DEB BARR, SINGER, SONGWRITER, ENTERTAINER
[San Juan Silver Stage | September 2021 | By Kathryn R. Burke
Deb Barr, courtesy photo.DEB BARR WAS BORN A MUSICIAN. Music has been a guiding light throughout her life. She learned to play the piano when she was just two years old. At age five, she had memorized and could sing—all the words—to songs on 45s someone had given her. “Patty Page, Brenda Lee, Bobby Darrin, and if it was instrumental, I would hum it.” She was nine when she wrote her first song. “I can still sing it, but I never gave it a name.”
In high school, Deb sang, played piano, and was involved with musical productions for community theater and her school. She was 16 when she joined a Peter, Paul, and Mary “clone” band and sang with them until she went to college (in Austin, Texas), where she studied…music. Well, until they expected her to sing opera, which is not in her repertoire, so she switched to American Studies. “That was where I learned to study and to write, so it was all good,” she says. She also started her own jazz band while she was in college and was singing with other bands as well.
In 1981, Deb left Texas and headed to Telluride, Colorado, where she joined the Telluride Jazz Quartet (which then became a quintet). Seven years later, she went to New York City to take private lessons with a vocal instructor with the Manhattan School of Music. Deb also performed at various venues throughout the area.
She returned to Telluride in the ‘90s as a solo artist and also to sing with the Jeff Solon Swingin’ Big Band for the next 11 years. Today, she performs as a solo artist, and, besides Telluride, has performed in Albuquerque, Durango, Ouray, Ridgway, Montrose and other areas.
Who is Deb Barr, and where did it all come from?
Deb Barr grew up in Abilene, Texas, where she was fortunate to have access to a variety of types of music and opportunities for singing. “I was around a lot of people who sang—in the choir, at funerals. My family were my early influencers. I was an only child then and absorbed everything I heard. My mother could play by ear. My grandparents sang gospel music. My grandfather and his brother had a dance band that played on the radio in the 1940s. “I learned to play the piano,” she says, “because…it was just there. And, I was lucky to have some really excellent music teachers.
“I absorbed every single thing I heard,” she explains. “From gospel to folk, pop to classical—I loved it all. The Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky was a special favorite.”
Over the last few years, Deb has continued as a solo artist, writing music and performing. She has three CDs out now, and a poetry book, There Will Always Be a Place. The title of the book is also the title of one of her original songs. The book is hand-bound, each copy produced to order, a combination of her writings and the photography of her husband, Jim Womeldorf.
She and her husband now own 333 Arts in Nucla, Colorado. “We’re trying to combine a small gallery and performance venue with his massage studio, representing all the arts. The ultimate goal is music and poetry events, art shows, and more, anything relating to the arts.”
“Jazz is my thing,” she says, “but it is only part of my repertoire. My identity as a singer/songwriter is very strong. I enjoy playing and performing a variety of music, including instrumental concert pieces, classical, old folk songs, like Judy Collins, pop, and of course…jazz.”
This variety is the theme of her “Musical Retrospective,” performed Friday, September 17th, at Montrose Methodist Church as a fundraiser for the Montrose Center for the Arts. Deb began her performance with Autumn Leaves. “It was an intimate evening, an evening of beautiful music, all kinds of music about different things,” is how Deb Barr described it.