns (with Mary Tyler Moore and Jane Elliot), who disguise themselves in regular street clothes and volunteer to help out at a local clinic, run by Dr. Elvis, or course! Of the three, Barbara's role is the sage, the wise one, seemingly the only one who can keep her mind on the job! Jane's too young and goofy, and of course, Mary's in love with Dr. Elvis! Unfortunately, Barbara doesn't do any singing in the film, although off-camera, Elvis and Barbara got to meet one of the great gospel music legends and one of Elvis' idols, Mahalia Jackson!

Also in 1969, Barbara became the first African-American woman to host her own variety show on TV! The Barbara McNair Show served as a showcase for her many talents, and ran until 1971. In 1970, Barbara played one of her most memorable roles, as Valerie, the wife of Lt. Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) in They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!, the follow-up to the classic In The Heat Of The Night. Barbara played the role in this sequel, as well as in the third and final film, The Organization (1971).

Since then, Barbara made a few TV guest appearances, and her last film appearance was 1996's Neon Signs. She continued to sing and tour. Sadly, Barbara lost her long battle with cancer on February 4th 2007. Her official site is a fitting tribute by her nephew John. Also featured are selections from her final album "Here's To Life!"

Barbara Links

Barbara with Elvis and Mahalia Jackson
Mahalia Jackson with Elvis and Barbara on
the set of "Change of Habit"
The Livin' End album cover
The Livin' End
album from 1964

Barbara Photos

More Photos! Click to view larger image.

with Mary Tyler Moore in Change Of Habit

Barbara Videos

Barbara's Music and Soundtracks

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or download songs on iTunes!

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