Producer, arranger, composer, performer, H.B. Barnum remains one of the unsung giants of music, collaborating with a who's who of acts spanning from Frank Sinatra to Puff Daddy. Son of a traveling Preacher, H.B was born in Tasmania, but returned to Houston Texas three weeks after birth. When he was three years old, H.B. and his mother left Houston hitchhiking west. They got as far as Phoenix Arizona. There he was entered and won a nationwide amateur talent contest resulting in a trip to Hollywood and an appearance in the feature film The Valley of the Sun Marches On. Within a year he was a regular on the children's television program Broom Stick Buckaroos as well as the radio shows Amos 'n Andy, The Jack Benny Show and CBS Playhouse. He was also the opening act for many of Johnny Grants USO shows.
H.B. attended Utah Street Elementary School, Hollenbeck Jr. High School and Manual Arts High School. He excelled in music and athletics and was offered athletic scholarships. Because of family financial restraints, and the advice of Mr. McDonald, the Music Professor at Los Angeles City College, who told H.B. that he would probably never make it music, H.B. dropped out of school.
In 1955 Barnum co-founded the short-lived doo wop group the Doo-tones at the request of family friend and Doo-tone label owner Dootsie Williams, releasing a lone single, "Teller of Fortune." A year later, he replaced Bobby Nunn in the Robins vocal group assuming production duties on records like 1958's "Quarter to Twelve" and "It's Never Too Late." He also sang with the Medallions and other groups. As Pee Wee Barnum, he cut his debut single, "Blue Moon," for Imperial Records. Efforts for his own Munrab Records ("Don't-Cha Know") and Ultra Sonic ("Just Goofin'") followed. In 1959 he also notched his first major hit as a producer, reaching the U.S. number# 1 with Dodie Stevens' "Tan Shoes and Pink Shoelaces." Barnum originally cut the track with Afro-American singer and composer Micki Grant. The track wound up in the hands of Crystalette records owner who put singer Dodie Stevens on the so the record could go pop.
It was during this time period that H.B. also performed as the first band singer at the newly opened Disneyland Park in Anaheim California. He performed, the same two songs, eight shows a day, seven days a week, with the Mustangs Band for three years. Mr. Walt Disney often watched the shows, and mentored the band on many occasions.
H.B. also traveled with R&B shows. He traveled as a musician playing with Little Richard, Chuck Higgins and Big Jay McNeeley, Richard Lewis, Little Walter, Marvin & Johnny, Little Esther Phillips to name a few. In one show he had several jobs. He opened the show playing Baritone Sax with Chocker Campbell’s big band, changed coats and played piano with Etta James (Work with me Henry), changed coats and sang with the Robins (Riot in Cell Block # 9), changed coats and played tenor sax with Bill Doggett (Honky Tonk), changed coats and back to the Baritone chair to back up the Five Keys, the Moon Glows, The Five Satins, changed coats and played piano for Gene & Eunice (Ko Ko Mo), changed coats and back to the baritone. I might have forgotten a few coat changes.
In 1960 Barnum scored a Top 40 pop hit of his own with the instrumental "Lost Love,". He was signed to RCA later that year and released his debut LP, The Big Voice of Barnum. Everybody Loves H.B. -- Barnum, That Is trailed in 1961, and while a handful of solo records followed, his performing career gradually took a backseat to his work as a studio arranger and producer.
His Ultra-Sonic, and Little Star records lables, spawned the careers of such artist as, The OJays, Sonny Bono, Jimmy Norman, Dorothy Berry, The Marathons, The Mighty Hannibal, Judy Street, Jack Nitzsche, and others. His Mother’s Records lable introduced Keisa Brown, Spanky Wilson, Sharon Cash, and Terri Bryant.
He worked with Capitol and Motown records as his reputation flourished. At Capitol he worked mainly in collaboration with producer and longtime friend David Axelrod, and together they forged an innovative orchestral jazz-funk sensibility much copied and sampled in the decades to come. At Motown he was mentored and worked with the legendary producers and composers, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Johnny Bristol, Frank Wilson, and Hal Davis
Barnum's list of production, arranging, and writing acts credits is remarkably long and distinguished. The list includes, but is not limited to Aretha Franklin, Lou Rawls, Don Ho, The Tempations, The Four Tops, The Ojays, The Supremes, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Wilson, O.C. Smith, The Jacksons, The Marvelettes, Martha & The Vandellas, Tennesee Ernie Ford, Phil Collins, P-Diddy (Puff-Daddy), Freda Payne, Dionne Warwick, Glady’s Knight, Ike and Tina Turner, Little Richard, Sly Stone, Charlie Rich, The Osmonds, Little Willie John, Cannonball Adderley, BB King, Ray Charles, Spanky Wilson, Ernie Andrews, The Robins, Wayne Newton……..need we go on.
By the mid-'70s Barnum shifted his focus from recording music to television, scoring countless series and specials in addition to composing myriad advertising jingles. The Oscars, Golden Globe Awards, The Grammy’s, The Stellar Awards, Lou Rawls Parade Of Stars, The Tonight Show, American Idol, The Black Achievement Awards, The Olympics, Allen Ludden’s Gallery, Amen, Richard Pryor Special, The Supremes On Broadway, The NAACP Awards are but a few who have aired compositions and arrangements by H.B.
A list of commercials for Chevrolet, Chrysler, Ford, Coke, C&H Sugar, Plymouth, Annie Green Springs, McDonalds, TNBA, ESPN, Baseball, NFL, The US Tennis Open, Major League All Star Games, and the four Presidential Inaugurations are included in H.B.’s arsenal of music accomplishments
Music scores and songs for Hitman, A Hard Death, Five on The Black Hand Side, History of The World Pt. 2, Emma Mae (Black Sisters Revenge), and Pulp Fiction are included in film credits.
H.B. founded LIFE Choir in 1981 as an extension to his committed to giving back to his community. He is very proud of their Thanksgiving Day Feast for homeless and seniors which is in is 64th year, and the HB Barnum Celebrity Golf Tournament which benefits The Rett Clinic at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, celebrating its 31st Anniversary this year.
Among H.B.’s awards are:
Member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a “Robin”
Member of the Doo-Wop Hall of Fame
Los Angeles PTA Man of the year
Drama Critic’s Award for “Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope”
Tony and Grammy nominations for composing and arranging
BMI Publisher and Writer Awards
President 0f the East Valley Athletic Association (47,000 youth)
Coach of the year (six times)
Numerous City, State, and National Civic and Service Awards
H.B. is currently co-authoring a musical play entitled Oh Atlantis. Scoring two films, and quite active presently licensing his catalogue. He continues to arrange and produce old and new artist, and devoting time to his favorite past time. Trying to hit a golf ball straight.
Please visit his web sites for current activities and schedules.
Recent awards and activity 2019/2020
Inducted into the Los Angeles Jazz and Blues Hall of Fame 2019
Scoring music for upcoming “4 Tops” Broadway musical
Honored by Music Unites for volunteer service in Compton USD
Honored on “Unsung Hero’s” Television segment
One Hour Special in Black Pool UK