Listen to this 85-year-old with ‘no business having this voice’
Alan Barnett first sang publicly when he was in elementary school.
It was the early 1940s, in Dallas, Texas, and he performed “Swinging on a Star” by Bing Crosby for his classmates.
“Would you like to swing on a star, and be better off than you are?” the Richland man sang the other day, inspired by the memory.
Just shy of 86, his voice still is strong, rich and clear.
In fact, “I think it’s as good now as it’s ever been,” he said. “I have no business having this voice at this age.”
But Barnett is in the midst of a personal musical revival.
He’s worked with voice teacher Cynthia Vaughn for about three years, he’s recorded three albums of cover songs and he’s fresh off his first-ever solo concert — a meticulously constructed 1 1/2 hour set that charmed and delighted.
Tri-Citians have another chance to hear his golden voice this Sunday, at Opera@TheEmerald in Richland.
The holiday concert is part of Vaughn’s Opera on the Vine series. Barnett and other celebrated soloists will take the stage.
They’ll also lead the audience in singing Christmas carols.
It’s particularly meaningful for Barnett because he’ll be leaving the Tri-Cities soon.
He and his wife, Dee, are moving to Texas in the spring to be closer to family.
They’re looking forward to it, but it’s also bittersweet. They have a good life here. People know and appreciate Barnett’s musical gifts.
He’ll be looking for a place to sing in Texas, he said.
“I don’t want to let this go,” he said. “God has granted me this voice. I want to keep using it.”
Barnett grew up in the Lone Star State and fell in love with music thanks to his mother and sister.
They’d take him to see the popular operettas of the time, from “The New Moon” to “The Desert Song.”
“We’d leave the shows at night and sing the songs all the way home,” Barnett said.
Music has been a part of his life ever since.
He’s performed in choirs and as a soloist at venues from Westminster Abbey to Carnegie Hall.
In the Tri-Cities, he’s spent years singing with Central Church’s chancel choir and he’s taken the stage with groups such as Richland Light Opera Company, now known as Mid-Columbia Musical Theatre.
Barnett, an Army veteran, came to the Tri-Cities in 1980 for a job at Energy Northwest.
He took a break from singing a few years ago, when he and his wife temporarily switched churches.
Their new church played more contemporary music, and “it wasn’t right for the kind of singing I do,” Barnett said.
“At that point, I wasn’t even singing as much in the car anymore. I sort of just dropped off of singing altogether,” he said.
But he and Dee eventually returned to Central Church, and Barnett met Vaughn in the choir there.
He started taking weekly voice lessons, where Vaughn helped him hone his craft.
At her Opera@TheEmerald holiday show last year, his rendition of “The Birthday of a King” brought down the house.
He put on a solo concert at her Magnolia Music Studio-Riverwalk earlier this month, which was similarly well-received.
Barnett’s baritone is special, Vaughn said. And he has a special spirit, too.
“I never saw Alan as just a voice,” she said. “He’s a charmer. From the very first lesson, I thought, ‘I like this guy.’”
Barnett’s biggest fan is his wife. He and Dee were set up by a friend in the early 80s and married within a few months.
“He’s the love of my life. He’s more than just my husband, he’s my best friend,” Dee said.
She loves that he finds joy in music. She admires his talent.
He makes sure to share it with her.
Once, she recalled, he serenaded her during a concert with a tune from “Camelot.”
“If ever I would leave you, it wouldn’t be in springtime,” Barnett began to sing, when asked which tune.
He looked lovingly at Dee as the music flowed; she looked lovingly right back.
The Barnetts have three children, 18 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
At the urging of granddaughter Lyndsay Clarke, Barnett recorded an album of cover songs in 2017.
It’s called, “Music of My Life,” and he gave it out to family and friends.
A second album followed, and then a Christmas album.
They all were recorded at Rainmaker Studios in Pasco, with Holly Harty on piano.
“The Birthday of a King” is among the tunes he picked for the legacy project.
So are “Ol’ Man River” and “The Holy City” — two of his signature songs.
So is “If Ever I Would Leave You,” the “Camelot” tune that Dee loves so much.
So is “Swinging on a Star,” which started it all.
Barnett said he hopes people learn from him that it’s never too late to pursue a passion. To get better at something you love.
“That’s my story, more than anything else,” he said. “If you think you’re too old, take a look at me.”
Opera@TheEmerald is at 4 p.m. Sunday at Emerald of Siam, 1314 Jadwin Ave., Richland. Cost is $12 in advance through brownpapertickets.com and $15 at the door. Seating is limited, so attendees are encouraged to arrive early.