Motown fans are mourning the loss of one of the greats following the death of Bertha Barbee McNeal at the age of 82.
The singer, who was best known as a member of The Velvelettes, died in Kalamazoo, Michigan on Thursday, December 15, after battling colon cancer.
She had spent several weeks receiving care in a hospice after the disease advanced.
McNeal’s bandmates have paid tribute following their loss, after the band last performed all together in Kalamazoo in July.
Lead singer Cal Gill Street told the Detroit Press that she has lost her “dearest friend”. She described Bertha as a “precious lady”.
She added: “I never heard any profanity, I never heard her speak ill of anybody, even if she was upset.
“She would get beyond that, like an angel here on Earth. In the group, she was the glue that kept us from choking.”
The Motown Museum also addressed McNeal’s death, writing: “It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Motown alumnus Ms. Bertha Barbee-McNeal, a founding member of the Motown group The Velvelettes.”
In a further statement, they hailed McNeal as a “community leader and educator”.
“Bertha’s passion was to inspire young girls, particularly the next generation of female talent,” they said.
“She was a faithful supporter of the Motown Museum and participated in many museum events including Hitsville Honors in 2019 and the grand opening of Rocket Plaza this past August
“‘Her kind and sweet presence was always a delight and she was loved by the museum staff and alumni alike.”
As part of The Velvelettes, co-founder McNeal was famous for songs including Needle in a Haystack and (He Was) Really Saying Something.
Earlier this month, the Kalamazoo Arts Council honoured both McNeal and band member Street with Community Medal of Arts awards, which Street accepted on both of their behalf.
The friends had known each other since 1961 when 21-year-old McNeal and 14-year-old Street bonded over their love of singing.
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