Retired LSU professor recounts her days at historic Memphis record company _lowres

Barbara Barnes Sims

Editor's Note: The original version of this story incorrectly said the book reading at the YMCA Southside branch was scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 15. The correct day is Friday, Nov. 14. The story has been corrected.

Barbara Sims has led an interesting life, if you consider only the contents of her book, “The Next Elvis: Searching for Stardom at Sun Records”, released in August by LSU Press.

The book tells the story of her unusual career — especially as a woman in the 1950s — at the Memphis-based studio, which released early recordings of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Charlie Rich.

But there’s a lot more of interest to consider, when it comes to Sims, a Corinth, Mississippi, native who came to Baton Rouge in 1960.

Sims, 81, also has made regular exercise a part of her life since joining her first gym in Memphis in the 1950s, the Alvin Roy studio, started by a Baton Rouge native, she said.

She joined the YMCA soon after moving to Baton Rouge, and has been a member almost continuously in that 50-year window.

She’ll be giving a book reading as part of the Y’s Lunch and Learn series at noon Friday, she said, at the Southside branch, 8482 Perkins Road, and she may as well be doing a reading at home, she’s so comfortable there.

She still works out with weights at least twice a week, she said, and swims regularly at both the Southside and Pennington branches, depending on the weather, though she’s got several deep ties to Southside, in particular.

She was the Southside YMCA’s first yoga teacher, long before yoga was trendy, or even readily accepted, she said.

“I volunteered,” she said. “I first took lessons from an itinerant woman who became a Buddhist nun, then I took from a teacher at LSU, Nancy Knauth, and later from Nancy Broadhead. I wasn’t the world’s greatest yoga teacher, but I could do a bound lotus. Teaching at the Y introduced some people to yoga who would never have otherwise enjoyed that type of exercise. When my knees began to go from playing tennis so much, I had to give up yoga.”

Now she mostly sticks to swimming, inside at the Southside pool in colder months, and outside at Pennington in summer.

“Before these branches opened, I used to swim at the branch on Foster. It was in the early 60s before so much fitness was going on,” Sims recalled. “Many times I’d be the only person in the pool, or sometimes there would be me, Constance Navratil, and a woman whose husband was an osteopath.”

Sims retired from her second career — she taught English at LSU — after 36 years.

Her husband died a decade ago, and suddenly, everything was different.

“I had to create a new life for myself,” she said, and so began giving lectures and talks about many different subjects, often including her career at Sun, and the book naturally followed.

What she’s learned, in 81 years, is that life becomes infinitely richer the older one grows.

“You may not be able to do all you once could when you were younger, you may have physical limits that weren’t there before, but there’s always something new to learn, and to see and do.”

The book reading will be held in the Southside’s group exercise room starting at noon.

For information, call (225) 766-2991.