Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Saturday Seven: Favorite Female Vocalists

Readers of this humble blog know how important music is to me. I enjoy a variety of music styles, but in particular, I am fond of many early women singers who have been trail blazers or trend setters. Back in the 1940's, 50's and 60's in particular, there were a variety of women who defined a style or genre of music for generations to come. In an industry often dominated by men, there were a handful of women who established themselves as trendsetters and innovators. These are women who persevered in the face of adversity, inspiring a generation of young women to follow in their footsteps. The list is long for sure, but I endeavor to narrow down my favorites, which brings me to this week's edition of The Saturday Seven: Favorite Female Vocalists

#1: Miss Peggy Lee- This multi-nominated Oscar performer is arguably the preeminent Jazz and traditional pop singer and songwriter of her time, she was also a highly prolific songwriter and producer. Famous for her "soft and cool" singing style, Peggy Lee was known for songs such as "Fever", "Its a Good Day", "Is that all there is?" and "I'm a Woman". Whenever I hear a Peggy Lee song, I'm always reminded of how ahead of her time she was. Independent, assertive and strong, yet sultry and sexy, Miss Peggy Lee defined a style for women singers to come.
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#2 Ella Fitzgerald- Widely considered one of the most influential jazz vocalists of the 20th century, "Lady Ella" earned the title as First Lady of Song. Ella was style and class, but also incredible talent; her voice was noted for its purity of tone, faultless phrasing and sophisticated intonation. She recorded and performed for nearly 60 years, winning 13 Grammy awards. Quite honestly, I could write hundreds of pages about her greatness. She helped interpret the "American Songbook" body of work and maintained it's appeal for future generations. Songs such as "Tisket-a-Tasket", "If you can't sing it, you'll have to Swing it", "Oh Lady be Good", and "How high the Moon". Her collaborations with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basey and Frank Sinatra where legendary. I grew up hearing Ella Fitzgerald and always felt like she was the definition and standard of good music.
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#3 Sarah Vaughan has been described as one of the greatest singers of the 20th century. She was a plain down-to-Earth girl with incredible talent. In the early '40's she teamed up with the Earl Hines band and singer Billy Eckstine, which helped shape her style and musical direction. While not exclusively a jazz singer, she became known for her keen ability to "scat", "bebop" and "vocal swoop". Her early repertoire is impressive: "If You Could See Me Now" "Don't Blame Me", "I've Got a Crush on You", "Everything I Have is Yours" and "Body and Soul. But she recorded major hits such as "Broken Hearted Melody", "Send In the Clowns", and "Tenderly". Miss Vaughan became a regular at events such as the Newport Jazz Festival and jazz clubs such as the Blue Note in New York.

#4 Judy Garland- Considered to be the greatest singer of the Golden Age of musical Hollywood, she had a voice with an incredible vibrato which conveyed an intimacy and strength in her work. Of course, at the age of 16 she became a major star for her role in the Wizard of Oz, recording "Over the Rainbow", which propelled her to mass popularity. Working with fellow teen star Mickey Rooney, she pumped out a number of hit films. Her most successful musical films was Meet Me in St Louis, where she recorded her classics: "The Trolley Song", "The Boy Next Door", and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas". She was a woman of extreme highs and lows throughout her life. Her highs were incredible, for example, a performance at Carnegie Hall in NY on April 23rd 1961 was referred to as "the greatest night in show business history". Her addiction to prescription medications and alcohol ultimately led to her demise, but not before packing-in an intense career of music.

#5 Rosemary Clooney- Life magazine once referred to her the"Girl Singer" but
she quickly earned praise for having a deep, rich, and smooth voice. Her style and image were wholesome and unpretentious, which made her popular with the American public. Singing mainly standard songbook and jazz, she also had several roles in film. In 1954 she co-starred in "White Christmas" with Bing Crosby which further highlighted her talents and brought notoriety and acclaim. The Wall Street Journal has described Rosemary as “A pop icon and spoken in the same breath as Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald." Known for songs such as "Come-on-a My House", "In the Cool Cool Evening", "Hey There", Botch-a-Me" and her popular renditions of songs such as "Mambo Italiano", Rosemary made her mark on music history. And yes, she was the aunt of actor George Clooney.

#6 Dame Shirley Bassey- This bewitching and beguiling Welsh singer is perhaps best known for recording and performing the themes to three James Bond films: Goldfinger, Diamonds are Forever and Moonraker. As the most successful recording artist in British history, Miss Bassey was honored and appointed as a "Dame Commander of the British Empire" on December 31st 1999 by Queen Elizabeth II. Top hits such as "Never, Never, Never", "Something", "Kiss Me Honey Honey" and "I am What I am" made her a fixture in pop song culture. She also recorded very popular versions of "Big Spender" 'As I love you", "Fool on the Hill", and Banana Boat Song". Her hit "I Who Have Nothing", was recently performed and popularized by American Idol winner Jordin Sparks. She has sang a variety of styles, standards, pop, disco and contemporary. Her ventures into alternate styles were wildly successful. Her all Spanish lyrics recordings for the film La Passione drew critical acclaim, and in 1997, she scored a #1 hit on dance charts with "History Repeating" (with British big-beat/electronica band The Propellorheads) and caused a major sensation in the UK and US. Shirley Bassey has a great style and sound. If you don't know her and like jazzy pop music, pick up one of her CDs.

#7 Ethel Merman- Known as the "Queen of the Broadway stage" Miss Merman had a style like no other. Her powerful alto voice had incredible pitch and enunciation, which were her trademarks. Without a doubt, her signature song "There's No Business Like Showbusiness" will endure as the standard for Hollywood and Broadway awards themes. She made a name for herself starring in several Cole Porter musicals, including "Anything Goes", where the title song and "I get a kick out of you" were popularized. But it was her role in "Gypsy" where she sang "Everything's Coming Up Roses" that secured her position as a Broadway legend. Her infamous Ethel Merman Disco Album is a camp cult classic. It contains her signature show-stopper songs set to a uptempo disco beat.

Bonus: Marilyn Monroe- So much has been written about Miss Monroe that it
would be silly for me to summarize her career in this Saturday Seven post. Therefore I want to share why she made it to my list as the bonus entry. I think Marilyn Monroe's singing career was largely overshadowed by EVERYTHING ELSE. There was so much to like in her all-to brief career, that her music was just part of the tapestry of her life. Her roles in the hugely successful films "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes", "How to Marry a Millionaire" and "Some Like it Hot" made her a major A-list star around the world. But her songs were so good. "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend", "My Heart Belongs to Daddy", "Kiss", "River of No Return", and "I Wanna be Loved By You" were really quite good. It would be hard to compare Marilyn Monroe to the top 7 listed previously in the list, but she has a place in history as performer who made an impact with her songs.
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UPDATE: Lots of feedback on who is missing from this "Saturday Seven" post. I can only pick 7, but out of tradition I always add a "bonus" entry. Being the blogosphere, I'm always interested in your opinions...keeps the blog interesting!

-Rick Rockhill

16 comments:

Kat said...

Rick,
You have chosen some of those near and dear to me, especially Rosemary Clooney, Ella and Sassy Sarah. I am not an Ethel fan so I'll reserve judgment there. All the rest are just perfect choices.

Osprey said...

Ethel's style is out of... uh... style, so it's hard for us Twenty-firsters to appreciate her. Good addition if only to stir everyone up :-D
I agree about MM. I enjoy her breathy singing that added immensely to the movies.

I need to think about making a list, although I'm really an opera buff. I wouldn't put Peggy Lee above Ella: ranking never seems my way anyway. I'd probably have a list of great singers I like to listen to at different times.

Andrew Godfrey said...

Peggy Lee as No.1 is a very good choice. I don't know when I have been so mesmerized by a song listening to Is That All There Is? She puts more feeling into that song than anyone else could begin to put into it. I can imagine her being outside looking at her house burning down and all the other life events featured in the song.
You do excellent reviews and I also agree that Marilyn Monroe should have been better known for her singing than she was.

Curtis said...

Would you believe I met Rosmary Clooney in person once? True. She was a remarkable lady.

Alasandra said...

Nice list, I would have included Patsy Cline.

Peter Emmerich said...

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Brandon said...

Great list....very good choices you have made here, and I very much value that you added Marilyn to the list.You made Shirley Bassey look fat- I'm sure she wouldnt appreciate that! Rosemary, Ella, Judy...you can't get any better than that. You've got my wheels turning about a list of my own.

Brandon said...

Yes, where is Billie?

Jeff Kallman said...

Missing in action, apparently: Billie Holiday (should be self-explanatory), Bessie Smith (see Billie Holiday), Ivie Anderson (set the vocal standard for Duke Ellington's orchestra), Billie Holiday, June Christy (the best vocalist Stan Kenton ever hired), and Astrud Gilberto (in the "breathy" department, next to this lady who needs MM?).

And to those who say they weren't quite so mesmerised as when hearing "Is That All There Is?" all I can say is you should have heard Peggy Lee sing "Too Close For Comfort" on her album Pretty Eyes . . .

Durrell said...

Great list of divine divas!

GhostRose said...

Hey! I have to agree with you on Paggy Lee. She is wonderful (and I'm not even in my twenties yet!). But then, I do have a soft spot for swing music.

Do you mind if I link you (on my Literatti blog cos that's my main blog now)? :-)

T-Bird said...

Aretha.

Chris said...

great list! thanks for stopping by the wkms blog.

Anonymous said...

Hey...may as well chime in.

I think your list is great and all, but I'm not so quick to put Peggy Lee in the top spot. Ella Fitzgerald woulda sang circles around that poor girl.

I'll admit I'm out of my element when discussing show tune diva-types. Still. Ethel frakkin' Merman? Puh. Leez.

Nice of you to nod to Shirley Bassey and Rosemary Clooney though, the first being sadly ignored by American audiences and the later just being ignored.

Marilyn wasn't a singer, in the same way that she wasn't an actress. no, not really--she was an iconic figure, a symbol of beauty and fame and a wholesome sense of sexuality. Her mystique is less about what she did and more about who she was.

I'm never gonna give you Judy Garland. I'm a bad homo, but I really don't get her draw.

Gimme Etta James, Dinah Washington, Miss Holiday, Maria Callas, Wanda Jackson, and June Carter Cash.

So. There ya go. Enjoy already.

S!



http://theseanshow.net

Greg said...

I'm a fan of Sarah Vaughan and Rosemary Clooney. Also add Mary Wilson and Annie Lennox. voices smooth as silk.

Whatever Dee-Dee wants said...

Oh I love Rosemary Clooney! I could watch White Christmas over and over agian!

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