Known as Cincinnati’s “Gospel Jewel,” Kay Barksdale has been singing for three-quarters of a century.

Her Amberley Village apartment is a testament to her long and varied career. The walls are covered with photos of Barksdale with the famous people she’s sung with and for over the years, from astronauts to presidents. The furniture is piled high with awards, press clippings and other mementoes as well. 

She miraculously survived the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire in 1977, and has performed at countless churches and concert venues around the country.

The list of accolades includes nomination to the International Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2006, female vocalist of the year at the Gospel Academy Awards in 1987 and an honorary doctorate in sacred music from Temple Bible College & Seminary in 2010. She is also proud of the fact former Ky. Gov. Paul Patton commissioned her a Kentucky Colonel.

Now 80, Barksdale still performs regularly and gives away a recording of her gospel singing, but singing is just part of an amazing life that’s also included raising two daughters, a 37-year career at WCPO-TV, modeling and other activities.

How did you start singing?

I was born and raised in Danville, Va. Music was part of family life. My mother sang but she was never a soloist. She would teach me. When I was 5 years old I told my grandmother I wanted to sing in church. She told the pastor and they put me on the pulpit. I sang “Jesus Loves Me This I Know.” When I was done everybody applauded. I can remember it like it was yesterday.

What brought you to Cincinnati?

After graduating from high school in 1954, I studied and became a practical nurse. I lived with relatives in Washington D.C. and New York and would sing in clubs on weekends when my friends put me up to it. When my aunt, who I’d lived with in Washington, moved to Cincinnati I came to live with her and fell in love with the place. I worked at a couple local hospitals and would sing at local clubs but only for a few dollars. I got tired of nursing and went to work at WCPO-TV in 1974 as secretary and later as a receptionist and communications specialist. 

You’ve spoken about how God led you out of the flames and smoke of the Beverly HillS fire. When did you come to realize that?

I was cooking dinner a few days later and this voice came to me. I heard him say, “I came to you in the form of man and saved you from the fire. The woman who grabbed your arm was an angel.” It was God talking to me. I broke down and cried. The doctors told me I’d never be able to sing again or speak above a whisper because of the smoke from the fire. I prayed to God asking him to give me back my voice and I promised to never sing anything but sacred music. I later went to choir rehearsal at First Baptist Church of Walnut Hills and got up and sang “Amazing Grace. ” Nobody could believe it.