The Best Voices of the 20th Century

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Live concert of Beyonce at the DatchForum of Assago in Milan, Italy

Live concert of Beyonce at the DatchForum of Assago in Milan, Italy | © Fabio Diena / Shutterstock

“The Voice,” “American Idol,” “The Four,” all shows devoted to finding the next vocalist that’s going to top the charts for the next generation. Why is singing so glamorous?

There are no shows devoted to finding the next great guitar player or saxophonist. We want to see the singers, the stars, the front men. The ones who lay it all out and leave themselves drained. We want to see the emotion, the guts, the glory. The human voice.

Over the years, reality singing shows have had their ups and downs. American Idol gave us Carrie Underwood and Adam Lambert. It also gave us “Pants on the Ground’ and Simon Cowell. But singers have always held strong. Looking at the most popular singers of the last hundred years, it is no surprise so many people are standing in line to fill their shoes. Here are some of the most inspirational singers of the last hundred years.

Whitney Houston

NEW YORK - SEP 1, 2009: Whitney Houston performs on 'Good Morning America' in Central Park on September 1, 2009.

Whitney Houston performs on ‘Good Morning America’ in Central Park on September 1, 2009 | © JStone / Shutterstock

When we think of Whitney Houston, we often look back in sorrow. So much of the latter part of her life was tainted with failed relationships, unwise decisions, and dark addictions. Her passions became her downfalls, and so much of what she gained, she ended up losing.

But there was once a Whitney who was free and beautiful. A Whitney who “Wanted to Dance with Somebody,” a Whitney who sang about the “Greatest Love of All,” as if she knew it from the bottom of her soul, a Whitney who won our hearts in “My Bodyguard,” and belted the “Star Spangled Banner” out like it was written for her. Let’s remember that Whitney, that would be the one she would want us to remember. RIP, girl.

Amy Winehouse

Merante Tamar van Amersfoort, official replica of singer Amy Winehouse

Merante Tamar van Amersfoort, official replica of singer Amy Winehouse | © Razvan Iosif / Shutterstock

When the song “Rehab” first appeared on the airwaves, it sounded as if an old blues singer had been reincarnated.

Who turned out to be behind that song but Amy Winehouse, a skinny tattooed, big-haired Londoner who had a voice that seemed to come from an old record player.  Everyone thought she was the one to watch, and those words turned out to ring true.

In the next few years, we watched Amy turn from light to darkness. She made appearances where she seemed too confused to perform, she drank excessively, and her tumultuous romance with Blake Fielder played out in the press daily. Soon she succumbed to her opioid addiction and was found dead in her London apartment.

It was clear from Amy’s voice that she was an old spirit. Hopefully, that spirit will live on in her music and in the hearts of her fans and fellow musicians, we know it will in ours.

Elvis Presley

How could we talk about the greatest singers of the last 100 years without mentioning the “King?” Elvis truly was the King of Rock ‘n Roll.” The first to bring black man’s music to a white man’s world. The first to shake his hips and curl his lip. The first to upset parents and make little girl’s get a funny feeling in their pants.

Elvis wasn’t just a smooth player, he was also a smooth singer. His baritone voice brought us such chart-toppers as “Love Me Tender,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel.” He may have left the building, but he’ll never leave our memories.

Michael Jackson

BERLIN, GERMANY - OCT 1, 2017: Michael Jackson, King of pop, Madame Tussauds Berlin wax museum.

Michael Jackson at the Madame Tussauds wax museum in Berlin, Germany | © Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock

We first fell in love with Michael when he was a member of the Jackson 5. He may have been the littlest Jackson, but he went on to become the biggest star.

Generation Xers grew up with Michael Jackson. That was the generation that watched him go from his ABC’ s and 1,2,3’s to his disco era “Off the Wall,” in 1979.

But when “Thriller” emerged, it was phenomenal. Was it the music on the album (“Billie Jean,” Beat It”,) the white glove, the demonic transformation in the “Thriller” video, the moonwalk, or that slightly suspicious looking nose that made Michael Jackson the most talked about person in 1983? Was it the “Bad” follow-up that proved his brilliance? All of the above, most likely. Either way, Michael’s music will always play a major role in rock history.

Mick Jagger

Mick Jagger has it all. The looks, the moves (“Moves Like Jagger”, Levine?) the lips and the style. However, some people would argue that he doesn’t have much of a voice.

No, Mick Jagger doesn’t have a huge vocal range, he tends to spit out words rather than sing them, and one would not want to test his ability to sing opera, but when it came to singing for the Rolling Stones, there couldn’t have been a better choice.

What Mick Jagger lacks in singing skills, he makes up for in attitude. He’s a dirty boy and proud of it. Happy 70th Mick. Rock on with your bad self!

Beyonce

Live concert of Beyonce at the DatchForum of Assago in Milan, Italy

Live concert of Beyonce at the DatchForum of Assago in Milan, Italy | © Fabio Diena / Shutterstock

It is said that when you are recognized by your first name alone, it is a sign you have arrived. Beyonce doesn’t need a sign to prove that she arrived. The Queen Bee by any other name would have still been the Queen.

Beyonce is not only the girl we want to dance with, she’s an inspiration. We love her for her natural smile, her glowing skin, and her killer legs. We love her for being powerful and unapologetic about who she is and what she is.

There are even college classes devoted to analyzing her songs. Did we ever get a definitive answer on who “Becky with the good hair” really is? Maybe we should take Beyonce 101.

She’s flawless, she’s “In Formation,” she’s fierce, she’s Beyonce, Nuff said.

Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra sings to a sellout crowd at the Warner Theater in Washington, D.C. | © Northfoto / Shutterstock

Jersey Boy through and through, Frank Sinatra was the blue-eyed crooner that took the bobby soxers by storm in the 1940’s as the original bad boy. He made it from the streets of Hoboken to the bedrooms of Grace Kelly, Mia Farrow, and Ava Gardener to name a few, and how did he do it? Charm.

If there was anything that Frank Sinatra had it was charm. He didn’t just sing his songs, he acted them out. He could take his audience from laughter to tears in a matter of minutes. He could dance; he held his own dancing beside Gene Kelly in “Anchors Aweigh,” no small feat. He was real. Even when his popularity declined, he remained the East Coast tough guy that he was. And charming? They didn’t call him “Old Blue Eyes” for nothing.

Frank also made his mark on popular music. Even if he described rock and roll as “sung, played and written for the most part by cretinous goons,” his swagger, irreverence, sexuality, and energy spawned a generation of screaming women at Elvis and Beatles concerts. Maybe he was just a little cretinous himself.

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday was more than a singer, she’s was the face of a movement.

Known for her smoky voice and her ability to make every song she sang her own, Lady Day was the cover girl for the jazz era. She lived a tempestuous life, and the emotion expressed in her singing was an expression of pain, and injustice, but most importantly of triumph.

She fought sexism and racism, but she couldn’t fight addiction. She succumbed to alcohol at the age of 44. Her artistic spirit survives her. Goodnight, Lady Day.

David Bowie

The Thin Pale Duke, yes, he was. He was also Aladdin Sane, Major Tom, and most memorably Ziggy Stardust. David Bowie was more than a rock star, he was a chameleon. His unpredictability was the only predictable thing about him.

Was he animal or human, man or woman, alien or terrestrial? Every album brought a new character, but they were all intensely Bowie.

We remember David Bowie for combining rock and roll with art, he was his own canvas, his makeup and clothes were his palette. His songs were his method of communication. His baritone voice on the edge of holding it all together and breaking it all apart.

He brought us great music, like “Ground Control to Major Tom,” and the “Diamond Dogs” album. He was as stylish in the 60’s as well as the millennium and the 70’s were his sweet spot. Goodbye, sweet prince. We’re sure you’re somewhere floating on a tin can.

Steven Tyler

Steven Tyler of Aerosmith performs at the 2016 KAABOO Music Festival

Steven Tyler of Aerosmith performs at the 2016 KAABOO Music Festival | © Debby Wong / Shutterstock

Speaking of cretinous goons, Steven Tyler would have no problem with identifying himself under this category.

He may be making more money in his appearances on reality shows these days than he is on making music, nevertheless, Steven Tyler is one of the most iconic voices of the last hundred years.

When we think of the quintessential rock and roller, we think of a long-haired scraggly kid, with a raspy voice screaming his lungs out behind a microphone. Could we have described Steven Tyler any more perfectly?

When Aerosmith emerged on the scene, rock n rollers knew what they wanted to be when they grew up. Even Run DMC had to pay tribute to Steven and the gang when they teamed up for a rap version of “Walk this Way,” and even Beavis and Butthead knew who the real rock n roll gods were when they bowed down to Aerosmith in their movie.

So, what if he’s the new television “idol,” we’ll watch Steven read the telephone book. F-d up, Intense, Neurotic and Emotional, Steven will always be FINE with us.

Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin at the Madame Tussauds museum in San Francisco

Janis Joplin at the Madame Tussauds museum in San Francisco | © Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock

Anyone who has seen the Janis Joplin documentary in which she talks about how she was mercilessly bullied in high school knows where the song “Piece of My Heart” came from.

Janis was the hard-drinking, bell-bottomed love child with the voice that took the San Francisco psychedelic scene by storm. Equal parts vulnerability and toughness, Janis had a bluesy powerful voice filled with raw emotion.

In the song “Me and Bobby McGee, Janis sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” In the end, Janis was free and that’s the way we’ll remember her. Belting it out under the stars at Monterey Pop in her Mercedes-Benz in the sky.

Freddie Mercury

The little-mustachioed man with the four-octave range. Mariah claims to have five, but we have yet to hear her sing “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

For someone so Flamboyant in his dress (spandex in the 70’s. leather in the 80’s) and the owner of one of the most powerful singing voice ever, Freddie remains one of the quietest voices in the music industry. When he was off stage, he kept out of the limelight. Yet he brought so much to this world.

We rebelled along with him in “We are the Champions,” grooved with him in “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” and got dramatic with him in “Killer Queen.”

Freddie died of AIDs on November 24, 1991. He revealed the cause of his gaunt appearance one day before his death. Said bandmate Roger Taylor, “He was shy gentle and kind. He was never the one, he was onstage.”

James Brown

James Brown was probably known as much for his lively stage and real-life antics as he was for his music. No one performed like him, no one lived like him, and no one sang like him. After all, he is the Godfather of Soul.

James Brown took to the stage with all the fervor of a preacher at a Sunday church meeting. His words were his testimony. He’d been called “Soul Brother Number One”, “Sex Machine,” Mr. Dynamite, The Hardest Working Man in Show Business, the King of Funk, the Minister of the New New Super Heavy Funk, and Mr. Please, Please, Please Her.

He sweated and scooted around the floor pleading with emotion until a stagehand had to come bearing a cape to escort him off the stage before he became completely unglued. But he always kept “getting on up” again. He once said, “When I’m on stage, I want to do one thing, bring people joy.” Mission accomplished.

There they are, some of the musical idols that gave us hope in the last hundred years. Let us know who your favorite celebrities are from the 20th century!

AAD

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