50 Great Voices for NPR

NPR is trying to compile a list of 50 truly great voices from around the world and a range of eras. For the most part contestants seem to be singers, who usually performed solo, and had success in the last 100 years. I suppose that’s only fair. Singing with a group is very different than singing solo, which allows for more virtuosity and must stand alone as a performance. Also, we can only judge singers for which there is a significant record of their voices, so anything from before 1900 is probably out.

A while ago, I vaguely remember hearing about this, and thinking I ought to send in recommendations. Regrettably, I never got around it. Now, NPR is asking people to vote for their five favorite from the finalists they’ve selected. Predictably, since I didn’t submit any contenders, I was a little disappointed to see some, in my opinion, amazing voices missing. Notably:
Mariah Carey“I’ll Be There”
Buddy Guy“Out In the Woods”
Big Mama Thornton“Hound Dog”
Common“The Light”
Mos Def“Get By”
Ben Gibbard“Such Great Heights”

I give the songs as sort of a justification for why I think the singer should be included as a finalist. In each case, I think the song does a good job of showcasing their voice's greatness, and I have loved the song since the first time I heard it. Nevertheless, I did pick five of my favorites from the list NPR supplied. They weren’t overly thought out, though I have raved of my love for Aretha Franklin’s vocal stylings many a time before. Here are my picks:
Nina Simone“Willow Weep for Me”
Willie Nelson“On the Road Again”
Janis Joplin“One Good Man”
Aretha Franklin“Chain of Fools”
Roy Orbison“Go! Go! Go!”

Even though I voted less than an hour ago, and as much as I love me some Roy Orbison, I kind of already regret voting for him. I feel like I love him more for his rock and roll, as one of my favorite artists from Sun Records, than for his voice. I should have picked Louis Armstrong as my fifth. Damn.

Also, let me publicly admit that my selection is undeniably USA-centric. I regret that, but I have a good excuse. Because I grew up in the USA, I feel the most in tune with American culture, and consequently with American music. When I listen to music from other countries, I can be impressed, but I’m never moved. For better or worse, I take whether a singer moved me into consideration when choosing great voices. That said, I did almost Youssou N’Dour from Senegal. I first came across him while writing a paper on Afro Pop for a high school French class, but they also play him on NPR and XPN. If you're not familiar with his music, I strongly suggest you give it a listen.

So whether your rhyme or reason, go vote at 50 Great Voices: Help Us Choose from NPR. Who knows how authoritative this list will be considered? If it ends up being regarded as definitive, don’t you want your opinion included?

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