Born in Denver, Barbara remembers hearing Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington, Mel Torme and Frank Sinatra from an early age. Her father always sang and she did the same. “Before I could even speak, I could sing little rhymes and songs that he sang to me. Growing up I listened constantly to the radio and one of my friends later said that I knew every word to every song played on the radio.” She performed with her gospel church choir, played violin, took piano lessons, and started playing the guitar when she was 15. Barbara performed folk music as a teenager. Having worked at a jazz supper club found that “while I loved folk music and its acoustic quality, I gravitated to jazz which was more gratifying.”
After graduating from high school when she was 16 and beginning a successful career as a hairdresser in Boulder, Colorado, Barbara could feel that something was missing. “There was a part of me that could not go on anymore without singing and I knew that I had to sing.” During a vacation in St. Thomas, she met Eddie Shu, a veteran multi-instrumentalist who had worked with Louis Armstrong and Gene Krupa. After hearing her sing, he gave Barbara some Billie Holiday records, encouraged her, and told her that all she needed was a band. She has not stopped since.
Barbara Paris made her debut as a jazz singer during a trip to Paris. On the same trip an acquaintance told her about the legendary pianist Joe Bonner who was living in Denver and suggested that she look him up. After a bit of a search, Barbara found the pianist (who had worked with Freddie Hubbard, Pharoah Sanders and Woody Shaw) and quickly realized that “he was playing music similar to what I heard in my head.” Their musical partnership continued for 23 years up until shortly before his passing in 2014. “I learned so much from Joe. We were musical soul mates.”