CHICAGO — Delois Barrett Campbell, a member of the award-winning Barrett Sisters trio who electrified audiences worldwide with their powerful gospel harmonies, died Tuesday. She was 85.
Campbell died at a Chicago hospital after a long illness, daughter Mary Campbell said.
The Barrett Sisters, raised on Chicago’s South Side and coached to sing by an aunt, grew up to become what music critic Howard Reich of the Chicago Tribune has called “the greatest female trio in gospel history.” Campbell was the oldest of the three.
“I believe she was born to sing,” Mary Campbell said of her mother in a July 2011 interview with The Associated Press. “Each time she sang it was as if she were performing to a cathedral full of people, no matter how small the group was.”
Campbell said her mother was visited on Monday by singer Jennifer Hudson, who said she grew up listening to the Barrett Sisters.
“She was by her bedside,” Campbell said. “It meant a lot to us.”
The trio shared a gospel lineage with the greats. In the girls’ youth, Thomas A. Dorsey, now considered the father of gospel, was stirring up change as music director of the city’s Pilgrim Baptist Church, where he mixed the worldly and the sacred during the Great Depression.
The Roberta Martin Singers, a touring gospel group, emerged from Pilgrim Baptist’s youth choir, and Campbell joined it when she was in high school. The popular music of the Andrews Sisters also influenced Campbell and her sisters. When they were young, they practiced blending their voices on both religious and secular songs. The sisters recorded their first album together, “Jesus Loves Me,” in the mid-1960s.
New generations discovered the Barrett Sisters when they appeared in the 1982 documentary “Say Amen, Somebody.”
New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael described the trio as “dramatic, physically striking women with ample figures in shiny, clinging blue gowns.” She wrote that they “sing so exhilaratingly that they create a problem.” Kael wanted more music, less talking, in the film.
The film opened doors for the Barrett Sisters, Mary Campbell said. “That’s when they began their European travels,” she said. “It gave them the publicity they couldn’t afford.”
The sisters appeared in Patti LaBelle’s 1990 television special “Going Home to Gospel.” In 2008, they received the Ambassador Bobby Jones Legend Award at the Stellar Awards, the national gospel music awards show.
Campbell’s husband, the Rev. Frank Campbell, died in 2000. The couple had four children; two are deceased.
The surviving members of the Barrett Sisters, Rodessa Barrett Porter and Billie Barrett GreenBey, sang with guest vocalist Tina Brown in March 2011 to celebrate Campbell’s 85th birthday at a gospel concert in a Chicago church. Campbell, her voice diminished to a whisper, watched from a chair near the altar.
In a video clip from the concert, Brown paid tribute to Campbell. “She is my personal queen of the gospel,” Brown said.
Funeral arrangements were pending.
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