This post has been saved in my drafts for a few months now, but the passing of the talented Etta James has prompted me to finally finish and post it.
There are ballads, there are songs, and there are voices. The voices that I’ve selected here are truly enchanting and full of not only talent, but zest. These are women who are (or were) completely devoted to their passion, and there’s more than just a pretty voice that echoes through when you hear them.
Disclaimer: This list is limited to the genre of popular music and consists only of English-speaking chanteuses. It is also a personal selection.
10. Celine DionShe’s been criticized for not having enough involvement in the production component of her musicand she’s been parodied and impersonated countless times. But love her or hate her, she’s got talent. Signature song: ‘My Heart Will Go On’
Best decade: The 1990s saw Celine’s rise to fame and commercial success. She became popular in the English market with ‘Where Does My Heart Beat Now’ and continued with several albums including Falling Into You which had a number of hits. Listen to Celine’s rendition of ‘Ave Maria’:
9. Tina TurnerQuite possibly an odd choice for this list and maybe more fitting for a ‘Top 10 Performers’ list, but either way, I just couldn’t leave Tina and her powerful voice off. Signature song: ‘The Best’
Best decade: Tina doesn’t stop. Her career has spanned over 50 years but her greatest success came in the 1980s with hits ‘The Best’, ‘Private Dancer’, ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’ and ‘We Don’t Need Another Hero’.
Listen to Tina in her earlier days with ‘River Deep, Mountain High’, which was covered by Celine Dion in the 90s.
8. Ella Fitzgerald
With a wide-ranging, pitch-perfect and ageless voice, Ella Fitzgerald was one of the most popular jazz singers in the USA. Her 1956 album Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook is on the National Recording Registry.Signature song: ‘Summertime’
Best decade: Ella is best known for the tracks she released in the mid 50s to mid 60s, but she was very active again from around the mid 70s to mid 80s. Listen to Ella performing scat singing in 1969
7. Barbra Streisand
Like Celine, Barbra has also been the subject of much ridicule and impersonation, but you can’t deny her skill. Not only an excellent singer, she’s also won awards for her acting, as well.Signature song: ‘Woman in Love’
Best decade: The 70s were very prosperous for Barbra, but she had her greatest commercial musical success in the 1980s, in particular with the album Guilty. Listen to ‘Woman in Love’, and at the same time have a giggle at the very 80s music video:
6. Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin is also known as “The Queen of Soul” and in 1987 she was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Her voice is powerful, energetic and assertive.
Signature song: ‘Respect’
Best decade: 1960s
Listen to ‘Respect’, 1967
5. Etta James
As mentioned at the start of this post, Etta James passed away today (20th of January in the USA). She had a beautiful, sultry voice that featured on the tracks of many romance albums. Her version of ‘At Last’ was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.
Signature song: ‘At Last’
Best decade: 1960s
Listen to Etta James’ ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’
4. Eva Cassidy
Like many young talents, Eva Cassidy was taken from this world too soon. She was only 33 years old when cancer claimed her life. Her voice was really something else.Signature song: ‘Songbird’
Best decade: Eva was most active in the 80s and early 90s, but much commercial success has come posthumously.
Listen to Eva Cassidy’s ‘Songbird’:
3. Mariah Carey
Mariah’s vocal range is simply amazing. Both her and one of her influencers, Whitney Houston use melisma as part of their singing styles. A melisma is “a group of notes sung to one syllable of text.”
Signature song: ‘Hero’
Best decade: 1990s
Listen to Mariah Carey’s ‘Without You’:
2. Whitney Houston
Another singer with an incredible vocal range, she has been a source of inspiration and influence for countless chanteuses.Signature song: ‘I Will Always Love You’ (which was written and originally sung by Dolly Parton)
Best decade: Mid-80s to mid-90s
Listen to ‘I Will Always Love You’:
1. Karen Carpenter
Karen Carpenter was another talent who was taken too soon. At just 32 years of age complications from anorexia claimed her life. Her voice was crisp and clean, and she had an extraordinary ability to hold long, low notes. For me she epitomises the art and purity of singing.
Signature song: ‘Close To You’
Best decade: 1970s
Listen to The Carpenters’ ‘Superstar’ in 1971:
There are many other beautiful voices that I would add to a longer list: Dusty Springfield, Dionne Warwick, Cass Elliot, Billie Holiday, Stevie Nicks and Roberta Flack to name a few.
Who would be in your top 10?