Local singer who died remembered as talented, generous

The tears come when the sister remembers the last song she sang with her little brother — a person she sweetly referred to as “a big teddy bear.”

Katrina Adams harmonized on the Shania Twain song, “From This Moment On” with Jamaal Combs in March during a local karaoke session. Combs, 35, died Friday at Columbus Regional Hospital of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a cardiac condition in which the heart muscle becomes abnormally thick. Adams was by his side.

Combs was well-known in the local music community, partly from his winning the 2010 Columbus Idol Live competition and partly from his singing at a variety of events, ranging from the 2015 Bartholomew County Area Branch of the NAACP banquet to the national anthem at gatherings such as a 2012 Gridiron Celebrity Hoops Basketball Game at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

“I told Jamaal at the hospital, ‘I love you,’” Adams said. “And no matter what happens, I’ll always keep singing for you.”

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Adams mentioned that she has sung mostly at Second Baptist Church in Columbus, where they both worshipped, besides karaoke with her brother around town. Combs took his singing dreams to the national scene to “American Idol” tryouts in 2004, and sang Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” before judges that included record producer Simon Cowell and rapper LL Cool J in Columbus, Ohio, on a non-televised portion of tryouts.

“They told him he looked a little uncomfortable,” Adams recalled, adding that they also compared him slightly to 2003 “American Idol” winner Ruben Studdard.

She thought that experience of not advancing might devastate him as a painful rejection. But the Columbus East High School graduate continued to sing and seek ways to find an audience for his music, including two independent extended-play discs that never made it into full albums.

Plus, he held fast to what he saw as God’s words to him in his favorite Scripture in Jeremiah 29:11: “I know the plans I have for you — plans to prosper you and not to harm you, and plans to give you hope and a future.”

Longtime local vocalist Harvey Leggett was a friend of Combs for 22 years. He sang with Combs for more than 15 years at Second Baptist Church, and also as part of a trio with Josh Salinas. On Saturday, Leggett posted a video of the trio rehearsing a classic salvation-themed song, “Tomorrow” from the Christian pop group The Winans.

Leggett recalled being backstage with Combs at Columbus Idol Live and joking with him that they would finish Nos. 1 and 2, since Leggett himself also was a contestant. When he grew more serious, Leggett straightforwardly told Combs he would win with his rendition of “You Raise Me Up,” “Chariot” and “I Melt.”

“Jamaal always was so friendly,” Leggett said. “After people met him, they knew they had a friend for life.”

And one who remained popular with nearly everyone.

Local folk-rock singer Megan Maudlin recalled going to eat at Little Caesar’s Pizza in Columbus where Combs worked and watching others coax him to croon right on the job.

“He was such a local celebrity,” Maudlin said. “They would be like little fan girls begging him to sing.”

At some point, Combs usually would smile and oblige and sing a few lines of a tune. She also remembered that Combs usually was the first person at karaoke gatherings to encourage those battling nerves or self-consciousness to get up and sing.

Adams also knew her brother as a giving person, helping her at a recent fundraiser that raised $2,000 for her Foundation For Grieving Children.

“He was the most kind and generous person,” Adams said.

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The family of Jamaal Combs has opened a Go Fund Me account on Facebook for funds for funeral and burial expenses. Service plans were incomplete at press time, according to his sister, Katrina Adams.

To help with expenses, go to gofundme.com/2jh43erk. Or go to Glenn Adams’ Facebook page and click on the link for the fund.

Also, 15 percent of lunch and dinner proceeds Aug. 23 at Applebee’s on 25th Street in Columbus will go to the fund.

Plus, Popportunity on 25th Street in Columbus will donate a percentage of its proceeds to the fund beginning Monday through the end of the month.