Dee Barcelona

Obituary
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Dee Barcelona
Dec. 27, 1929 - Oct. 18, 2012
After a long and courageous battle with cancer, Dee Barcelona passed away peacefully on Thursday, October 18th, surrounded by members of her loving family. Born in Detroit, Michigan, on December 27, 1929, just two months after the Great Crash of Wall Street, Dee was the youngest child of Thomas and Myrtle Thrasher, joining sisters Mary Jane, Betty, and Shirlee. Not long after Dee was born, the family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. As the Great Depression took its toll the nation, Thomas, like many laborers, had trouble finding work, and the family struggled to make ends meet. When Dee was about six years old, she and two of her older sisters, Mary Jane and Betty, began to sing together, emulating the style of their favorite radio vocalists, the Boswell Sisters, even down to that group's southern accents. To help support the family during these tough economic times, the three young girls would often perform in public, mostly in neighborhood bars, where their mother, Myrtle, would pass the hat among the amused patrons who got a kick out of watching these innocent youngsters dance around and harmonize on songs with adult themes, such as "A Good Man is Hard to Find." The young Thrasher Sisters were natural singers, and their perfect pitch control and beautiful three-part harmonies were amazing. With Betty handling the lead vocal in the middle range and Mary Jane adding the high harmony, Dee would create a third harmony line in the lower register below Betty. With her instinctive ability to harmonize, Dee never failed to add a richness and complexity to each song's arrangement. As professional singers will attest, singing that low third harmony is thought to be one of the most challenging tasks in music, and Dee was regarded throughout her career as one of the best in the business. In 1938, when Dee turned nine, the Thrasher Sisters were hired by Cincinnati radio station WLW to perform on their very own Sunday morning radio program. For the next four years, the girls appeared every weekend, harmonizing on hundreds of classic tunes from the era, including "The Sheik of Araby," "Between 18th and 19th on Chestnut Street," and "Don't the Moon Look Pretty on a Country Road?" During this time, the girls also became friendly with other singers who performed on the station, including Doris Day, and the Williams Brothers, featuring Andy Williams of "Moon River" fame. Hoping to find employment, Thomas moved the family to Los Angeles in 1942, settling on 24th Street near downtown. Dee and Betty enrolled at the Hollywood Professional School, whose alumni included Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, and Betty Grable. During the next few years, the Thrasher Sisters went on many auditions, landing gigs on a number of popular radio and TV programs, including the Abbott and Costello Show, the Hoagy Carmichael Show, and The Horace Heidt Youth Opportunity Program, where they performed a particularly memorable rendition of "Bye, Bye Blackbird." In 1949, Dee and her sisters were introduced to Jerry Fielding, a noted band leader, arranger and future Emmy and Academy award-winning composer, who offered to mentor them and help guide their career. The first thing he did was to change their stage name to the Morgan Sisters. He then altered their vocal arrangements so that Betty would sing her leads at the top of the register, Mary Jane would now bring her harmony below Betty, and Dee would create her third harmony arrangement under Mary Jane. Lastly, Fielding brought in a new member to join the group, a local singer named Gladys Buckley, who would sing the low bass part under Dee. One of the first gigs that Fielding arranged for them was a six-month engagement at the Pearl City Tavern near Honolulu, Hawaii. While in Hawaii, the Morgan Sisters also participated in a number of recording sessions. Two of the songs they recorded in Hawaii can still be heard today on YouTube.com - "My Waikiki Girl" and "Fish and Poi." It was at the Pearl City Tavern where Dee met and fell in love with Danny Barcelona, a handsome young local and self-taught drummer who was playing in a jazz combo at the tavern. During their engagement at the tavern, the girls decided to part ways with Gladys, who was having difficulty adjusting to the rigorous demands of their busy schedule. After their Hawaiian gig was finished, the Morgan Sisters flew back to Los Angeles. However, Dee missed Danny terribly, and after many months apart, she decided to return to the islands to marry the young Hawaiian. That, in effect, ended the professional career of the Morgan Sisters. In May of 1955, Dee and Danny celebrated the birth of their first child, Dana, and two years later, daughter Jodi was born. Then, in February of 1958, jazz legend Louis Armstrong asked Danny to join his All Stars as the group's drummer. For more than a decade, Danny toured the world with the Armstrong band, while also recording dozens of songs, including the immortal "Hello Dolly" and "What a Wonderful World." (One of Danny's exciting drum solos can be seen on YouTube.com under "Louis Armstrong - Stompin at the Savoy - 1959.") Although Danny was away from home for extended periods while on tour, Dee and the girls had many fond memories of the times when the family would reunite in Las Vegas during the Armstrong band's month-long engagement each year. In 1968, Louis Armstrong semi-retired for health reasons, so Danny, Dee and the girls moved back to Honolulu, where they lived until 1979, when Dee and Danny returned to California, settling down in Monterey Park. Dee then reunited with her sisters and other family members by joining them at the Los Angeles Times. In late 2005, Dee was diagnosed with breast cancer, but she courageously battled the disease and fought it off for the next two years while taking good care of husband, Danny, who was battling Melanoma himself. Danny, or "Papa," as his family called him, finally lost his battle with cancer in April of 2007. Sadly, in the summer of 2009, Dee's cancer returned. Yet Dee never complained. Always the quintessential harmony singer, Dee instead chose to live in harmony and conduct her remaining time as though she would survive to be 100. During her illness, she never felt sorry for herself or cursed her fate. She remained positive, kind hearted and full of humor until the end. And she could always sing. Just a week before she passed, her sisters came to visit, and with Dee propped up on the bed, weak and in obvious pain, the Thrasher Sisters sang together one last time. They sang "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter," and even though they were all well in to their 80's, their pitch and timing were still perfect and their tight harmonies were again right on the money. Dee Barcelona was a loving and attentive mother who did a wonderful job raising her two daughters. She was involved in all aspects of their life and was always willing to sacrifice her time to help them succeed, all the while imparting to them her down-to-earth common sense and a silly sense of humor. Dee was very proud of her children and all of her grandchildren. She was an enthusiastic, friendly, and gregarious woman, who forged many lasting friendships. She was actively involved with the Monterey Park Senior Center for many years, and famous for her well-appreciated baking talents. She loved to make enormous Chocolate Mint Cakes for all her co-workers in the Box Replies Department at The Times, as well as for the rest of her friends at the newspaper. "Grandma Dee" loved life and loved her children, her family and her friends. Grandma Dee, we miss you. We miss your deviled eggs, Au Gratin potatoes, dangly earrings, fancy rubber slippers, your nightly phone calls, the sweet fragrance you would leave behind as you left a room and much more. We miss how you would laugh along with everyone when your grandkids would lovingly tease you and imitate you. We miss your warmth, your sense of humor, your hearty laughter, and your comforting tenderness. We miss your enormous heart, and losing you has left a hole in ours that words cannot adequately express. You brought a sweet harmony to all of our lives. Dee leaves behind her two daughters, Dana Barcelona-Bonner (Bill) and Jodi Barcelona (Mike Slayton), her sisters Mary Jane and Betty, former sons-in-law Norman Lim and Dominic Rigoli, grandchildren Kara (Anthony Casiello), Breeann, Dominic, Matthew, Michael, and great grandchildren, Jacob, Dominic Jr. and Maleia. A gathering to celebrate Dee's life will be held on Saturday, December 29th. (Mom, we promise no cantaloupe or watermelon will be served) We love you, Mom, and we all miss you deeply. Email: hapafromhawaii@yahoo.com and jodibarcelona@yahoo.com for details.
Published in the Los Angeles Times on Dec. 23, 2012
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