Detroit R&B-jazz singer Ortheia Barnes-Kennerly dead at 70

May 17, 2015, 1:01 PM

DETROIT (AP) — Detroit R&B and jazz singer Ortheia Barnes-Kennerly, who opened for Motown greats like Stevie Wonder and later entered the ministry, has died. She was 70.

Barnes-Kennerly died Friday in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where she went for a performance, friend and bass player Ralphe Armstrong told the Detroit Free Press. He said she had at least two strokes in recent years and died of heart failure.

Barnes-Kennerly recorded in the 1960s for Detroit’s Mickay Records and Coral Records, a Decca Records label. While never signing with Motown Records, she opened for a number of its stars, including Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight.

If Aretha Franklin is the Queen of Soul, “Ortheia was the empress,” Armstrong said.

She later turned her career toward speaking and the ministry.

Barnes-Kennerly told the Free Press in 1990 that she never lamented the lack of national success in her music career.

“I love doing my music, but mostly I love making people feel good,” she said. “The music has been good to me. I’ve had furs, cars and diamonds and all that without the million-seller. But it’s more to it than that for me. There’s a higher consciousness that lets me know I’m a part of this universe who has a gift to share, and when I’m sharing that gift, I’m happy.”

A suburban Detroit congresswoman said the world has lost “a gentle and kind spirit.”

“Ortheia Barnes’ love for all people could be felt in her music, in her ministry work, and in her support of all of Detroit,” U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich., said in a statement. “Whether you knew her through her music, through her ministry, or through her friendship, you were blessed.”

Her funeral is scheduled for May 26 at Hartford Memorial Baptist Church in Detroit, Swanson Funeral Home told The Associated Press.

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Detroit R&B-jazz singer Ortheia Barnes-Kennerly dead at 70