Sat., August 10, 2013 8:00am (EDT)

'Pops' Barker: The Human Trumpet
By Laura Corley
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Updated: 11 months ago

MACON, Ga.  —  
If you closed your eyes and listened to Terry “Pops” Barker perform, you would think that he was a trumpet player. But he's not. (Photo: Jason Vorhees for <a href="http://macon.com">The Telegraph of Macon</a>)
If you closed your eyes and listened to Terry “Pops” Barker perform, you would think that he was a trumpet player. But he's not. (Photo: Jason Vorhees for The Telegraph of Macon)
If you closed your eyes and listened to Terry “Pops” Barker perform, you would think that he was a trumpet player.

But Barker does not play any instruments. In fact, he can not read music.

These brassy sounds come from Barker’s lips. He calls himself "The Human Trumpet".

Barker, 73, discovered his talent at age 29. At the time, he was working at a naval air station in his hometown of Pensacola, Fla.

“I heard this trumpet sound one morning so I stopped, went on the other side, and a buddy of mine was imitating a trumpet,” Barker recalled. “And all of a sudden it just come out of my mouth.”

Barker discovered that he could emulate other sounds too, including Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, bagpipes, peacocks and other animals.

In 1991, Barker appeared on ABC’s “America’s Funniest People” for his peacock imitation. In 2006, he appeared on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” for his trumpet performances.

But his bread and butter are performances for sporting events, churches, retirement homes, and veteran’s programs. Barker plays “Taps”, “The National Anthem”, “When The Saints Go Marching In”, “What A Wonderful World” and more. He finds joy in spontaneous performances.

“I’d be sitting in McDonald’s, it would be some kids birthday and I’d go over and do ‘Happy Birthday’ and I would have the whole place--they’d just be coming out of the wood works just to listen to me.”

Barker’s wife, Elaine, said that his talent is hard to explain to others.

“When you try to tell them 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’,” Elaine said.

Barker and Elaine moved to Georgia in 1994. They lived in Buford and Stone Mountain before settling down in Byron about four years ago. Since then, Barker has become a regular at local restaurants like Meldino’s pizzeria in Centerville and Polly’s La Mesa in Macon.

During the holidays, he can be found at Smiley’s Flea Market in Macon, dressed as Santa Claus and entertaining kids.

Though Barker now thrives on bringing joy to others, his life has not always been that way.

Barker never knew his father. He has two half-siblings. “I was kind of the black sheep in the family,” Barked said.

Barker started drinking in high school and did not stop until he was 50. He quit to save his marriage with Elaine.

“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 has been sober for 23 years. He and Elaine celebrated their 30th anniversary in June.

In addition to his battle with alcoholism, Barker has struggled with other illnesses over the years as well.

“I just found out about six years ago that I’ve got ADHD and Bipolar,” said Barker. “They put me on medication, so I’m doing good now... God’s been good to me.”

Barker hopes to one day be a guest on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show”, but in the mean time, he will continue to perform locally.

On April 20th, Barker serenaded Paula Smith, who celebrated her 57th birthday at Meldino’s. Smith, who has heard Barker perform before, said that when people see him perform for the first time they are in awe.

“My favorite thing that he does is the Louis Armstrong song ‘What a Wonderful World’...The trumpet thing is amazing,” Smith said. “He’s great and he has a personality to match it. Sweet as sugar.”

Barker has been paid for his performances before, but most of his gigs are unpaid.

“I do it because I love to do it. I love to entertain people,” Barker said.