Despite never having a major national hit record, the late great Ortheia Barnes-Kennerly is one of Detroit, MI’s most beloved singers. She started singing in church, made some solo singles, and toured with Motown artists, though she never signed with the label. Barnes has enjoyed a full career, but unlike J.J. Barnes, her older brother, it hasn’t been scrutinized much, and a chronological discography of her work does not exist.
She debuted on Mickay Records in 1962 with two Dorothy Pierce tunes: “Your Picture on the Wall” b/w “Same as Before”; the single did so well locally that ABC Records acquired the licensing and reissued it in 1963. The dates dispute the notion that she got the secular singing bug at 14 when J.J. Barnes cut his biggest hit, “Baby Please Come Back Home,” since it would have made her nine when she cut the Mickay single. In 1980, she formed Cut Glass with Mildred Vaney for two singles on 20th Century Records — “Alive With Love” b/w “Without Your Love” and “Rising Cost of Love” b/w “Sometimes Soon.” She even cut a funk tune entitled “Green Eye Monster” in 1984. In 1987, she sang at Diana Ross’ aunt’s funeral with Ross in attendance — the two songbirds were high school friends.
During the late nineties she meet Motown recording artist R&B Hall of Fame Edwin Starr and she became his go to opening act. Ortheia has always relate to radio because of her great communication skills and her love for people in her early days at WCHB she became a radio personality with her own talk show, Ortheia’s Special Touch, which aired every Wednesday; she also had a cable TV show on Bloomfield Community Television that was broadcast on Booth Cable.
Later, Barnes married elder Robert L. Kennerly and became Reverend Ortheia Barnes-Kennerly, evangelist and singer; she became part of Spirit Love Ministries and appeared and performed at many religious and civic functions throughout the country. She celebrated civil rights activist Rosa Parks’ 83rd birthday in Nassau, Bahamas, performing with the Freedom Soldiers — who consisted of Barnes,Sandra Feva, Pat Lewis, and Hezekiah Williams. She performed at the Plymouth Neon Jamming’ Ball in 1995 to help introduce a new generation of young Detroiters to the city’s historic Music Hall of Fame, and she represented at A Season for Nonviolence with Reverend Jesse Jackson and other luminaries. Barnes-Kennerly was also a member of Michigan’s Volunteers of America.
In the 2020’s Otheria reunited with Edwin Starr long time manager and friend Dr. Marlin McNichols. Dr. McNichols introduced Ortheia to his wife Joyce Dozier McNichols who is an accomplished lyric writer and producer. Dr. McNichols said “I meet Ortheria will working with Edwin Starr and recognized that she was a tremendous talent, although she never had a major record deal, but that is not the measuring stick for success she was truly a star amongst stars”. The McNichols and Ortheia went into the recording studio and produced several great inspirational songs. The first release from this project produced by Joyce Dozier McNichols and Michael Mindingall titled “Walk With Me”.
Biography by Andrew Hamilton
Dr. Marlin McNichols