Friendship Village resident sung in Kinder Sisters group

Published Jun 10, 2014 at 10:31 am (Updated Jun 10, 2014 at 10:31 am)

Barbara Kinder MacCallum remembers singing with her two older sisters as their mother washed and dried the dinner dishes in their Pittsburgh area home decades ago. Young Barbara Kinder was barely 14 when the trio of sisters sang for their father’s Kiwanis Club. The word spread, and in 1939, the young girls were referred to the fledgling radio station KDKA. Over the decades, the young sisters – Shirley, Elaine and Barbara Kinder – sang for a variety of musical programs on the radio, including “Music Please,” “Singing Strings” and several programs sponsored by various local beer companies. She remembers the “Duquesne Beer Show,” “Tech Beer Show” and the “Dutch Club,” where the Kinder Sisters were known as the Dutch Girls.

Barbara Kinder, now Barbara MacCallum, is the only surviving member of the famous Kinder Sisters. At the age of 90 and a resident of Friendship Village in Upper St. Clair, MacCallum’s mind is sharp, but she laments her vocal chords have not aged well.

Music has always been an integral part of MacCallum’s life beginning with her mother, who played the piano, and her father, who she described as an excellent tenor.

The sisters worked hours perfecting the harmony to the point their voices blended into an almost perfect musical note.

Born in Charleroi, MacCallum moved with her family to Dormont when she was 5 years old. In 1941, she graduated from Dormont High School.

“I used to get out of school early to sing,” she recalled recently. College was never an option, as all MacCallum said she ever wanted to do was to sing.

And sing she did. From 1943-45, The Kinder Sisters traveled across the country with the popular Ice Capades. The only problem was, MacCallum never learned to ice skate. The three singing sisters were featured sitting on a bench on the ice under a tree. The only time she was required to skate was a performance when she appeared, somewhat unsteady on skates, holding a huge hat.

When her sister Elaine left the group after delivering a baby, she was replaced in the trio with a female singer from Hollywood. However, the group was still known as The Kinder Sisters. The Hollywood singer, whose name was lost in time, encouraged the two remaining sisters to return to Hollywood to expand their career because, at that time, there were few organized singing group due to World War II.

However, MacCallum said home beckoned and from 1945-51, the sisters sang with a quartet, one member of whom would eventually become her brother-in-law when she married Sam MacCallum in 1950.

He worked as a traveling salesman, now known as a manufacturer’s representative, and MacCallum stayed at home to raise five children – two boys and three girls. When he retired, the couple moved to Florida in 1981 where they enjoyed life, their eight grandchildren and several great-grandchildren. When her husband died in 1996, MacCallum kept busy living in Florida and working in marketing and other endeavours such as for her church. In 2006, two of her daughters convinced her to return to the Pittsburgh area to live near them.

At the age of 90, MacCallum’s beauty still radiates, her poise evident from years in the entertainment industry. Her pure white hair is perfectly styled and her jewelry accents her clothing. She relies on a walker to steady herself along the halls of the Friendship Village complex. But even after years away from the musical spotlight, MacCallum continues to sing.

Every Sunday at 7 p.m., she joins a dozen or more residents for the Vesper Choir and credits Chaplain Cindy McClung for fostering the singing group. The choir’s repertoire is all religious music, somewhat different than The Kinder Sisters style of harmony in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s.

Many in the Vesper Choir are elderly, so a majority of the songs are sung sitting down, a more difficult way to carry the notes.

“If you are a good singer, you prefer to stand, but if you can’t stand, you sit,” she said. While women’s voices age along with the body, men, MacCallum said, retain their voice pitch longer.

One of her children, a son, inherited her singing ability and is a tenor, much like her late father, MacCallum said.

Yes, she said, she sang to all of her children and then her grandchildren. Her taste in music now leans toward songs when the lyrics are easily understood and there is a strong orchestrial background.

“Some country (music) is good now,” MacCallum said, before adding she enjoys listening to vocalist Michael Buble.

Her sisters are gone, but MacCallum retains several tapes from their days in the entertainment industry and, when she is in the mood, she sits back and enjoys the fine, soft sounds of a bygone era.

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