SAN PEDRO, CA-Songbird for life. That is the life story of Windy Barnes Farrell. Sing. Sing. And sing some more. While you’re at it, make it good to the folks listening to you. Barnes Farrell has made it good enough that she has never had to do anything in the line of employment but open her mouth and sing melodic tunes.
For the greater part of five decades, she has been good at it, too. Her vocal skills helped her land gigs in clubs when she was a teenager. At 14, she was already a pro as she hit the local club circuit in and around Chicago.
“My older sister…she used to sneak me out of my mom’s house, and my mom had an upstairs and a roof and two big pillars,” Barnes Farrell said. “I would come and climb on the roof and I would slide down and they would take me across the street to another girl’s house where they would dress me up in wigs and makeup. They would take me to the clubs, and they were having talent shows. That was the thing. They would put me in these talent shows, and I would win and then they would take the money.”
After gaining a wealth of experience of singing in front of adult audiences, it was on to bigger and better things for Barnes Farrell, now 65. Performing at these small venues eventually fastracked Barnes Farrell to working with Stevie Wonder, making the international rounds with the great Julio Iglesias, and collaborating with the soulful Michael Bolton (We’re Not Making Love Anymore).
She got her formal training at VanderCook College of Music. So, if there is someone who knows a thing or two about good music, Barnes Farrell, who headlines the San Pedro Musical Festival on Sunday, May 12 at the Warner Grand Theatre, in San Pedro, California, has already dialed that number in.
“I love all kinds of music,” Barnes Farrell said in an interview at her San Pedro home. “When people ask me what kind of music do I sing? I say, ‘Good music.’ That’s how I distinguish between one or the other.”
As far as her definition of what good music is, Barnes Farrell said it should be something that stirs the soul.
“It is music that moves you to feel a particular way, music that takes you to another space that is good, that makes you feel good on the inside,” she said. “Some music to me is not necessarily meant for that purpose. It’s meant to move you but feels good. Some music is distorted…you can’t really feel good about it, but if you’re doing drugs and they make you feel some kind of way, like in a trance or something…that’s not the kind of music I’m talking about. To me, for me, this is personal, it’s music that has miracle content, and if it’s instrumental, it has a melodic or has a certain melody that is pleasing to the ear.”
Barnes Farrell has had an interesting journey getting to where she is today as an accomplished singer and coveted singing coach. None of her other eight siblings took to the singing rout that she took towards her life pathway. Her mother worked as a seamstress.
She was the only one in the family blessed with talented vocal chops. She was determined to use them, too, even though she got plenty of grief and a lot of pushback from family members.
“[It] was purely a gift from God,” Barnes Farrell said. “Out of the nine, there nobody singing but me, nobody in music, not my parents, not even my siblings. I grew up in a world with no support. I was not encouraged to sing. I was encouraged to shut up..”
Without the backing of her family, Barnes Farrell, who travels and performs extensively in China and throughout Asia, said she learn a valuable life lesson growing up with so many people under the same roof.
“It was like a community,” Barnes Farrell said. “It felt like I learned about the world from my siblings. Each one of them represented a different aspect of life that I would encounter once I left home. Somebody really loved you, somebody really adored you, somebody hated you. There were people for you and against you.
Of course, since she had the gift of singing, there was some hating going on as well. By performing, she received a lot of attention, Barnes Farrell said.
“It was all this manipulation from the older sisters,” she said. “[There] was jealousy. I didn’t understand what that was as a kid, but it was like I got a lot of attention as a kid because I did sing. They didn’t get the same type of attention. It seemed like it was resentment that was built up. I had one older sister who was the protagonist; she just had it in for me. She just didn’t care for me for whatever reason.”
As an artist, Barnes Farrell covers just about the whole gamut of singing. She dabbles in just about every genre of music, going from R&B, jazz, pop, and gospel. Listening to Barnes Farrell is like putting your ear to a well-stirred mix of the late Whitney Houston, Anita Baker, and Regina Belle. And you might just throw in a dash of Gladys Knight as well.
Barnes Farrell got her career props going listening and singing along to Motown artists from the jukebox or on the radio. Knight, the frontwoman to the Gladys Knights & the Pips act, was the one signer that really caught her attention, Barnes Farrell says. It was at age five that she saw Knight perform on television and decided that singing was what she wanted to do.
“Watching her on television, I remember saying to myself, looking at her, ‘I can sing like that,’ and I was a kid,” Barnes Farrell said. “I was clear as a little girl that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I didn’t know that I should have had support. I didn’t know this was weird.”
As it turns out, Barnes Farrell, because of her strong singing voice, was so impressive that she became somewhat of a novelty act for teachers who would pull her out of one class just for her to perform in another classroom. One day, while going through another moment of being propped up for other people’s entertainment enjoyment, a substitute teacher gave her a pathway directive that Barnes Farrell still remembers to this day.
“He said to me, you have such a recordable voice,” Barnes Farrell said. “I didn’t even know what that meant because I didn’t know anything about recording. I think I was about eleven. He said, if you don’t become a big superstar, I would really wonder why?”
Well, that teacher need not worry because Barnes Farrell took that advice baton and has run with it, going from school and church phenom to a worldwide performer.
“I was like Michael Jackson in the Jackson 5. Here is this little girl, and I had a really big voice,” Barnes Farrell said. “Our house was down there from the church and my mother could sit at home and hear me singing in church. She could sit right at home and hear me singing.”
Getting behind the microphone, though, is just one aspect of her multi-dimensional musical career.
When she’s not on stage belting out songs, Barnes Farrell is a choir director. She runs and operates Windy Barnes International Voice Academy. The Mother’s Day concert that she’ll be performing in is run through her Windy City Productions. Married to former Los Angeles City Councilman Robert Farrell, Barnes Farrell has developed and prospered her business acumen as well as keeping her singing drive alive.
That attention thing? She’s gotten plenty of it throughout her career, but that is not why she chose to go into that profession, said Barnes Farrell.
“It wasn’t about the attention that I got,” said Barnes Farrell. “It was really about the singing. I just couldn’t stop expressing that way. So, it was more for me about me expressing something than the attention.”
Not only did Barnes Farrell not seek the limelight that usually adorns performers; she detested it during the early stages of her career.
“Back then I couldn’t stand for people to comfort me because I felt I didn’t deserve all those accolades,” Barnes Farrell said. “When I got through singing, I would rush away because I was so critical of myself. I became very uncomfortable.”