Byron’s ‘Human Trumpet’ has unusual talent

Center for Collaborative JournalismMay 8, 2013 

Terry Barker can’t play an instrument or read music, but his renditions of old songs have stunned audiences over the years.L:AURA CORLEY/THE TELEGRAPH

Terry Barker can’t play an instrument or read music, but his renditions of old songs have stunned audiences over the years.

Barker, 73, also known as “Pops,” has a unique skill. He can play songs that sound like a trumpet using just his voice and mouth.

“I don’t even play an instrument,” Barker said. “God has given me an unusual talent.”

Known as “The Human Trumpet,” Barker has entertained a variety of audiences with his natural ability to imitate sounds of the trumpet, Louis Armstrong, a peacock and bagpipes.

“I know music. I can’t read music, but I can play music by ear,” he said. “I get the song in my head and I go with it. It just happens.”

Barker lives in Byron with his wife, Elaine, who said his talent is hard to explain.

“When you try to tell (other people) what he does, unless they get a chance to hear him, they just look at you like, ‘I don’t know what she’s talking about,’ ” she said.

Barker performed his version of the trumpet on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” in 2006. A picture of Leno and Barker is stored in a portfolio of his accomplishments, as well as a scanned copy of a $420 check from NBC Studios. Barker said he performed his peacock imitation on “America’s Funniest People” in 1991.

“I entertain on the drop of a dime,” Barker said. “Never know who’s watching.”

He said he discovered his hidden talent at age 29 when he worked at the Naval Air Station in his hometown of Pensacola, Fla.

“I heard this trumpet sound one morning,” Barker recalled. “A buddy of mine was imitating a trumpet, and all of a sudden it just come out of my mouth. So I practiced in the shower and going down the road.” He has other memories of that time as well. Heavy drinking was one of them.

“They all drank,” Barker said of his peers at the Naval Air Station. “Went out in the trucks and cars at lunchtime and drank.”

Barker said that his alcoholism dated back to high school and he stopped drinking at age 50 to save his marriage.

“She told me and says, ‘I can’t stand this no more. You’re going to have to quit drinking.’ I had a half a fifth of rum. I poured it out, and I told her, ‘That’s it,’ ” Barker said. “I come back to work the next day, and I wrote ‘one’ on the calendar. The next day I wrote ‘two.’ I did that for two years -- writing on the calendar. ... I started playing softball. I started entertaining again.”

Barker said he has been sober 23 years. He and Elaine will celebrate their 30th anniversary in June.

“We’ve had a rough time. I found out about six years ago that I have ADHD and bipolar (disorder). And I stayed in trouble all my life,” Barker said. “They put me on medication, so I’m doing good now. ... God’s been good to me.”

The couple moved to Buford in 1994. They also lived in Stone Mountain before moving to Byron about four years ago to be closer to Elaine’s siblings.

Barker has performed for churches, retirement homes and festivals. He plays “taps” for veterans programs.

He performed the national anthem for the Gwinnett Gladiators hockey team in 2006, which he regards as his favorite performance. Barker said he got goose bumps.

“I didn’t even need a microphone,” Barker said. “Them people just went wild.”

Besides entertaining, Barker was a skilled softball player and bowler.

An accident 20 years ago changed that.

“I got knocked out of a tree in Pensacola,” Barker remembered. “I was doing some work, and I cracked my pelvis. So that ended my softball and my bowling. ... I miss it.”

Barker frequents Meldino’s pizzeria in Centerville for karaoke nights as well as Polly’s La Mesa restaurant in Macon, though he doesn’t go as often as he used to.

On April 20, he serenaded Paula Smith, who celebrated her 57th birthday at Meldino’s.

“I’ve heard him here before, and I think he’s amazing. My favorite thing that he does is the Louis Armstrong song, ‘What a Wonderful World,’ ” said Smith.

Smith said people who see him perform for the first time are in awe.

“He’s great, and he has a personality to match it. Sweet as sugar,” she said.

Julie Robinson, manager at Polly’s La Mesa, said Barker “is quite the character.”

“He comes in, and he will just burst into songs in front of customers or go around to tables,” Robinson said.

Although he has not been performing as often, Barker said he will continue entertaining and hopes to land a guest spot on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” someday.

“I never meet a stranger,” Barker said. “I just love people.”

 

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