People to Know 2019: Barbara Morrison
When Barbara Morrison was a girl, her father would go around the house singing Nat King Cole songs to her mother. “He used to sing, ‘I just found joy/ I’m as happy as a baby boy,’ ” says Barbara, now 69. That love of music was clearly infectious. Barbara sang in church choirs and radio contests in and around her native Detroit and, with her father’s encouragement, eventually moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career. In 1975, at age 25, she recorded her first album and sent a copy home to her dad. “My mother said he was walking up and down the street with the LP under his arm, telling his friends, ‘Here’s my daughter! Where’s yours?’ ”
Since then, Barbara has built a reputation as a stalwart of the blues and jazz scene. She’s recorded over a dozen albums that include original songs and her unique spin on classics popularized by Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, and Jackie Wilson. Between records, she tours extensively.
But music isn’t the only thing she has in common with her father; like him, Barbara has type 2 diabetes. She was diagnosed in 1991, at age 42, not long after her father had his toes amputated due to diabetes-related complications. “I was scared,” she says, adding that she likely went undiagnosed for years. We know that untreated high blood glucose can have a domino effect, leading to nerve damage, hard-to-treat ulcers, and amputation. “I probably could have helped myself if I’d known earlier, but before you knew it, 20 years later, I lost both my legs,” she says of her lower-leg amputations. After her first surgery in 2009, she took a break from touring to focus on diabetes management, but she soon found herself back on the road. In 2013, she received her second amputation.
With a pair of prostheses, Barbara still performs live shows. This fall, she’ll sing at an event honoring past jazz legends. She’s also planning a monthlong tour across Switzerland in 2020. All of this is possible because she has a better handle on her diabetes. Her A1C is in goal range, her liver and kidneys are healthy, and while she’s tired, that’s likely unrelated to type 2. “Barbara,” her doctor told her, “have you seen your schedule lately?!”
When I ask about the music she enjoys performing most, she names a Nat King Cole song, “Never Let Me Go,” because it reminds her of her mother. “Is there a song that reminds you of your dad?” I ask. “Every song reminds me of my dad,” she says.
Lawrence Lavery, DPM, is a professor of plastic surgery at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. A leading expert on diabetes-related foot complications, he recently completed a clinical study on improving wound therapy to reduce amputations among people with diabetes.