Barbara McAlister was born Muskogee, Oklahoma in 1941. She is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, a descendant of Old Tassel, and half German/cherokee through her mother. She aspired to be a country-western singer in her youth, but learned to love opera from her parents.
For her dedication to promoting the Cherokee language, she was awarded the Cherokee Medal of Honor from the Cherokee Honor Society.
She won the Loren Zachary Competition in Los Angeles, California, which launched her career. She has since performed in the opera houses of Passau, Koblenz,Bremerhaven, and most notably Flensburg, where she was engaged for a decade. She has given solo performances at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, and the Weil Recital Hall, and has performed with companies throughout Europe and the United States.
Barbara also paints in the Bacone style of flat-style Native painting from Prairie, Plains, and Eastern tribes.She has exhibited her paintings at the Five Civilized Tribes Museum and Jacobson House Native Arts Center in Oklahoma, the Wharton Art Gallery in Philadelphia, and Bullock’s in Los Angeles.