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PITTSBURGH'S LAST LIVING ICON FROM THE GOLDEN AGE OF RADIO: BARBARA LEE OWENS STAMY

On Tuesday, September 6, 2016, at age 90, longtime Fox Chapel resident Barbara Stamy died peacefully at Longwood at Oakmont. Beloved wife for 50 years of the late Lloyd Franklin Stamy, she was also predeceased by her parents, Jonathan Lee Owens and Ruth Loucié Hogan Owens, as well as a younger sister, Shirley Ruth Owens Triplett (Mrs. William W. Triplett, Jr.). A devoted and loving mother to Lloyd Franklin Stamy, Jr. (Mary Margaret) of Fox Chapel, Stephen Reese Stamy of Shadyside, Cynthia Scott Stamy of London, England, and Susan Blythe Stamy Peterson of Charleston, South Carolina, Barbara is also survived by three cherished grandchildren, Caroline MacLauchlin Stamy, Hayden Grace Stamy and Jonathan Patton Stamy.

A Regent Square native, Barbara was valedictorian of the 1943 class at Wilkinsburg High School. Awarded a Senatorial full academic scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh, she majored in English and Psychology, earning her bachelor's degree in three years by attending both the University of Wisconsin and the School of Music at Carnegie-Mellon University during the summers to study drama and music. Many years later, in 1972, she also earned a master's degree in Child Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh.

An adventuresome world traveler and voracious reader, Barbara was passionate about life and virtually everyone she met, and through song, many others she hadn't. Conveying her love of people and life through music was a half century long endeavor, as her professional singing career spanned six decades, from the mid 1940s through the early 1990s. She was presented by The Pittsburgh Concert Society and appeared in Civic Light Opera and Pittsburgh Playhouse productions. Beyond appearing as soloist in several oratorio and cantata performances with Pittsburgh area choirs and orchestras, Mrs. Stamy also sang at various houses of worship, including the Shadyside Presbyterian Church Chancel Choir, as the soprano soloist at the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Shadyside, alto soloist at Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church, and the contralto in the solo quartet at Temple Sinai.

Although recognized later in her career for singing classical and sacred repertoire, the former Barbara Lee Owens is often remembered as a songstress of Broadway show tunes and for her live weekly radio program on KDKA during the late 1940s entitled Songs You Love to Hear. It was music of that genre which propelled her into the national spotlight. In 1947, at age 21, Barbara won the Wilkens Amateur Hour and was signed by the Breakfast Cheer Coffee Company, sponsor of the Songs You Love to Hear program that was broadcast live every Monday evening from KDKA Radio's Studio A. Because of the station's dominant signal (50,000 clear channel watts), 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 was a beacon of evening family entertainment prior to television.

Barbara leaves behind a musical legacy from that golden age of radio. Master broadcast discs from the show survived for more than 60 years, and digitized tracks from those recordings were recently released as a six-album collection of CDs that are available through her website at www.barbaraleeowens.com or by download from iTunes, Amazon and other digital retailers.

Friends will be received Friday, September 16, 2016, from 6-8 p.m. at JOHN A. FREYVOGEL SONS, INC., (freyvogelfuneralhome.com), 4900 Centre Avenue at Devonshire Street, Shadyside, and a Memorial Service celebrating Barbara's life will be held at the Shadyside Presbyterian Church, 5121 Westminster Place, Pittsburgh, PA 15232, on Saturday, September 17, 2016, at 11 a.m. followed by a reception. Memorial gifts may be made to the church, earmarked for its Music Ministry.

Published in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from Sept. 9 to Sept. 16, 2016

- See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/postgazette/obituary.aspx?n=barbara-lee-owens-stamy&pid=181345969&fhid=9719#sthash.w1FK1CnV.dpuf

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The December 21, 2013 interview with Barbara in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette entitled "A Songstress is Heard Again"

Barbara Lee Owens Stamy's performances come back to life on a new CD

The Pittsburgh native was a local star on KDKA-AM

December 21, 2013 7:09 PM

Pam Panchak / Post-Gazette 

Barbara Lee Owens Stamy's singing career lasted from the mid-1940s through early 1990s.

By Adrian McCoy / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

People who remember when radio was the dominant form of home entertainment might recall the voice of the young singer Barbara Lee Owens, whose talents were showcased on a weekly local music show on KDKA-AM in the late '40s.

From 1947-49, she was a singer on "Songs You Love to Hear," a weekly show sponsored by Breakfast Cheer Coffee. She sang duets with the late Johnny Kirby and also did solos, accompanied by Russell Merritt on piano and celesta and organist Johnny Mitchell. The late Paul Shannon, best remembered as a WTAE-TV host, worked at KDKA at the time and was the show's announcer. The half-hour show aired Monday evenings and was followed by Perry Como's radio show.

Barbara Lee Owens Stamy will turn 88 on Monday. The longtime Fox Chapel resident is now living at Longwood at Oakmont. Through the years, she kept a large collection of memorabilia from her days as a performer -- programs and photos, newspaper clippings, correspondence, pay receipts and recordings. And thanks to her son Lloyd Stamy Jr., she has a new CD of her KDKA recordings to add to the collection.

Mrs. Stamy was born and raised in Regent Square. Elizabeth Henderson, her ninth-grade music teacher, recognized her talent and suggested to her parents that she study singing. She started her formal voice training in high school, studying with several teachers, and training in classical and sacred music with Joseph O'Brien, who sang with the Mendelssohn Choir and was an organist at several local churches.

"I always loved to sing -- anything. Singing is part of my soul," Mrs. Stamy said. "I'm grateful that God blessed me with a voice and others encouraged me along the way."

In 1947, she was a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh when she and fellow student Tommy Leiper took a shot at fame on "The Wilkens Amateur Hour," a popular weekly talent show that aired on radio in the '30s and '40s and moved to TV in 1950. They won.

Soon after, she was invited to fill in on KDKA's "Breakfast Cheer" program and quickly became a permanent part.

Doing a live radio music show is a lost art these days. Mrs. Stamy said that Kirby, Merritt and Mitchell got together about an hour before the broadcast to decide on the song lineup.

"Johnny and I would each bring a stack of scores, then choose what combination of solos and duets would go well together, and in what key sounded best. After that, Paul [Shannon] would join us, and we'd run through that evening's entire show to get the pacing right and make sure the guys on keyboards had all the breath markings."

She found studio work easier than being on stage.

"We all had the music in front of us. We could watch each other closely, which helped hold it all together. Oddly enough, it was a more personal experience than being on stage in front of an audience. On stage, all you really see are the lights in your eyes. So you don't really connect with your audience until it's over and the applause starts."

KDKA's powerful 50,000-watt signal carried its shows to other states at night, and her fan base extended far beyond the city limits. There were requests for photos and autographs. The station sent her to New York for a portrait session with the late Murray Korman, a noted celebrity photographer whose stylish portraits included Fred Astaire, Carmen Miranda, Betty Grable and Fanny Brice.

Along with her radio work, she performed on stage, including the Pittsburgh Playhouse, where she appeared in "The Damask Cheek," "After Hours" and "Singing in the Rain," the Civic Light Opera, and as a soloist with The Pittsburgh Concert Society and The Bach Choir. She also sang with local dance bands.

After the show ended, she married Lloyd Stamy and they raised four children. The late Mr. Stamy was a construction equipment dealer, real estate developer and founder of the Lloyd F. Stamy Company.

She went back to graduate school, earning a master's in child development after her children were grown. She traveled extensively, including a solo backpacking trip in Europe. And she continued to perform into the early '90s. Her range extended from popular to classical and sacred music: She performed as a soloist at Shadyside Presbyterian Church Chancel Choir, Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church and other houses of worship.

She experienced sudden radio celebrity in her youth and a life rich in adventure and travel, but Mrs. Stamy never let the fame and attention go to her head. "I didn't really know I was famous; I never felt famous, it was just my life and what life handed me," she said. "I loved to sing, so it wasn't like work, though it did require lots of work." But, she added, "It was fun. All of it."

Much of the recorded history of radio -- which Mrs. Stamy was part of -- is long gone. Programs were recorded on large 16-inch acetate discs, which often were pitched when stations moved or changed owners.

Although "Songs You Love to Hear" was a live show, it was recorded and the discs were sent to other stations that aired the shows. When former KDKA musician Russ Merritt heard that KDKA was cleaning out its archives, he rescued 12 discs of "Breakfast Cheer" and stored them in his garage. Lloyd Stamy Jr. asked to borrow them to transfer them to cassettes, and Mr. Merritt gave them to him.

Among boxes of family memorabilia, Mr. Stamy found the old Korman publicity photos, along with another stack of recordings from the KDKA show.

Mr. Stamy enlisted the help of several local audio and recording professionals, including Chris Hood, Steve Zelenko and George Heid Jr., to restore and transfer the programs to more modern media.

In the early '80s, the originals were cleaned and noise reduction equipment was used to eliminate the crackling and hissing. Mr. Hood transferred the recordings to high quality reel-to-reel tapes. Mr. Stamy made cassette recordings for his mother and siblings.

Earlier this year, he released a collection of highlights of his mother's radio recordings on a CD named after the "Songs You Love to Hear" show. The collection includes 14 songs, mostly Great American Songbook classics such as "Night and Day," "Over the Rainbow, "Someday My Prince Will Come" and "Dancing in the Dark." Korman's original publicity photos are used on the CD cover and liner notes.

Mr. Stamy gave her the CD to mark the show's 65th anniversary.

"I was shocked. I didn't realize he had this." Mrs. Stamy said.

Its contents are fitting for a performer who, despite a varied repertoire, says that her favorites are the classic pop standards, such as "You Go to My Head" and "My Funny Valentine," which she still enjoys listening to. "As far as my contemporaries, I admired Sinatra, of course, Eileen Farrell and Judy Garland. Later on, definitely Streisand -- she's my favorite."

The project has been "fascinating, revealing and fun," said Mr. Stamy, who has followed in his mother's musical footsteps. A retired partner at C.S. McKee, he appears in community theater productions and has sung with choirs and glee clubs.

He said releasing the music on CD was a way to preserve "the memory of her joy of singing" and to share it with others. Personally, he added. "It's just payback for all of her goodness over the years. Her precious gift of song was the abiding influence of music on our family," he said.

Mr. Stamy points out that his mother's voice has been recorded on all recording media -- from the first wire recordings to digital mp3s. Steel wire recordings preceded magnetic tape and were used from the 1930s until after World War II. Mr. Stamy recently found a wire recording of his mother singing works by Debussy, Schubert and Brahms in a 1946 recital.

"Songs You Love to Hear" is the first in a series of his mother's recordings Mr. Stamy plans to release. Copies of the CD are available at barbaraleeowens.com, and mp3 versions will soon be for sale on iTunes and Amazon.com.

Read the article here:
http://www.post-gazette.com/ae/music/2013/12/22/Barbara-Lee-Owens-Stamy-s-performances-come-back-to-life-on-a-new-CD/stories/201312220035

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The April 26, 2014 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article about the release of Barbara's second CD.

Barbara Lee Owens' second CD captures the sound of the KDKA singer of the late '40s

April 26, 2014 9:31 PM

Murray Korman

Barbara Lee Owens in the late '40s when she was on KDKA-AM.

By Adrian McCoy / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Singer Barbara Lee Owens was a local radio star in the late 1940s. From 1947-49 she performed on KDKA-AM's "Songs You Love to Hear," a weekly show sponsored by Breakfast Cheer Coffee.

Barbara Lee Owens Stamy is a longtime Fox Chapel resident whose musical range extended from popular songs to stage, classical and sacred music.

Her voice and those early radio performances are now preserved on CDs, thanks to the efforts of her son Lloyd Stamy Jr. Last year, he released a collection of recordings -- "Songs You Love to Hear," which was named for the original KDKA radio show.

That was followed this month by a second volume -- "Falling in Love With Love." Songs include the title track, "What Is This Thing Called Love?", "Ev'rything I Love," "Silver Moon" and 10 others.

Also heard on the recordings are pianist/celesta player Russ Merritt, organist Johnny Mitchell and announcer Paul Shannon, who then worked at KDKA.

It was Mr. Merritt who rescued a stack of 12 16-inch acetate disks of live transcription recordings of the show that were headed for the landfill. He kept them in his garage for decades and eventually gave them to Mr. Stamy. Mr. Stamy later found a second treasure trove of his mother's recordings that were stored in a stereo cabinet.

The original recordings were transferred to reel-to-reel tape by Chris Hood, and later digitized by George Heid Jr. and Steve Zelenko. The digital versions were then remastered and restored by Stephen Wilde, an actor and former Pittsburgher now living in New York.

A third volume -- "Say It With Music" -- will be released in May. Mr. Stamy plans to add three volumes of duets, which Mrs. Stamy sang with the late Johnny Kirby, who also was a regular on the "Songs You Love to Hear" program.

Volumes 1 and 2 are available for $15 through barbaraleeowens.com and can be downloaded from iTunes.

 

Adrian McCoy: amccoy@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1865.

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Wilken's Amateur Hour: 1947

Pair will sing "My Hero" over WCAE on Amateur Hour Program

Two district residents will compete for a $1000 prize on an amateur hour Sunday afternoon at
4 p. m., over Station WCAE, Pittsburgh.

The pair, Thomson Leiper, 23, a tenor, and Barbara Lee Owens, 21, soprano, wi!l sing a duet, "My Hero" from THE CHOCOLATE SOLDIER.

Both Mr. Leiper, who lives at 7333 Woodlawn Avenue, Swissvale, and Miss Owens, of 1004 East End avenue, Regent Square, are seniors at the University of Pittsburgh.

Early this year, they earned the right to compete as finalists in Sunday's contest by singing on the amateur hour- sponsored by a jewelry firm. At that time they sang the number which they will repeat Sunday.

Miss Owens and Mr. Leiper began singing together at a minstrel performance in Swisshelm Park. Those who heard their songs urged them to continue their singing careers together - careers which may eventually win for them national recognition.

 

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