What should you do if want to learn how to be a great singer? Listen to performers who will inspire you, motivate you, and show you the way! Here, Saint Augustine, FL teacher Heather L. shares her list of the six great singers who do just that:
J. J. Penna, the great vocal coach and accompanist to opera stars like Kathleen Battle, once told me in a voice coaching session that listening to great singers was just as important as practicing. In turn, I’ve done my best to incorporate critical listening into both the piano and voice lessons that I teach. Now, one very important principle to remember as a singer is that mimicking in its truest form can be quite damaging. While many singers are really good at it, it can lead to a lot of tension and bad habits. But general imitation of singers with great technique and placement is entirely different. It could mean a breakthrough for you, and teach you how to be a great singer yourself. Here’s my list of the singers that you should be listening to:
1. Audra McDonald
Having a background in both classical and musical theater singing has given McDonald a uniquely brilliant, shimmering, but conversational voice. Contemporary song cycles and musicals like “Ragtime” have been graced by her soprano. Check out her gorgeous “Stars and the Moon” above.
2. Roberta Flack
Known for her soaring 1972 hit, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” (later covered by Lauryn Hill and the Fugees), Roberta Flack is regarded as one of the clearest and purest voices of R&B, or of any genre for that matter. Listen to how well-supported her sound is in the clip above.
3. Stevie Wonder
Discovered by Motown producers at the tender age of 11, Stevie Wonder remains an icon of singing and songwriting to this day. An effortless, whimsical (albeit nasal) quality can be found consistently in all of his recordings. Unlike many singers, thanks to his generally healthy vocal habits, Wonder’s voice sounded much the same for 30 years.
4. Eva Cassidy
Eva Cassidy died of cancer in 1996 before few people outside the Washington, D.C. area even knew who she was. If you want to learn how to be a great singer, then you should most certainly know who she is and what she sounds like. Now, notwithstanding her occasionally raspy notes and hoarseness, her voice may be one of the finest that I’ve ever heard. Her capacity for sensitivity and song interpretation are truly unmet. You’ve never heard “Over the Rainbow” quite like in her performance above.
5. Jeff Buckley
Son of the ’60s singer-songwriter Tim Buckley, Jeff Buckley drowned at the age of 27. In his short life, however, he managed to record beautiful songs, such as “The Last Goodbye”, “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over”, and the flawless cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. Be sure to listen to the very end. His breath support for the long note at the penultimate “hallelujah” is almost unbelievable.
6. Mario Lanza
Though he’s not related to me, I’m humbled even to share the same surname as this tremendous opera singer. Born in Philadelphia, he starred in several Hollywood films, including a film in which he portrayed another singer, “The Great Caruso”. His lilting agility and vibrant tone set him apart.
As you listen, be sure to listen with a cautious ear. Remember that no voice is flawless, and that recordings are often altered and polished. No matter what genre you study, no matter what voice type that you have, and no matter how long that you’ve been singing, there’s something to be learned from every singer that you hear. But the list above is a good start.
Heather L. teaches singing, piano, acting, and more in Saint Augustine, FL, as well as through online lessons. She is a graduate of the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, and has performed with the New York and Royal Philharmonics, the New Jersey and Virginia Symphonies, the American Boy Choir, and the internationally renowned opera star, Andrea Bocelli. Learn more about Heather here!
Photo by Drama League