Barbara J. Coates, 61, city employee


Barbara J. Coates, a retired Baltimore social services employee who sang in a local pop and gospel choir, died of a heart attack Thursday at Union Memorial Hospital. The Southwest Baltimore resident was 61.

Born Barbara Jean Vanlandingham in Garysburg, N.C., and raised in Baltimore's Cherry Hill, she was a 1962 graduate of Carver Vocational Technical High School.

She worked for the Baltimore Urban Renewal and Housing Agency and then the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn as a clerk, and in 1973 took a clerical job in the city Department of Social Services on Guilford Avenue and later at the Cherry Hill office.

Mrs. Coates retired last year from the Southwest Family Investment Center on West Pratt Street as an income maintenance specialist.

"She gave it to you straight. She did not sugar-coat," said Yevette S. Caldwell, a co-worker. "She had a genuine concern for the people she helped and always tried to instill confidence and self-esteem in them."

"She always gave out good advice -- or a strong cursing if you didn't measure up," said her daughter, Tanae N. Brown of Baltimore. Her clients would often come to her with problems and she would buy food for the hungry and Pampers for their children. She could even help her less fortunate clients with their bills when the state refused."

Mrs. Coates sang in a clear alto voice. In the 1960s, she sang rock and Motown musical numbers with the Gliders, a West Baltimore group, and was later the lead singer for a girl group, the Ro-Leaks. Family members said she appeared at neighborhood clubs and in Washington and Philadelphia.

When her parents opened Pete's Palace, a soul food restaurant in the Cherry Hill Shopping Center, in 1978, she became a part-time waitress and was addressed by her customers as Shirley, a reference to the then-popular television sitcom, What's Happening.

Family members said she wore her hair in a large Afro.

"She wore every flavor of eye shadow and had a huge smile to go along with the service and food," her daughter said.

She sang at New Psalmist Baptist Church with a senior group known as the Grays Memorial Chorus. She was often called upon to sing "God Specializes." She recorded a gospel album, An Offering of Praise, in 1993 on Gumption Records.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at Berean Baptist Church, 3523 Hayward Ave.

In addition to her daughter, survivors include her mother, Inez Vanlandingham; a brother, Louis Vanlandingham Jr.; and a sister, Priscilla Vanlandingham, all of Baltimore; and a grandson. Her 1963 marriage to Robert H. B. Coates Sr. ended in divorce.

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