The Star-News


Singing her heart out

Sat, Dec 18 2010 12:00 PM Posted By: John Philip Wyllie

Imagine a world with virtually no cars on the road, no television sets and no radios. Mary Barton, 98, doesn't have to imagine it, she remembers it.

Barton, who was born two months before the Titanic set sail on its ill-fated voyage, also remembers a lot of the music she has heard over the last nine decades.

On Monday nights, Barton shares those musical memories at the Chula Vista Fuddruckers on 340 Third Ave.

From 6 until 8 p.m. she sings in front of a seven-piece band called the South Bay Jazz Ramblers.

"I come from a musical family and music has been a part of my life since I was about 5 years old," said the nonagenarian.

"My grandfather and all of his brothers had their own band and my aunt and mother played the piano. My mother wanted me to learn to play the piano too, but I told her I didn't want to. You have to sit still to play the piano. I told her I wanted to sing, dance and act."

All these years later she is doing just that. Every Monday evening the charismatic Barton and the South Bay Jazz Ramblers delight their loyal following with popular Big Band, Dixieland and show tunes from the 1920s, '30s and '40s.

Barton has been part of the band for the last eight years.

Band leader and trumpeter Wally Winters recalled Barton's impromptu audition.

"Mary had been coming to hear us play for a while when we noticed that she was singing along from her table. One night, we introduced the song 'Hard-Hearted Hannah.' She blurted out that she knew that song. I thought to myself I really don't want make our group into a karaoke band, but we decided to give her a chance and let her sing it. She got up and blew the roof off the place. She has been singing with us ever since," Winters said.

"Just because you get older you shouldn't stop doing whatever you love to do," Barton said. "I think you should just keep on doing it, even if people criticize you. It isn't difficult for me to do anything I put my mind to. I still love to dance, too."

Every Wednesday night, her daughter Norvella Barton (who also sings with the band) takes her mother out ballroom dancing. She reports that she still exercises regularly and continues to wear high heels.

"A lot of us have been sick or had surgery from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. causing us to miss our Monday night gig now and then, but not her," said Winters.

"She is there every Monday night. She's incredible, a real Chula Vista icon!"

Barton is looking forward to celebrating her 99th birthday on Feb. 7. With that being a Monday night she will naturally be blowing out her candles on stage at Fuddruckers.


© 2009 The Star-News