Throat Cancer Claims Barbara McNair
Pioneering 1960s-70s television personality, actress, singer
Los Angeles, CA - Barbara McNair, a singer, actress and television personality of the 1960s and 1970s, died February 4 in Los Angeles. McNair, who was 72, had been battling throat cancer.
McNair became one of the few African-American television hosts of the period with syndicated variety series The Barbara McNair Show, which aired from 1969 to 1971.
She also recorded several albums, and continued to perform until shortly before her death.
Barbara Joan McNair was born March 4, 1934, and grew up in Racine, Wis. She sang in church as a child, and by her teens held dreams of singing professionally teenager.
She studied at the Racine Conservatory and UCLA before moving to New York City, where for a time she worked as a typist while trying to make it as a singer.
Her break came with a week-long stint on the television program Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, which led to bookings at several well-known nightclubs. Those performances resulted in further television appearances on such variety series as Toast of the Town, The Dean Martin Show and The Tonight Show.
A gig at the Village Vanguard club in Greenwich Village resulted in a role in the 1958 Broadway musical The Body Beautiful, which ran for two months.
McNair’s other Broadway credits include the 1962 production No Strings, in which she replaced Diahann Carroll as the female lead, and a 1973 revival of The Pajama Game.
From the stage she segued into movies, and went on to appear in such films as If He Hollers, Let Him Go!, They Call Me MISTER Tibbs! and The Organization.
In addition to her variety show, McNair appeared in several television series, including I Spy, Hogan’s Heroes, Mission: Impossible, The Mod Squad, McMillan & Wife, Police Woman and The Jeffersons. She also had a recurring role on the daytime drama General Hospital.
McNair faced controversy in 1972 when she and her husband at the time, Richard Manzie, were charged with heroin possession. Although she was eventually cleared of the charges, the incident stalled her career. In 1976, Manzie was found shot to death.
Over time, she began working more frequently, and balanced regular singing engagements with the occasional television role.
She is survived by her fourth husband, Charles Blecka, and a sister, Jacqueline Gaither.