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SIOUX CITY | When Barbara Dean sings "Lord, You're Amazing" in front of her church's pulpit, she can't help but smile.

"God has given me a gift to harness," said the 51-year-old Sioux City native. "And now I am not afraid to share it with everybody."

A gospel singer since the age of 5, Dean will be the soloist during "A Day with God," a concert at 4 p.m. March 8 at Mount Zion Baptist Church, 1421 Geneva St.

According to music director Leland Mickels, Dean is his choir's first singer to command a solo concert.

"As soon as Barbara opened her mouth, I said you gotta be kidding me," Mickels said. "That girl has the 'it' factor goin' on and she doesn't even know it."

It's true, Dean said. Despite her talent, she struggled to get over her stage fright.

"Whenever I had to sing as a young girl, I'd leave the church in tears," she said. "I'm naturally a bashful person and getting in front of people always scared me."

One of 12 children born to Louvina and the late Leroy Dean, Dean said she inherited her love of gospel music from both sides of the family.

"My dad's brother was a professional gospel singer in Toledo, Ohio, while my mom has always been a wonderful church singer," she said. "That's probably why I have the gospel in my blood."

Dean also enjoyed secular music.

"I was all about Earth, Wind & Fire and Kool & The Gang back in the day," she said. "And Whitney Houston. You can't forget Whitney."

But it was always gospel music that touched her heart and soul.

"There's something wonderful about singing gospel," Dean said. "It picks you up when you're feeling low."

Although she once was briefly married, Dean never had children. Instead, she helped raise five of her nieces and nephews. A professional home health care provider, she now also takes care of her 83-year-old mother.

"My mother used to call me her 'baby,'" Dean said with a chuckle. "Now, she calls me her 'boss' because I make her do things she's not always happy to do."

Niece Kyham Dean said it was her aunt who often held the family together.

"I started living with Aunt Barbara when I was 11 years old," the now 21-year-old said. "I wasn't really much of a churchgoer but my aunt encouraged me to go every Sunday. I wasn't much of a student but my aunt encouraged me to aim higher. And now I just earned two degrees from Western Iowa Tech Community College."

Kyham Dean calls her aunt a role model. Dean said caring for family meant stepping outside of her comfort zone.

"When I hit my mid-40s, everything sort of clicked," Dean said. "The shy girl who'd cry whenever she sang suddenly found her voice."

Since then she's been using her talent to minister the gospel to her fellow church members.

While music director Mickels compares her to Patti Labelle, Dean said she was influenced by such legendary gospel singers as Lemmie Battles, Shirley Caesar and Albertina Walker.

But more than that, Dean said she likes putting her own personal spin on immortal songs like "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah" and "Amazing Grace."

"There's a spiritual side to me but there's a playful side as well," she said. "Hopefully, both sides come out through my music."

Dean credits her gift to a higher power.

"God gives you the gifts that you need," she said. "My gift allows to connect with people while singing his praises."

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Food and Lifestyles reporter

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