"Watch out for Jennifer Barnes! She is something else. Marvelous voice with great jazz underpinnings."

Gene Puerling
Vocal arranger, vocalist and founding musical director
The Hi-Lo’s! and The Singers Unlimited

Professional Bio                     [ printable version ]

Thursday, January 14th, 2010 2:00 PM
Jennifer Barnes has developed a reputation as an exceptional musician through her work as a live and studio vocalist, composer, arranger and educator. Referring to her debut CD recording, “You Taught My Heart”, legendary jazz bassist Rufus Reid says, “Jennifer integrates rich vocal quality, clarity of pitch and emotion with an additional pivotal skill that sets her apart from other great singers; she sings improvisations that are melodically and rhythmically interesting from the point of view of a jazz instrumentalist.” She sang in a nationally aired Chili’s television commercial, and her voice has been featured on television and radio commercials including Epson, Old El Paso, McDonalds and Kellogg’s. She has opened for the Count Basie Orchestra and performed with her trio at the 28th Annual IAJE International Conference in New York City. Jennifer demonstrates tremendous versatility in her ability to not only lead her own small jazz group, but also as a big band vocalist, most notably as the featured vocalist on the Doug Lawrence Orchestra CD, “Big Band Swing”. Chicago Tribune jazz critic Howard Reich reported, “she produces a sumptuous, wide-open sound...yet she threw off ornate lines at quick tempos with apparent ease.” Jennifer is the alto voice and one of the arranger/composers for two professional vocal groups:  Vertical Voices, with Kerry Marsh, Julia Dollison and Greg Jasperse, and Los Angeles-based Sixth Wave.   Both groups maintain an active performance and tour schedule in the U.S. and Canada.   Jennifer has performed or recorded with such musical legends as Doc Severinsen, Barry Manilow, Cy Coleman, Marilyn & Alan Bergman, Doc Severinsen, as a backup vocalist for Bono on the 2002 Grammy Awards, and on television shows and films including "Live Free or Die Hard", "Ice Age 2 & 3", "Wall-E", "Speed Racer", "2012", "Enchanted", "Star Trek" and "Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief" and the FOX smash hit, "Glee". Jennifer has gained notoriety not only for her performing abilities, but also for her commitment to jazz education. She was an active long-time member and advocate of IAJE (International Association of Jazz Educators), now is a member of JEN (Jazz Education Network), and has taught the vocalists at the Jamey Aebersold Summer Jazz Camps since 1998. In addition, she taught privately and directed downBeat [magazine] award-winning Vocal Jazz Ensembles at eight universities, including Western Michigan University, University of Miami (FL), Chicago College of the Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, the University of Southern California, and her current teaching position as Assistant Professor and Director of Vocal Jazz at the University of North Texas.

"When I accompany Jennifer, I feel like I am playing with a vocalist with the flexibility and intonation of a good saxophonist; I know very few singers around like that. Her pitch and phrasing are impeccable and she really communicates music. I also think Jennifer is one of the finest scat singers on the planet!"

Phil DeGreg
Pianist and Associate Professor of Jazz Studies
U. of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music


Reviews & Press

Friday, February 24th, 2006 5:12 PM
By Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune Arts Critic
The Chicago Tribune
Friday, April 7, 2000

"Though there´s no shortage of top-flight big bands in Chicago, a relatively new ensemble is claiming its place among the elite. The Doug Lawrence Orchestra has been in residence at the Black Orchid since the room opened last summer, and from the outset the bandleader seemed intent on creating a first-rate organization.

The band benefits from the work of several superior soloists, including the noted trumpeter-arranger Bobby Ojeda [from the Count Basie Orchestra]. On Saturday night he brought Jennifer (Shelton) Barnes to the fore. Although she has been a regular in various Chicago clubs, she reached a new high point in front of this band.

Unlike many performers who call themselves jazz singer, Barnes has an instrument of considerable size and depth. Thus she produces a sumptuous, wide-open sound that´s worthy of the orchestral setting.

Yet for all her plushness and texture of her voice, Barnes threw off ornate lines at quick tempos with apparent ease. One rarely encounters this kind of suppleness in a voice of this size. To hear Barnes´ voluptuous tones on "I´m Beginning To See The Light" and seamless ribbons of melody on "When I Fall In Love" is to hold new hope for the art of big band singing."

"You Taught My Heart"
CD Liner notes by Rufus Reid:

"Listen up folks! When you hear "You Taught My Heart" there will be a new name to add to your grand list of world-class artists. She is vocalist Jennifer (Shelton) Barnes. Her rich vocal quality, clarity of pitch and emotion have what listeners expect from great singers. Jennifer integrates all of these skills with an additional pivotal skill that sets her apart from other great singers; she sings improvisations that are melodically and rhythmically interesting from the point of view of a jazz instrumentalist. Does that make her a jazz singer? Yes, it most certainly does, and she is a great deal more.

With over fifty percent of the arranging done by [Jennifer], it is obvious that a great deal of care and preparation went into the production of "You Taught My Heart". Each track is rendered superbly with many witty arranging surprises. Also note Jennifer´s piano playing on "So Many Stars". The material chosen for her debut recording is most impressive, with tunes ranging from the chestnuts from the American song book ("It Could Happen To You", "Just In Time", "While We´re Young", "Detour Ahead", "So Many Stars") to classic instrumental jazz tunes (Thelonious Monk´s "I Mean You" and Joe Henderson´s "Isotope").

The accompanying musicians, Karl Montzka, Shawn Sommer [a former student of Reid´s], Steve Barnes and Don Shelton present a stellar performance throughout and continue the lineage of the Chicago swinging sound. The recorded sound quality is absolutely wonderful and the music is fun to listen to, but the big clincher for me is that Jennifer (Shelton) Barnes swings! A constant smile was on my face as I listened for the first time, yet like all great recordings, you never seem to get it all on the first few listens. Jennifer (Shelton) Barnes, in my opinion, is going to be a name to remember. Enjoy!"

Rufus Reid
Legendary jazz bassist

Personal Info

Saturday, August 20th, 2011 1:35 PM
I was born near Chicago, Illinois, the youngest daughter of Don & Joan Shelton. Some of you may know my father as the amazing musician who sang in two incredible vocal groups, The Hi-Lo’s! and the Singers Unlimited — a legacy for which I’m extremely grateful and still awestruck at times! There was always a lot of music in our house, with all six of us either playing piano, flute, guitar, clarinets or saxes, and everybody singing. We also had the privilege of singing on television and radio commercials because of my dad’s career as a studio musician (vocals and woodwind instruments). Musical highlights of my early years included summer piano study at Interlochen National Music Camp, traveling to Europe with the Jazz Abroad performing tour, attending the Phil Mattson Vocal Workshop, and singing in the Illinois All-State Jazz Choir. It was especially through the latter two experiences that I began to discover my love for singing, particularly in the jazz idiom. I chose Western Michigan University as the place to pursue my undergraduate music degree so that I could major in (classical) piano performance, while singing in the renowned Gold Company program. I fell deeper in love with jazz, particularly delving into the history of the great vocalists like Ella, Sarah, Carmen, Mark Murphy and Shirley Horn, as well as great instrumentalists like Miles Davis, Stan Getz and others. I graduated with my Bachelor of Music degree in Piano Performance, but was convinced by then that a life of solitude in a practice room wasn’t for me. I moved to Chicago to pursue my Master’s degree in Choral Conducting at Northwestern University, while directing their Vocal Jazz Ensemble. Despite my love of classical music, after one year of immersion in choral repertoire and conducting, I knew I needed to shift my emphasis towards jazz. I moved to Miami in order to accept a teaching assistantship at the University of Miami in their Jazz Studies program. It was an incredibly rich time of learning for me, with amazing faculty and an equally challenging peer group of musicians from which to learn about composing, singing, arranging and improvising. Having completed my Masters degree in Studio Music and Jazz Performance, I returned to Chicago to continue my singing and teaching pursuits, including tenures at Northern Illinois University and Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of the Performing Arts. I also enjoyed performing with some wonderful musicians there, including Larry Gray, Fareed Haque, Bonnie Herman, John McLean, Karl Montzka, Larry Novak, Tom Radtke, Michael Raynor, and Shawn Sommer. What I never could have predicted was a trip to Cincinnati in March 1999 that would set me on a path that completely changed my life! While performing some jazz concerts there, I was introduced to an outstanding drummer, Steve Barnes, who I then encountered again a few months later when we both were on faculty at a summer jazz camp. A very special musical connection was made, and reinforced several months later when he came to play a gig with me in Chicago. Everything went haywire from there, and Steve & I were married in May of 2001 in Chicago.

We agreed that we really felt that God was leading us to move to Los Angeles to pursue some different kinds of musical career opportunities, so with a bit of sadness, we left Chicago. I quickly undertook a part-time teaching gig at USC, and we began settling into life in Los Angeles. The first year was a whirlwind experience for both of us, but it reinforced our decision to move with some wonderful musical opportunities. I had the fun of various types of live and studio singing work including: the 2002 Grammy Award show, singing background vocals with the Kirk Franklin Singers for Bono; recording song demos for Marilyn & Alan Bergman, Cy Coleman, Eddie Arkin and Barry Manilow, and recording two nationally aired television and radio commercials. Steve also had some great experiences, playing the drums with the Bill Watrous Quartet, Bill Cunliffe Trio & Sextet, Shelly Berg, the Bill Holman Big Band, Les Brown Jr. and the Band of Renown, on Keely Smith’s Concord release "Keely Swings Basie-Style With Strings" and with many others at the West Coast Jazz Party. Since then, he's also had the opportunity to play in the studios both for numerous CD recordings and for television shows including "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" (ABC Family).  We celebrated the birth of a precious and wonderful daughter in 2004, and continued to enjoy life in California both professionally and personally until another even more dramatic turn of events came about in February, 2011, although the seeds had been sown years earlier....
Through a long and winding path, we agreed that we were being called to leave Los Angeles as our permanent home (although we've returned for work purposes already and intend to continue doing so, God willing!).  The position of Director of Vocal Jazz in the internationally heralded Division of Jazz Studies at the University of North Texas became available, and over time, we became convinced that it was the right move for us as a family.   I accepted that full-time Assistant Professorship in February, 2011 and we moved to the Dallas area over the summer.   Life has been wild and woolly since then, but we are acclimating and making a wonderful new chapter for our family here in Texas!


Saturday, August 20th, 2011 1:30 PM
I’m often asked questions like, "did you always know you wanted to be a musician?" or from students, "don’t you think it would be smart to have something else to ‘fall back on’?" For me, questions like that aren’t always easy to answer, because they lead me toward a spiritual discussion rather than a vocational one. (Please know that it is not my intent to "preach" or offend anyone here, but simply to share my story and the reason for my purpose and inspiration — if that interests you, please continue reading, otherwise, feel free to move on to some other section.) I firmly believe that it is God the Creator who gives us gifts, abilities and talents. It is our responsibility to whole-heartedly nurture and develop those gifts for the benefit of others as well as for our own joy and fulfillment. I also believe that it is only when we truly embrace that perspective that we can begin to find the total freedom of artistic expression that we yearn to experience. I was raised in a home filled with love, strong values and a basic understanding of who God was. However, it wasn’t until my college years that I began to question and investigate spiritual things for myself. I was soon confronted with the question, "If you were to die tonight and come face to face with God, why should He let you into heaven?" I thought that He should let me in because I had been a "good person" and tried to do what was right most of the time. But upon reading the Bible on my own and talking with some people who knew a lot more than I did about it, I discovered that what God revealed was different from what I thought. I find it sad that so many people I know have been turned off at some point by "religion", yet they never seem to find true peace and joy by simply pursuing their own path towards success, money, sex, material possessions or even musical excellence. Also, many people associate religion with not having any fun, or they think that to be religious is not their style. I actually had some of the same concerns, before I completely surrendered myself to Jesus, and I can say two things for certain: first, although life on this earth is invariably filled with problems, pain, and other results of imperfection, I have found that giving complete control to Jesus has given me a "peace that transcends all understanding" (Philippians 4:7), not to mention giving my music-making a divine sense of joyful purpose. Second, some people think being religious is all about guilt and suffering and trying to be "good"; in fact, there is wonderful freedom from those things that comes, not through man-made religion, but in having a vital relationship with the God who is alive and involved in our day-to-day lives! My husband and I have been very blessed to have really found nurture and fellowship in wonderful churches as a couple: in Chicago, at Covenant Presbyterian Church, Grace Baptist Church in Santa Clarita (near Los Angeles), and currently at Park Cities Presbyterian Church (www.pcpc.org). We've been thrilled to have had the opportunity to serve with our musical gifts in the leading of worship of God. If you have never considered the things that I’ve written about here before, I urge you for your own benefit to do so! Feel free to contact me, either of the churches listed above, or just start by reading the Bible — the Word of God — because it’s all there (I find it interesting that most people I know who don’t believe in the Bible have never even read it!). God promises that all who genuinely seek to know Him will find Him — He’ll reveal Himself to you through His Word in a fabulous way that you won’t believe. I sincerely pray that all who read this may begin or continue on the path to spiritual truth - a blessed journey to you all!