Barbara K. hit the Top 10 in the 1980s with "The Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades," a song that she and then-spouse Pat MacDonald performed as the duo Timbuk 3. She remained in the duo for about 15 years and branched off as a solo artist early in 2000 with the album Ready. The release was issued by Fire Sister Records, a label that she founded.
The singer/songwriter, who also goes by the name Barbara K. McKenna, was growing up in Colorado Springs when she started to show an interest in music. She got her hands on her first acoustic guitar from Sears when she was about 10. Before the 1960s were over, she relocated with her family to the Texas city of San Antonio. There, when she was in her teens, she traded in her Sears Airline model for an Epiphone guitar and started taking part in city talent competitions. A Sunday morning church gig got the ax when the sisters of St. Dominic's frowned on her choice of material. It was during this time that she also got a taste of the local nightspots' musical offerings, despite the fact that she was underage. Tall for her age, she was sneaking into the hot spots when she was 13 years old. Despite her obvious love of music, her family dissuaded her from pursuing a career in music, preferring to have her study organic chemistry at the University of Houston. She devoted a few years to her classes, but in the end she left the university in 1977 and headed to Madison, WI, where her family had settled in the meantime. She took work waiting tables but never gave up the guitar.
Before a year had passed, she'd made the acquaintance of MacDonald. Despite the couple's later divorce, both musical and marital, she describes his gift for songwriting as "incredible" and cites him as a mentor. As Timbuk 3, the husband and wife team put out at least a half dozen albums and toured internationally before splitting in 1995. She crafted a number of new songs by 1998, which she performed for the first time with Wally Ingram, who had worked as Timbuk 3's drummer over the previous decade and a half. By 1998, Ingram was touring with David Lindley, who heard her songs and asked her to open for the remainder of his tour.