Versatile singer and actress McNair dies

Barbara McNair, the pioneering black singer-actress who hosted her own TV variety show and starred with Sidney Poitier in the early 1970s, has died. She was 72. McNair died on Sunday in Los Angeles after a battle with throat cancer, her sister, Jacqueline Gaither, said.

“She was very family oriented,” Gaither said. “She was more than just a star or a famous personality. She was a person of her own.” Gaining fame in the 1960s as a nightclub singer, McNair graduated to film and television as opportunities were opening up for black women late in the decade. She made her Hollywood acting debut in 1968 in the film, If He Hollers, Let Him Go.

She later starred with Elvis Presley in his 1969 film Change of Habit and as Poitier’s wife in the 1970 film They Call Me MISTER Tibbs! She found movie acting “a more rewarding kind of work than singing,” she told the Washington Post in 1969. “When I’m working in a club, I must go from one song to another rapidly and I don’t have much time to express myself emotionally. In a movie, you can concentrate on one scene at a time.” She hosted television’s The Barbara McNair Show, a syndicated musical and comedy program, from 1969 to 1972. As a singer, one of her biggest hits was You Could Never Love Him.

She started out as a jazz singer but later branched out, adding show tunes and the Beatles’ Yesterday to her repertoire. On Broadway, McNair replaced Diahann Carroll in Richard Rodgers’ No Strings in 1963, and 10 years later costarred with Hal Linden in a revival of The Pajama Game.


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