How did Bertha Barbee die? The Velvelettes singer cause of death revealed


How did Bertha Barbee die? The Velvelettes singer cause of death revealed

MOTOWN legend Bertha Barbee McNeal has passed away leaving her family members and Bandmates in utter despair. Let’s see what happened to her and Bertha Barbee cause of death in detail.

What happened to Bertha Barbee?

On their official Facebook post, Motown Museum revealed Bertha Barbee’s passing the following statement reads,

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Motown alumnus Ms. Bertha Barbee-McNeal, a founding member of the Motown group The Velvelettes.

At the age of 20, Bertha along with the Velvelettes signed to Motown Records in 1962 and went on to release several R&B charting hits including “Needle in a Haystack” in 1964.

A true pioneer of American girl groups, Bertha helped promote the Motown sound and style worldwide. Bertha once recalled having a strong respect for Mr. Gordy and Motown’s recording engineers, musicians, writers, and producers. As a community leader and educator, Bertha’s passion was to inspire young girls, particularly the next generation of female talent.

She was a faithful supporter of the Motown Museum. And participated in many museum events including Hitsville Honors in 2019 and the grand opening of Rocket Plaza this past August. Her kind and sweet presence was always a delight and she was loved by the museum staff and alumni alike.

We honor Bertha for her great contributions to the legacy of Motown and we send our condolences to her family, friends, and fans all over the world.

Bertha Barbee cause of death

Bertha Barbee McNeal, a MOTOWN legend, passed away from colon cancer. On Thursday, the popular musician who was a member of the popular band The Velvelettes passed away in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

After her colon cancer spread, McNeal, 82, spent a few weeks in a hospice. In July, she gave her final performance with The Velvelettes in Kalamazoo.

McNeal was an “angel,” lead singer Cal Gill Street told the Detroit Press. She said to the publication, “I lost my best buddy. Bertie was a lovely woman.

Even when she was unhappy, she never used foul language or spoke poorly of anyone. She would surpass that, acting like an angel on earth. She served as the group’s go-to glue to prevent choking.

It is with great regret that we announce the demise of Motown alumna Ms. Bertha Barbee-McNeal, a founding member of the Motown group The Velvelettes, according to a statement from the Motown Museum.

Who was Bertha Barbee-McNeal?

She was a member of one of the greatest early Motown acts and then pursued a career in which she assisted other musicians in finding their voices. We grieve Bertha Barbee-McNeal, a co-founder of the Velvelettes, who passed away tonight.


Barbee-McNeal was raised in Flint, Michigan, where she excelled at the piano and organ as a young child. She attended Western Michigan University’s music program in Kalamazoo because of her passion for music.

While there, Mildred Gill’s sister Carolyn, her friend Betty Kelly, and Bertha’s cousin Norma Barbee joined Barbee-McNeal and Mildred Gill to establish The Velvelettes. Robert Bullock, the nephew of Motown CEO Berry Gordy, Jr., who signed the group in 1962, heard them singing around campus.

In 1963, The Velvelettes put out several tracks on the label, but none of them were radio-friendly. But the trio got a break in 1964 when up-and-coming songwriter/producer Norman Whitfield was given a job with them. Their cooperation produced “Needle In A Haystack,” which became their anthem and a Billboard chart success.

Before disbanding in 1967, they had the passable hits “He Was Sayin’ Something,” “Lonely, Lonely Girl Am I,” and “These Things Will Keep Me Loving You.” In the late 1980s, they came back together for a brief time to record a few songs for Ian Levine’s Motorcity label.


After graduating from Western Michigan University with a master’s degree in music teaching, Barbee-McNeal continued to raise her family while working as a teacher in the Kalamazoo public school system. She was well-known in the neighborhood not only for her private piano lessons but also for her work coaching many young aspiring artists’ voices.

The Golden Apple Award was given to Barbee-McNeal by the Western Michigan University College of Education and Human Development Alumni Society in 2004. Later in life, Barbee-McNeal worked as a teacher at the charitable Helen L. Fox Gospel Music Center, which is located in Kalamazoo.

Bertha Barbee-McNeal was a musician who contributed to the founding of the finest soul music label ever. She also performed a second act, bringing the joy of music to many generations of students in her adopted hometown of Kalamazoo. Both her neighborhood and the soul music industry will miss her.

The Velvelettes

The Velvelettes were a 1960s Motown singing girl group from the United States. In 1964, Norman Whitfield’s “Needle in a Haystack,” which peaked at number 45 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 27 in Canada, brought them their largest chart success.

Sisters Carolyn and Millie Gill, along with cousins Bertha Barbee-McNeal and Norma Barbee (all from Flint, Michigan), established the Velvelettes in 1961 while they were students at Western Michigan University.

The trio joined Motown Records, but they weren’t given the most priority because other female vocal groups were drawing attention and releasing successful records.

The trio provided backing vocals for more seasoned Motown female groups like The Marvelettes, Martha & The Vandellas, and The Supremes while they awaited their turn at success.

With “Needle In A Haystack,” which reached number 45 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the middle of 1964, the Velvelettes made their debut.

“The Trio”

The trio participated in several Motown-sponsored tours as an opening act while also recording its follow-up, “He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin'”.

The Velvelettes started work on an album after placing a song on the charts and appearing on multiple concert tours. Despite their growing popularity, the band’s members started to quarrel over the songs they were writing. While one half believed the songs were clichéd and wanted to record more mature music, the other half didn’t want to upset the apple cart so early in their careers.

Motown started to have concerns about the group’s potential and the cost of the recordings. The label published two additional songs, “Lonely Lonely Girl Am I” and “A Bird In The Hand,” as the band underwent numerous line-up changes, not wanting to squander good time or money.

Due to the failure of both singles, Motown decided to postpone the release of the group’s self-titled debut album. “These Things Will Keep Me Loving You” was one of the Velvelettes’ final recordings, and it later became their final American single.

Early to mid-1970 saw their official breakup. When the Gill sisters and Barbee cousins re-recorded their classic singles alongside a few brand-new songs for the album One Door Closes, the group came together once more. The group is still on the road today.

Following her passing, McNeal received tributes from her fans

Greg C. Hendricks said,

The Velveteen was extraordinary! never had an album in the golden Detroit Hitsville days. Motown slept on them. Glad they were acknowledged! They were exquisite!

Larry Powers said,

Eternal Rest Grant Unto Her, Oh Lord, And Let Perpetual Light Shine Upon Her. May The Souls Of The Faithful depart, Through The Mercy Of God, Rest In Peace.

One said: “Thankful for her contributions to the Motown sound and family. Loved their music. May God rest her soul! “Condolences to the family and closest friends.”

Another commented: “The Velvelettes were one of the most underrated groups at Motown. They had some awesome songs!”

Ron Holland

Condolences to her family and friends… Sadly, we have lost another pioneering contributor to the greatest age of music.


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