Ramona L. Brooks, 63, whose talent shone in her musical family years before she took to the New York stage or appeared on television or recorded albums, died June 2 in Heartland Hospice in Oregon. She had cancer, her brother Glenn said.
She had not performed publicly in years, family and friends said, but “she was always writing music,” her friend Darlene Burnworth said.
Her brother said: “Her gift was to write.”
She was born Jan. 8, 1951, to Paul and Theresa Stubblefield. She had 10 siblings and was the youngest of six girls, yet she took the lead when she and sisters Mavis and Paula sang at home.
“She would sing Martha Reeves, and me and my sister Paula would do the oohs and aahs,” her sister Mavis said. “Our harmony was perfect behind her. She could really belt it out.”
She was a 1969 graduate of Libbey High School, where she was a drum majorette and homecoming queen. She attended West Liberty State College in Wheeling, W.Va. Her brothers Victor and Paul and cousin Ike Stubblefield had a band, and she sang to open their shows. On summer breaks from college, she performed at the Top of the Tower, the restaurant atop Fiberglas Tower downtown.
She auditioned for Barry Manilow in late 1974, and when her name appeared as one of his backing singers, the Flashy Ladies, on his 1975 “Tryin’ to Get the Feeling” album, she’d taken her father’s middle name, Brooks, as her surname. As a member of Mr. Manilow’s troupe, she went on tour — including a stop in Toledo — and appeared on popular television variety and talk shows of the day.
“When you would go see Ramona perform, she had such a stage presence,” her sister Mavis said. “You would feel she was singing just for you. When she was on stage, she was a beautiful swan. This was where she was supposed to be.”
Before performing with Mr. Manilow, Ms. Brooks appeared in two off-Broadway productions and a summer stock company of Hair.
She made her Broadway debut in 1976, with a part in I Have A Dream, which starred Billy Dee Williams as Martin Luther King, Jr. She later had a leading role in The Magic Show, which starred Doug Henning.
Her 1977 album, Rhythm Rhapsody, and her hits, including “I Don’t Want You Back,” from 1981, are still discussed online by disco aficionados and disc jockeys who sample classic soul and R&B.
She toured Europe and learned Italian so that she could sing in the language, her sister Mavis said.
At some point she returned to her hometown, said Ms. Burnworth, who met her about 30 years ago in Toledo, and on occasion lost touch with family members and friends.
“I knew that she sang, but Ramona never spoke of her accomplishments,” Ms. Burnworth said. “This was an educated, proud woman. She would burst into song, and it made the hair stand up on your arms. Her voice was so pure.
“I always thought, ‘Why are you here?’ There she is, a hidden treasure walking around Toledo and nobody knows anything about her,” Ms. Burnworth said.
Ms. Brooks lived most recently in East Toledo.
Surviving are her brothers, Paul “Bruce” and Glenn Stubblefield, and sisters, Paula Stubblefield and Mavis “Mai” Stubblefield-Holmes.
Memorial services are pending.
Contact Mark Zaborney at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6182.
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