"It's your thing. Do what you wanna do."
That was good advice when The Isley Brothers first sang it in 1969, and it serves as an anthem of sorts for Barbara Ray & The StingRays, who make it part of their act.
Tonight, the group will be doing what they wanna do -- performing music from the classic blues, funk, Motown era -- at The R Bar at 2883 W. Liberty Ave. in Dormont.
"They call me Ms. B," Barbara Ray laughs as she tells the story of how the group came together.
Her own roots are in Pittsburgh's Uptown neighborhood. A self-described "Baby Boomer," she was raised on Gibbon Street, near Mercy Hospital. Ms. B never imagined being a professional singer. She was content to be working as a data-entry typist, filling out medical forms, while raising three children.
But there was always music in the background, and Ms. B always sang along.
"I had a reel-to-reel tape recorder and I would sing and record myself," she said. "It was just fun. I just enjoyed it. And sometimes I would play it for people and see if they liked it.
"I got some good feedback, but I still didn't think of performing shows. I never dreamed of taking it to that extent."
Then came karaoke.
"I honestly believe that was the key to it," Ms. B said. "I had a friend and we went to some karaoke. I did some songs, and then I heard the applause, and I thought, 'Ooh, I like this.' And I haven't put it down since then. And now that I'm retired, I can do more of it."
A couple of years ago, a few guys with a band asked her to join them.
"Then we were doing a gig on Steuben Street and the guys came up with this name," she said. "We're the StingRays. And I was, 'Hmm, I like that.'"
The guys are Dr. Fox on drums, Ken Lamison on guitar, Roger Casperson on sax and Keith Starling on bass and vocals.
The sound is right out of Detroit. The oldies. Rhythm and blues with a touch of jazz.
Sometimes, Ms. B's kids will come out to catch her act. At first, they were a little surprised to see their mother in a shiny dress, sparkling in the spotlight while belting out something from Etta James or Aretha Franklin.
"My daughter says, 'Oh Mom, I'm proud of you.' They don't say, 'Oh, Momma, don't be like that. Just sit down with the grandkids.' Mm-mmm, no, they're not like that. They give me my freedom," Ms. B said.
Of course, taking up professional singing late in life can give one a moment's pause, thinking about what might have been.
"I've had that thought. But it wasn't possible," Ms. B said. "Then was not the time. God has given me life to do it now.
"When I was growing up, I sang in the junior choir. Now I've done a couple solos at my daughter's church in the West End. It is because of God that I have the voice, so I have to give back whenever I'm asked."
Funny thing, though. Faith doesn't seem to eliminate those brief moments of nervousness.
"You get the butterflies, but once you get up there at the microphone and music takes control, you lose them," she said. "But always, before any gig, no matter how small or how big, I get the butterflies.
"It isn't a problem. I've talked to other performers, and I was once told, 'When you lose the butterflies, it means you don't care about the people.' I think about that."
The group is performing about three times a month and making a little bit of money.
"It seems to be picking up now," Ms. B. said. "I'm a senior citizen now, and it helps me out.
"It just gets more and more enjoyable. I don't consider it as work. It's my passion. I just love doing this. When you look out and see people smiling, or tapping their feet and going along with you, it's just like, 'Mmm.' It gives you a good feeling inside."
Barbara Ray & The StingRays start at 8 p.m. There is no cover.
Get a preview of tonight's event!
"Mojo"-Barbara Ray & The StingRays: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbqBFfnrHWs&feature=relmfu
If you have a suggestion for something to do some evening, let us know about it and we'll see if we can get some of our friends to join you. Contact Dan Majors at email@example.com or 412-263-1456.