Born: March 25, 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.
Years Active: 1956–2017
Aretha Franklin is the quintessential singer, with a voice that leaves no doubt whatsoever. With power and passion grounded in the gospel tradition, she has a rare voice type called “falcon” that’s part soprano and part mezzo-soprano, a richer and more dramatic sound. She performs melisma with startling accuracy and nuance. She can hold notes so long and so powerfully that you start to wonder if she’s breathing some magic stuff. Her voice could do anything she told it to do.
Favorite Songs by Aretha Franklin
- “A Natural Woman”
- “You Send Me”
- “Baby I Love You”
Born: December 2, 1923, Manhattan, New York City, NY
Years Active: 1939-1977
Even people who don’t like opera love the way Maria Callas sang it. She had extraordinary range, with low, dark notes and high notes (much higher than most sopranos). Critic Claudia Cassidy described her as “part oboe, part clarinet” and her middle register had a unique “bottled” sound, as if she were singing into a bell jar. Her execution was astonishingly smooth and she made even the most complicated and difficult runs and notes look easy.
By her forties, her voice was already starting to fail. Callas’s voice didn’t last long, but while it lasted. . . wow!
Favorite Songs by Maria Callas
Born: September 8, 1932 in Winchester, Virginia, U.S.
Years Active: 1947–1963
Associated Acts: Kitty Wells, Jean Shepard, Jimmy Dean, Jim Reeves, Eddy Arnold, Skeeter Davis, Brenda Lee, Loretta Lynn, Jan Howard, Dottie West, Willie Nelson
Cline was the first major country star to succeed on the pop charts. Even though her style was always country, her delivery was something else: a husky alto that swells with emotion and skips and breaks with aching melancholy.
Favorite Songs by Patsy Cline
- “I Fall to Pieces”
- “Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray”
Lhasa de Sela
Born: September 27, 1972, Big Indian, New York, NY
Years Active: 1985–2009
Lhasa, who was both American and Mexican, sang in Spanish, French, and English and in many genres, including folk, in a voice that was husky and emotive. She only recorded three albums, but there are no bad songs or B-sides on those albums which sold over a million copies. She died in 2010, too soon to gain the recognition and international prestige she deserved.
Favorite Songs by Lhasa de Sela
- “Con Toda Palabra”
- “Abro la Ventana”
- “What Kind of Heart”
Born: April 25, 1917, Newport News, VA
Years Active: 1934–1993
Ella Fitzgerald, “The First Lady of Song,” was the most well-known and loved female jazz singer in the U.S. for more than fifty years. Her pure tone and inventive styling made her famous worldwide and recorded over 200 albums in her lifetime and was the first African-American woman to win a Grammy in 1958. She was a master scat singer who sang everything from sultry popular ballads to swing, bebop, and jazz. She said, “I sing like I feel.”
Favorite Songs by Ella Fitzgerald
- “Dream a Little Dream of Me”
- “Lullaby of Birdland”
- “Night and Day”
Born: 21 November 1965 (age 52) Reykjavík, Iceland
Years Active: 1975–present
Associated Acts: The Sugarcubes. Kukl, Exodus, Megas, Mark Bell, Tappi Tíkarrass, Björk Guðmundsdóttir & tríó Guðmundar Ingólfssonar, Dirty Projectors, Sjón, 808 State, Thom Yorke, Death Grips, Brian Chippendale, Arca, Anohni, Plaid, Michel Gondry, Matmos, Gabríela Friðriksdóttir
Some people don’t like Björk’s voice. They say it’s odd and grating. Admittedly, her sound is unique and dominating and it might not be for everybody.
Björk’s unique voice is assertive, pyrotechnical, emotional, and throttled. She compares her sound to the country she comes from: Iceland. “You have the lava, almost no trees, almost no animals and almost no people, so things are very stripped down. It’s very naked.”
Favorite Songs by Björk
- “All is Full of Love”
- “Human Behavior”