Legendary Detroit soul singer J.J. Barnes dies at 79

 December 12, 2022

The Detroit Free Press reported that legendary soul singer J.J. Barnes died on Saturday at the age of 79. 

Tributes to Barnes quickly appeared on social media, with fans of the Detroit native remembering him as "a great American."

Singer suffered from declining health

Barnes' passing came less than two months after he said during an interview with Detroit Metro Times contributor Adam Stanfel that growing health problems had forced him to give up live shows.

"I’ll never fully retire, but this might be the last in-person appearance I’ll ever make," the elderly musician acknowledged.

"I’m almost blind in one eye, I’ve got high blood pressure, and a bad foot," he explained before adding, "But I’ve still got my piano at home, and I play and write every day."

Barnes also spoke about the turbulent childhood he experienced as the son of Leroy Barnes, a member of the successful traveling gospel group the Detroiters.

From turbulent childhood to stardom

"My parents split up early on, and I really didn’t know my mother for the first part of my life," Barnes recalled. "The conditions were rough, and the house on Hastings was always damp."

"As a child I got pneumonia real bad. My father took me to a woman named Mama Lena who owned a newer home but ran it as a 'Hoe House' on the corner of Brush and Forest," the singer explained.

"He told me later that he took me there expecting me to die, but Mama Lena took me and wrapped me in a blanket and poured oils on me. I started hollering and she said, 'He’s OK now.' I got a lot of love from Mama Lena," Barnes noted.

"Even though she led that type of life, Mama had me baptized at New Grace Bethel Church on Forest, and she put me in school at Trowbridge Elementary," he said.

Career began at 15

"My mom remarried a man named Earl Williams, and somehow they came and found me," Barnes noted. "They took me, but I didn’t even really know these people at the time."

Barnes' own music career began at the age of 15 when he joined a gospel quartet called the Hurricane Travelers, whose debut album "He’s All I Need" was released by Fortune Records.

However, Barnes acknowledged that his musical tastes quickly began to change, saying, "As I turned 16, I started hearing rock ’n’ roll and R&B. I heard this new music and wanted to be part of it."

That new style led to such popular hits as "Baby Please Come Back Home," "The Erroll Flynn," as well as "Chains of Love."

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