Before rearing four children and eventually becoming a grandmother, Barbara Stamy was presented by The Pittsburgh Concert Society and appeared in both Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera and Pittsburgh Playhouse productions. Beyond appearing as soloist in several oratorio performances with choirs and orchestras, Mrs. Stamy also sang with the Shadyside Presbyterian Church Chancel Choir, was the soprano soloist at the First Church of Christ, Scientist, alto soloist at Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church, and the contralto voice in the Solo Quartet at Temple Sinai. Her professional career spanned six decades (from the mid 1940s through the early 1990s), though right up to her death on September 6, 2016, she would break into song if requested.
However, the former Barbara Lee Owens (as she was once known by her stage and maiden name) is perhaps best remembered as a songstress of Broadway show tunes. It was singing music of that genre which first propelled her into the national spotlight by winning the Wilkens Amateur Hour contest at age 21. Her choice for the final round of the competition was "My Hero", a song which she recorded forty years later with her son that is included as a bonus track in her collection entitled A Grand Night For Singing. Immediately thereafter she was signed by the Breakfast Cheer Coffee Company, which sponsored her weekly program on Pittsburgh's KDKA radio during the late 1940’s entitled Songs You Love to Hear.
Songs You Love to Hear, often referred to as The Breakfast Cheer Coffee Program, was a half-hour show broadcast live at 7:30 p.m. every Monday evening from KDKA’s studio then located in
the Grant Building, airing immediately before The Perry Como Show at 8 p.m. Because of its powerful signal (50,000 clear channel watts) and before the bandwidth later became increasingly crowded, the show could be heard east of the Mississippi and from New England to Florida. Moreover, because the majority of other AM stations had to sign-off at night, KDKA became a beacon of evening family entertainment prior to television. Produced by Stan Norman with KDKA’s musical director Bernie Armstrong, the popular broadcast was sponsored by Wiltman & Callahan, an advertising agency representing Breakfast Cheer Coffee, owned by the Campbell & Woods Company. Agency President Bob Wiltman was the liaison between Breakfast Cheer and the show, which had begun its weekly broadcasts in 1944 featuring Johnny Kirby and Betty Ellen Morris.
Late in 1946, while taking nine graduate credits as a graduate teaching assistant in biology at the University of Pittsburgh during the day and singing with “dance bands” at night and as a church soloist on Sundays, Barbara was recruited to audition for the show. That “audition” was a live radio broadcast of the program on January 5, 1947. Barbara was invited back to substitute for Betty Ellen again in March, and eventually replaced her permanently on May 5th.
Barbara became an overnight sensation, leading to unprecedented requests for public appearances throughout western Pennsylvania. Moreover, KDKA was inundated with telegrams from fans across the country requesting her autographed photo. As a result, the station immediately sent young 22-year-old Barbara to the legendary Murray Korman in New York City for a publicity shoot. A world renowned “photographer to the stars,” Korman’s efforts were spectacular, and several of the accompanying photos of Barbara are from that session. Today, after more than a half century since his death in 1961, examples of Korman’s work with Hollywood celebrities and other famous clients can be found on the web.
The first of Barbara’s 112 consecutive weekly shows was simultaneously recorded and broadcast on Monday, May 5, 1947. Joined by tenor Tim “Johnny” Kirby, she was accompanied by Russell Merritt on piano and celesta (forerunner of today’s synthesizer), and organist Johnny Mitchell. Paul Shannon, who years later would be better known as the long-time host of many television programs for ABC affiliate WTAE, was the announcer. The show typically included two or three solos each by Barbara and Johnny, as well as several duets after the fashion of Nelson Eddy and Jeannette MacDonald.
Complete live transcriptions were made of the shows by cutting them on a 1-to-1 basis on 16-inch lacquered metal discs, which were subsequently couriered to other radio stations for syndication via playback as a phonograph record. Recently, some of those broadcast discs containing more than 100 recordings from the program were discovered, digitized and restored, and have now been released as six collections in a new series of CDs and digital downloads.
Barbara remained with the show until it went off the air following its final broadcast on Monday, June 27th, 1949. Later that year, on November 19th, 1949, she married Lloyd F. Stamy, a construction equipment dealer and real estate developer, and they settled in Fox Chapel, a Pittsburgh suburb.