Bettye Baldwin Pledger, always ready with song

Bettye Pledger could sing a slew of uplifting spirituals and classic jazz tunes.

We’re talking Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and Frank Sinatra.

But her rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” might stop a listener dead in his or her tracks. It was a show-stopper and a crowd pleaser.

“That was her signature song,” said a daughter, Marvette Baldwin Jenkins of Atlanta. “When this woman sang that song, it could bring chills to you.”

Maybe it was because she took care of her voice. When aspiring pop divas emerged on the scene, Mrs. Pledger would predict how long they’d last based on the way they sang.

“I remember her always talking about taking care of the voice,” said another daughter, Wendy Baldwin of Albuquerque, N.M. “She understood the mechanics of it, and used it like an instrument.”

Mrs. Pledger had sung all her life, and performed individually or with chorales and community choirs for decades. She caught the acting bug, too, and had roles in plays and bit parts in movies.

Still, singing was her forte. If someone asked her to sing — be it for a family function or community event— she obliged.

“Her favorite music to sing was jazz,” Mrs. Jenkins said, “but she sang spiritual songs and concert-hall songs, too. She was a stylist with an extraordinary, enchanting voice.

“And I’m not just saying this because she was my mother.”

Bettye Baldwin Pledger, 79, of Atlanta, died Wednesday from complications of kidney disease at her home. A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. today at Ben Hill United Methodist Church in Atlanta. Murray Brothers Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

Mrs. Pledger was born in Birmingham, the only child of the late Julius Battle and Ida Mare Harrell. She moved to Atlanta at the age of 2. She sang in school groups as a teen and graduated from David T. Howard High School in 1948.

After high school, she married her first husband, the late Robert Baldwin. She later married the late Charles Pledger.

For a decade, Mrs. Pledger worked as an assistant to the director of Spelman College’s dance program for children. She also worked in technical maintenance at Eastern Airlines for several years.

Musically, she belonged to the Choral Guild of Atlanta. She sang with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus, Atlanta Community Chorus and Quality Living Services Choir. Elsewhere, she performed for numerous events, from mayoral functions to church and community affairs.

Late in life, she appeared in plays presented at Spelman College, the Fulton County Arts Center and Horizon Theatre Company.

The avid reader also was an extra in several movies, including Tyler Perry’s “Madea’s Family Reunion.”

“Acting and singing,” said her daughter, Mrs. Jenkins. “That was her thing.”

Additional survivors include two sons, Dr. Vincent Baldwin of Oakland and Kenneth Baldwin of Richland, Mo.; another daughter, Erin Heidi Fitzhugh of Atlanta; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.