For almost two decades, film reviewer Joe Barber was a regular on WAMU 88.5, joining Kojo (and before that, Derek McGinty) to recommend summer blockbusters and obscure indies. He was found dead Monday at his home at age 53. Kojo remembers a fixture of the local arts scene.


  • Bill Henry Independent Film Critic,

More Reflections

We pulled a few audio clips from the archives that we didn’t get a chance to play today during our show on longtime friend of the show and film critic Joe Barber. Here, along with a letter from Barber’s friend Pat Pope, are clips from one of Barber’s reviews and a remembrance from his friend, Leah Goldman.

My Buddy Joe Barber

On September 19, 2011, I lost my buddy Joe Barber.
He was eight months older than me but we acted more like sister and brother rather than best friends. He made me laugh, he made me mad and he made me cry sometimes but I still loved him no matter what.

We first met each other at Calvin Coolidge Senior High School in February 1976. He was a senior and I was a junior but we always had something to talk about. He had a love of entertainment even then.
We were always going to the movies. Some excellent, some good and some so bad, Glade could not hide the smell. I have been going to screenings with him for over 20 years. I met a lot of his friends who were critics but real people also.

Joe had a wide range of talents. Movies, theatre, music, books etc. He could talk on any subject but his love was movies. We had a system regarding movies. It was called the five finger system. One finger meant a bad movie, four or more fingers excellent. We disagreed over a lot of movies but I also reminded him that I went as a fan, he was there as a critic.

So now, I have to go to the movies by myself. No Joe to share popcorn with.
Rest in peace Joe. You will be in my heart forever.


  • 12:45:33

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIOn Monday afternoon, we learned that our colleague and friend, arts critic Joe Barber died. For almost two decades, Joe was a fixture at WAMU 88.5, joining this show and before that, "The Derek McGinty Show" to recommend summer blockbusters and obscure indies. He was also entertainment editor at WTOP Radio and, at various times, an arts columnist for The Current Newspapers and an arts critic for WETA's "Around Town."

  • 12:46:00

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIHis voice and his laughter, instantly recognizable to his friends and fans, and his enthusiasm for all things movies was infectious, even as he was confronting huge challenges in his private life. Joe was going blind from diabetes. He was also making huge financial sacrifices, stringing together paid and unpaid gigs to continue doing what he loved most.

  • 12:46:28

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us by phone is Bill Henry. He is an independent film critic with Bill Henry, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:46:35

    MR. BILL HENRYKojo, thank you for having me on, of course, under such horrible circumstances.

  • 12:46:40

    NNAMDIIndeed. You were a longtime collaborator with Joe Barber with the Washington Area Film Critics Association and D.C. MOVIE GUYS. For many years, you guys hosted an Oscar Night at the Cinema Drafthouse in Arlington. Tell us about how you got to know Joe and Joe's approach to movies.

  • 12:46:57

    HENRYWell, the Washington Film Society's Oscar party -- I mean, Joe was so gratified by the support the film society showed to both of us over the years. When Joe started reviewing movies professionally back in the '80s, we would see each other at the same screenings, and we would chat. Most of the reviewers do chat with each other. And we started meeting socially and just -- sometimes, just going out for something after evening screenings.

  • 12:47:28

    HENRYAnd then, I believe, it was in the '90s, someone that he had been doing work with, Derek McGinty, on fairly regular film appearances left town, and he suggested me to Derek's producers. And we started working together a little more often.

  • 12:47:47

    NNAMDIIf you'd like to share memories of Joe Barber or to comment, you can call us at 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to Over the course of his career, Joe reviewed all the arts, but, above all, Joe Barber was a fan and an expert on movies. Here's a clip of Joe explaining why the arts are so important.

  • 12:48:09

    MR. JOE BARBERIt's the thing about pop culture, you know. And when I talk to, sometimes, news directors about why the arts and entertainment are important to cover in their shows, I tell them it's because the arts and entertainment, movies particularly, cross boundaries. Everybody goes to the movies. Everybody talks about movies. Everybody sees movies.

  • 12:48:26

    MR. JOE BARBERAnd, unfortunately and fortunately, these movies touch people in certain different ways, and they become an easy topic to talk about.

  • 12:48:35

    NNAMDIIn that clip, you can hear some of his enthusiasm. But, Bill Henry, have you ever met anyone as enthusiastic about movies as Joe Barber?

  • 12:48:42

    HENRYWell, he certainly was -- had an infectious enthusiasm. And I would like to stress to people, as knowledgeable as he was in the arts, he also loved to talk about politics. He stays very well -- he stayed very well-informed. It's a little tough hearing that.

  • 12:49:00

    NNAMDII know it's tough.

  • 12:49:01

    HENRYHe loved sports, loved his Redskins. He was one of the earliest fans, adopters of the Nationals. He had a curly red hat, a red W hat, long before anybody else did.

  • 12:49:15

    NNAMDIDid he ever take it off? Every time he came here, he had that red W hat on his head.

  • 12:49:20

    HENRYYou would think he was going bald, and he was sensitive about it. But I'm sure he wasn't. He just liked his hat.

  • 12:49:26

    NNAMDIMost listeners and TV viewers did not know about Joe's health problems, but over the last few years, he was going blind. That would sound like a curse for a movie and arts reviewer, to be losing your sight. But film was actually a kind of respite for Joe. Here is Joan Craft, (sp?) his longtime friend, discussing the ways that Joe adapted to these physical challenges.

  • 12:49:49

    MS. JOAN CRAFTJoe had had a surgery. He had detached retinas, which, of course, comes along with the diabetes. And he had surgery in one eye, and then he had to have two surgeries in the other. So he was challenged with that for many years. It had deteriorated, and he -- it became more and more difficult to actually get into theaters, movie theaters and arts theaters.

  • 12:50:13

    MS. JOAN CRAFTBut once he worked through that and got there, it was just a wonderful thing to see when the house would get dark, and there would be all that light in front of him. Suddenly, that disability didn't seem to affect his ability to actually see what was going on. So it became even more and more of an outlet for him to be able to just have kind of the best part of his day be in the theater.

  • 12:50:43

    MS. JOAN CRAFTJoe didn't complain about the things that were less desirable in his life. He didn't complain about the challenges in his life. He didn't complain about the heartache in his life. He adapted. He would go to the doctors, and they would tell him all these horrible things about, you know, the diabetes or about his eye situation, whatever. He'd walk out and just figure that he was just going to have to deal with that.

  • 12:51:13

    MS. JOAN CRAFTAnd it never occurred to him to stop doing what he did just because, you know, he was going to have some limitations. He found a way to adapt. And whether that meant going on television and taking his glasses off so people wouldn't see how thick his glasses were or whether that meant, you know, getting some help to get into the theater to see what he had to do, he was going to adapt, regardless of what -- you know, what was going on in other situations.

  • 12:51:45

    NNAMDIBill Henry, she answered a question that I never had the courage to ask Joe. If you're going blind, how come you keep going to movies all the time? How do you see? But, apparently, he saw very well in the movies.

  • 12:51:55

    HENRYYeah, I think that one of the things -- he did mention to me one time that changing light bothered him more than the steady light reflected off a movie screen, that going from, say, a well-lit theater entry area into a -- you know, down a darkened hall to get into the theater would be more of a problem than once when he was actually seated and watching the movie.

  • 12:52:24

    NNAMDIYou know, Joe pursued a career in the arts, even as media organizations and local newspapers phased out their arts program. And we used to joke that his bio, whenever we introduced him on the show, kept on getting longer and longer. But what he was doing was stringing together a whole bunch of, some paying, some non-paying, gigs.

  • 12:52:43

    NNAMDIIt's actually quite remarkable that he was able to continue doing this, even as he was making so little from it. Here's Joan Craft again.

  • 12:52:51

    CRAFTHe was charming, and he was easygoing. And he had the same infectious laugh, and he viewed life, you know, very positively. And I think, you know, most of us wouldn't be able to do that with the challenges that he had. And, I think, sometimes, he thought that if he let people in and they saw his physical struggles and his financial struggles, that that would somehow compromise his integrity to do what it is he did.

  • 12:53:25

    CRAFTAnd I think that many audiences look at people on TV or hear them on radio, and it seems very glamorous. And they aren't aware -- I mean, very often, he wasn't paid for what he did. But he would go there, and he would do that because, you know, that was his, you know, commitment to the thing that he loved the most. You know, he had a job at one point.

  • 12:53:48

    CRAFTHe actually did sales, telemarketing, which, I mean, if you heard his voice, of course, you would buy anything. But he said he couldn't do that and do what he loved part-time. There were many screenings that were during the day. There were many opportunities he had to do shows, you know, to do panel shows, those sorts of things around town, certainly "Kojo Show."

  • 12:54:13

    CRAFTAnd he didn't want to miss those opportunities or not be able to do what he wanted to do 1,000 percent. So he opted out of that. I think most of us feel at some point in our lives we can't do what we want to do because we have other responsibilities. But that's what he wanted to do. And he was passionate about it, and he would do that at any cost.

  • 12:54:36

    NNAMDIGot to go to another colleague of Joe Barber's, who is on the phone, Colleen Fay. (sp?) Colleen, we're running out of time, but I know you'd like to say something about Joe. You guys worked together on "Around Town" at WETA.

  • 12:54:49

    MS. COLLEEN FAYYes, we did. And one of the things that I always loved about Joe was that he was having a passionate connection to the viewer, the average person going to see the movies or a play, whatever it was. And he never forgot that connection. He never had such a critic's point of view that he lorded it over the viewer, the listener, whatever. He shared anyone's enthusiasm for it or disappointment with it, if it was something that he didn't like.

  • 12:55:19

    MS. COLLEEN FAYIt wasn't that he hid his erudition, which was vast, about movies, but that he always used it for the purpose of enlightening the enjoyment of the viewer.

  • 12:55:35

    NNAMDIFay, thank you so much for making that contribution. I knew you wanted to call in here. Bill, the Washington Post...

  • 12:55:41

    HENRYKojo, Colleen -- sorry. Colleen is actually responsible for one of the longstanding gigs that Joe had. It was Colleen who suggested that we should approach Borders, Books and Music about making live appearances in their various stores. And that -- and then we made monthly appearances at the various Borders Books from the late '90s well up until they closed down last month.

  • 12:56:13

    NNAMDIBill Henry, we're running out of time. But in The Washington Post obituary, one fellow art critic described Joe as having more breadth than depth. That struck me as being, well, unfair.

  • 12:56:23

    HENRYWell, it struck me as it being someone trying to show off their cleverness through a veiled insult. And perhaps she should have kept her mouth shut if she didn't have anything decent to say. Boiling a person's life down to a few paragraphs in The Washington Post would be difficult under the best of circumstances. I myself noticed a substantial number of items that weren't listed in Joe's bio, but which were, you know, very important to him.

  • 12:56:52

    HENRYAnd if he showed more breadth than depth, perhaps that was just a matter of when you're telling people on the radio or in a live performance or anything like that about a movie, you feel obliged -- and Joe always took this obligation very seriously -- to be a reporter first, to give a summary of what the movie is about because that's what most people want.

  • 12:57:12

    NNAMDIAnd he did the best synopsis of anybody I know right offhand. Bill Henry is an...

  • 12:57:17

    HENRYHe did exceptionally good ones.

  • 12:57:18

    NNAMDI...independent film critic with Bill, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:57:24

    HENRYKojo, I remember Joe always loved appearing on your show, and he always spoke so highly of you.

  • 12:57:30

    NNAMDII wouldn't do a movie show without him. Bill, thank you so much.

  • 12:57:34

    HENRYYou're welcome.

  • 12:57:34

    NNAMDIYou can go to our website,, where you can see Joe Barber's best five movies. But as we go out, I want you to listen to a friend of Joe's, Lea Gold, (sic) who actually met Joe here at 88.5. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:57:49

    MS. LEA GOLDMANI think the thing that comes to mind when I think about Joe is sweetness, deep soul sweetness, laughter and a passion for life. Finding out he's gone is a shock I still haven't processed. I feel as if someone has stolen one of the colors from my rainbow, and I know it's never coming back. I first met Joe on Sept. 18 of 1994 at some WAMU event. I'd heard him on the radio many times, and he had become one of my favorites.

  • 12:58:16

    MS. LEA GOLDMANAt first I thought this would be another nice moment, getting to meet a favorite radio personality. But we hit it off like kindling, and we never looked back. We felt...

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