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Subject: Katreese Barnes, SNL musical director, co- wrote risque song

Dead at 56
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Date Posted: Sunday, August 18, 11:30:07am


Katreese Barnes, a Musical Force Behind the Scenes, Dies at 56
She worked with Roberta Flack and other stars. But she probably made her biggest splash by helping write a risqué song for “Saturday Night Live.”
By Giovanni Russonello
Aug. 16, 2019

Katreese Barnes, a multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, composer and music producer who accompanied some of the biggest stars of the 1990s and 2000s and won two Emmys as musical director for “Saturday Night Live” — including one for a song (with an unprintable name) that became one of the earliest viral sensations on YouTube — died on Aug. 3 in Manhattan. She was 56.

Her brother Jerry said the cause was breast cancer, which she had fought for the past 20 years.

She never recorded an album under her own name, but Ms. Barnes was known to musicians around New York City as a remarkably versatile studio musician. She played piano, electric keyboards and alto saxophone, produced albums and wrote songs.

From the early 1990s on, she recorded and toured with Roberta Flack, Sting, Chaka Khan and other household names.

But her work for television probably reached the widest audience. Starting in 2001, she served for about a decade as the pianist on “Saturday Night Live,” eventually becoming the show’s musical director.

In 2006, with the musician Asa Taccone, she wrote the music for a song, featuring Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg, that parodied the prurient R&B of the 1980s and ’90s, the musical era in which she had come of age. In the song, whose title NBC euphemized online as “Special Treat in a Box” — and whose real title contained a word that had to be bleeped out 16 times in the original broadcast — Mr. Timberlake and Mr. Samberg each promise to give a lover a box filled with their most precious piece of anatomy.

Within less than two months, a clip of the performance had garnered close to 14 million views online, and the hype man at Mr. Timberlake’s concerts had taken to calling it the “biggest video on YouTube.” The song earned Ms. Barnes and her collaborators (the lyrics were by Mr. Samberg, Mr. Timberlake, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone) an Emmy for outstanding original music and lyrics.

In an interview with the music licensing organization B.M.I., Ms. Barnes said that she had sensed the song’s potential. “I knew it was going to be an ‘S.N.L.’ hit,” she said. “And it was.”

Four years later she won her second Emmy, again for an “S.N.L.” collaboration with Mr. Timberlake — this time on an ironic jazz-inflected piece he sang during his opening monologue, “I’m Not Gonna Sing Tonight.”

Mr. Samberg, reached by phone on Friday, said that Ms. Barnes’s musical virtuosity and collaborative attitude helped keep rehearsals flowing throughout his time in the “S.N.L.” cast. “She was the light in the room, just had one of those smiles that warmed everybody,” he said. “She wrote songs for every live sketch as well, constantly, over and over. That job is so demanding, I was always blown away.”

Katreese Darcene Barnes was born in Fort Carson, Colo., on Jan. 3, 1963. Her mother, Esther Katrina Johnson Barnes, was a schoolteacher, and her father, Milton, was a sergeant in the Army. In addition to her brother Jerry, she is survived by her mother. Another brother, Donald, died in 2016.

Milton Barnes was frequently redeployed throughout Katreese’s childhood, and the family moved often. When he retired in 1976, they settled in Enfield, N.C.

By then Katreese was already a piano prodigy; she appeared that year as a featured soloist with the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra. Her talents inspired Jerry, who was a year older, to learn the guitar and bass, and they formed a band, Third Generation, while still in high school. After some personnel changes, the group changed its name to Juicy and signed to Arista Records in 1981.

Juicy released three albums in the 1980s full of sparkling, synthesizer-driven dance music, with the siblings sharing lead vocal duties. They scored a minor with “Beat Street Strut,” recorded for the soundtrack to the 1984 film “Beat Street,” which focused on hip-hop culture.

Juicy’s most successful album was “It Takes Two” (1985), on which the siblings played every instrument, using no side musicians. It featured the songs “Sugar Free,” which rose to No. 32 on the Billboard R&B singles chart, and “Nobody but You,” which they performed on “Soul Train” the next year.

The siblings moved to New York in 1988 and established themselves on the music scene largely thanks to their work with Ms. Flack. They co-produced most of her 1994 album, “Roberta,” which was nominated for a Grammy.

“Those session people that are not striving to be bandleaders kind of get overlooked, but Katreese was one of the most important musicians in New York,” the bassist Christian McBride, a close friend, said in an interview. “R&B or pop or some sort of television thing? Katreese was the go-to person.”

After leaving “Saturday Night Live,” Ms. Barnes served briefly as musical director for “The Rosie O’Donnell Show.” As usual, her work was mostly behind the scenes, but in an interview with The Huffington Post she expressed no discontent.

“I have a dream job,” she said. “Of all the jobs in the world, mine is to play music for a comedy show.”

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