Detroit’s Music Icon Ortheia Barnes-Kennerly, 70, Dies Of Heart Failure – Fans Mourn The Passing Of “The Empress Of Jazz”

Ortheia Barnes-Kennerly, a soulful R&B and jazz singer passed away late last week. She was always considered an underappreciated performer. As the jazz community mourns her passing, her fans feel the world has lost another gem.

Based out of Detroit, Barnes-Kennerly passed away from a massive heart failure on Friday last week. Her medical history indicated she had suffered two life-threatening strokes earlier, but didn’t much heed the warning of her doctors to “take it easy”. In fact, she was out for a performance in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands on the day of her passing.

An active social worker, Barnes-Kennerly was at the forefront of helping underprivileged kids in Detroit. She actively participated Metro Detroit Youth Day held at Belle Isle, where she would often belt out a soulful performance which always moved the attendees. She was also on the board of Michigan Youth Appreciation Foundation and was responsible for keeping thousands of at-risk youth from the streets and away from petty crimes. She was an inspiration for encouraging youngsters to partake in athletic events instead of joining gangs.

Though a brilliant performer, she never won a major national award. However, the lack of national success, never bothered her,

“I love doing my music, but mostly I love making people feel good. 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.”

Interestingly, though she never signed with Motown Records, she opened for a number of its stars, including Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight. Barnes-Kennerly started her career by singing in a church choir. As her career progressed, sans national and international acclaim, she felt compelled to give back to the society and became a community activist. She was even an ordained minister.

Though her local fans feel she wasn’t famous, they weren’t prepared for outpouring of sympathy notes and remembrances on social media.

Known for her powerful contralto voice, Barnes-Kennerly reached out to thousands with the emotions she managed to stir up. No wonder Pope John Paul II, Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela have all applauded the music icon.

[Image Credit | Detroit Free Press, Town News, GoFundMe]